Will Pakistan change under PTI and Imran Khan?
The emergence of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf as the largest national party, with representation in every province and region, is a big change in itself. It is the culmination of a long struggle for “justice”: calling for accountability, responsive and responsible governance, and a change from the old dynastic, elite-centered politics to people-centered democracy. In short, the vision exhibited by PTI attracted the youth, the poor and the new middle classes.
Besides this vision of change, many other social and political factors catapulted PTI into power. Chief among these is a pervasive sense of disillusionment with the two previously dominant political parties — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) — which have taken turns to rule the country for decades.
In fact, these parties are nothing more than feudal dynasties controlled and managed by the Sharif and Bhutto-Zardari families respectively. Their style of patronage politics, and massive, systematic corruption, over the decades has left Pakistan far behind every comparable nation in the region. PTI leader Imran Khan understood this frustration, mobilized the youth, and effectively and consistently got his message across to the nation through the electronic media.
It was not just the corruption narrative from Khan that delegitimized the PML-N and PPP but also the rivalry and confrontational politics displayed by the two parties, with each accusing the other of malpractices. The popularity of their top leaders sunk to the lowest levels and they lost credibility, moral authority and, finally, the popular-support base that for so long kept them returning to power.
As a consequence of the 2018 elections, they are down — but not out. Each party retains a significant base, the PPP in Sindh and PML-N in the Punjab. The big question is will they be able to regain their dominant positions in Pakistani politics?
The answer to this question lies in the success or failure of the PTI and Khan, the charismatic, popular new leader of Pakistan. Can the party and its leader change a country and state in decline that is on verge of failure, with society at large in decay? A pertinent question is what does it take to turn around any failing country and transform it into a successful one?
In my view, at a basic level, the PTI has credibility, experience of institutional reforms in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a vision for the future, and the public trust to change Pakistan. In addition, it has a democratic mandate to implement its manifesto of change reforms that will require state institutions to be reinvigorated, and the writing of new laws and policies. The focal point of the idea of change is the establishment of the rule of law, as a universal norm of decent, civilized and civilizing societies.
At a basic level, the PTI has credibility, experience of institutional reforms in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a vision for the future, and the public trust to change Pakistan.
Rasul Bakhsh Rais
A positive change in society — which might also be interpreted as a complex process of modernity, development and transforming a post-colonial state from serving the dominant elite sections of the society to serving the people — requires three essential elements.
First, the country needs a clear vision of what it wants to be, which must also offer a scientific critique of what has gone wrong, how things can be corrected, and with what measures. In many ways, what Khan has promised has been promised many times before: the creation of a welfare state, eradication of poverty, an end to corruption and ensuring everyone is equal before the law. If there is any difference this time, it is that the vision of change is sharper and PTI has not been tried before. One of the many social narratives working in favor of PTI was the plea, “Let us give them a chance. We have tried all others.” This defies what was a popular refrain in Pakistan politics, and perhaps a cliche, that “all politicians and parties are the same.”
This apologetic line worked effectively, until now, to shield the corrupt, elite ruling class. It is also one of the points that opponents of PTI hold very strongly against it. For example, they ask how can Khan bring about change in Pakistan by embracing turncoats from other parties that were previously part of the status quo of politics and the regimes that plundered this country? This is a valid point and a test for Khan. What can be said in his favor is that he is capable of making tough decisions, and when it comes to his principles he is not going to make compromises.
The second thing that helps nations succeed and improve is the quality of leadership. This can be measured by values, commitment to the country, integrity, selflessness, and dedication to improving conditions for the common man. Khan has cultivated his image as clean-living, sincere and a man of principles. Even the most critical of his detractors have failed to present any evidence of wrongdoing in the public domain. What might best support him is the high level of public trust, rather than blind faith.
Lastly, no leader can move a country forward without public support. Khan and PTI have garnered a diverse and broad national constituency that is unmatched in the recent history of Pakistan. The pace and character of these changes, and how quickly they satisfy a largely frustrated population, will be the real test.
There are enormous challenges facing Khan and PTI: the lack of a majority at the center and in the Punjab, uneasy allies, a strong, united opposition raising questions about the fairness of the elections, and the huge economic problems and international constraints of a negative image. Even in the face of these constraints, Pakistan can be turned around, but only by new politics, new tools and a new beginning — something that though difficult is doable.
– Rasul Bakhsh Rais is professor of political science in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, LUMS, Lahore. His latest book is ‘Islam, Ethnicity and Power Politics: Constructing Pakistan’s National Identity’ (Oxford University Press, 2017). Twitter: @RasulRais