With few hours until his swearing-in as Prime Minister of Pakistan — with or without his cricket friends from India, Imran Khan’s team is likely to be in full play in providing ideas and policies to deliver the “Naya Pakistan” that was promised to the electing public. Not an easy task for anyone in any country. In Pakistan, its near likely impossible.
Every political party has promises that it will trot out during election time. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif campaigned on the strengths of all the positives in his government’s performance and promised more of the same. Asif Zardari’s PPP dusted off its ‘roti, kapda aur makaan’ precepts, adding to it a few more things like ‘sab ko kaam’. It was Imran, however, who went in for the real revolutionary dialogue. His manifesto and speeches include not just the promise of a Naya Pakistan, but has the word ‘revolution’ strewn pretty much all across the document. Imran is given to sweeping language in his speeches as well. Witness the call for a “tsunami” and a total end to corruption. When a political leader promises changes on that scale, he has to deliver at least a large part of it. That’s where the problem arises.
Let’s take the broad contours of what he has promised. His primary electoral platform has been a promise to end the corruption that he claims ( probably justifiably) has bled Pakistan. Critics point to the fact that he has included several “electables” — that is, those who skip from party to party which is hardly a testimony to their integrity — but as Imran candidly admitted, this is part of political reality. That is true, but it did take the gloss off the shine of a new leader a little.
Far more serious however is the fact that without getting a simple majority, Imran will have to depend on his seven partners to push through his policies. This includes the MQM-P, once the nemesis of his party in Sindh. That inclusion was opposed by many of the PTI leaders as harmful to the party’s image. They may be right, but the numbers demand it.
With its five allies among which is also the Balochistan Awami Party — a ‘made in Rawalpindi’ party with its own ambitions, the PTI will garner an additional 27 seats, which is enough to make the Opposition’s projected unified show of strength a thing of the past.
With this wooing going on, reports suggest that the MQM-P has been offered the Port and Shipping Ministry. Karachi is the fount of massive (illegal) funds, and the reward being offered is clear. More of this ‘reward’ system will turn up, as allies demand their pound of flesh. As the first steps away from the promise of ‘cleaning up corruption’ become evident, public dissatisfaction will rise.
Second is the issue of transparency. The party manifesto guarantees transparency not only to all citizens, but also in terms of “A Pakistan that seeks friendly relations with all states on the basis of transparency, mutuality of interests and respect for sovereignty”. As regards China, there will inevitably be demands for details of the many devious routes that the previous government adopted when negotiating the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The first salvo was fired from within his own party fold by a Special Senate Panel headed by Senator Shibli Faraz. The Senator rather reasonably, questioned the creation of a Rs 22 billion power sector revolving fund as a special arrangement to make preferred payments to power producers and investors under the CPEC.
Equally reasonably, the concerned joint secretary admitted that this was a hefty four percent more than the Kibor rate, but that he could do nothing about it, since it had been ordered by the government. The government in turn was to finance the fund, through short term borrowing from the banks at a time when its public debt is already at an all time high.
It is true that there would have been little likelihood of China or anyone else investing in a debt-ridden power sector without a government bailout of sorts, but these are precisely the kind of details that are likely to create trouble in Beijing. The opening up of such details are also likely to spook Chinese power companies, and thereby create ripples in Rawalpindi.
Don’t forget some of those projects are being carried out by the army’s own companies.
The promise of transparency in the Pakistan-China business relationship could prove to be a political trap.
Third, is the issue of transparency in foreign policy. It is now more than clear that the International Monetary Fund is not going to shell out an estimated $12 billion without asking a lot of uncomfortable questions about the CPEC and its allied projects. That may be done discreetly, with or (mostly) without Chinese agreement. But banks don’t function on whispers in the corridor. At some point, the actual figures will begin to leak. A realisation that the ‘all-weather friend’ is actually a usurious rogue will certainly create outrage inside the country. So, a way has to be found to go around IMF/US anger.
One rumour that is doing the rounds is that Islamabad may offer up Shakil Afridi to the altar of US rage. The mystery of Shakil Afridi is yet to be cleared up. Earlier reports had spoken of him as a doctor who carried out a ‘fake’ vaccination program in an effort to identify whether or not the mysterious bearded stranger hidden in the walled house in Abottabad was Osama Bin Laden, apparently at the behest of the CIA. He was later incarcerated in a Pakistani prison on the charge of being a cadre of a terrorist group Lashkar-e-Islam. At the time, it seemed that Rawalpindi could not very well charge him with revealing the whereabouts of its top terrorist asset. Mystery doubly confounded was to follow.
Lashkar-e-Islam denied indignantly that the doctor was one of its own. Later, US author Seymour Hersh brought out the theory that Afridi had not revealed the whereabouts of Bin Laden at all. That was done by an ISI official in return for several suitcases of dollars. Afridi was just a convenient person to arrest. Now, it seems that Afridi has been probably moved to the high profile Adiala Jail in a US plan to get him released. The release has been a key demand of several Congressmen in discussions on providing aid to Pakistan. The problem Imran will face is whether the Pakistan Army will be agreeable to the exchange or not. There’s also the not so little problem of preventing a public perception that a ‘Naya Pakistan’ is again caving in to US pressure. But some caving-in is inevitable. It’s the US and the IMF who have the funds, after all.
Then there is the vexed question of how to deal with India. Imran’s edited victory speech — which left out the part where he had said that human rights violations were inevitable in an insurgency — did reach out to India promising two steps for every one that the country would take. Every new leader in Pakistan (and India) have started with talk of peace and friendship. Each also wants to have his name carved in history as the man who brought in a ‘brave new world’ in South Asia. The man on the street, struggling with daily difficulties with power, water and livelihood can probably be brought round to decide that peace with India is good.
Remember that the issue of bilateral relations hardly ever came up in elections.
The problem of course is again the milt-establishment. Unlike India, their enmity is consistent and long term, and built into defence and strategic planning. The establishment will allow some ‘public peacemaking’ to sooth US creditors. Nothing concrete will be allowed unless all of Pakistan’s friends and allies weigh in to push it in the right direction.
Then there is the final issue of Imran himself. While his reputation as a dogged protester is well established, there are allegations of cocaine use, his luxurious life style, and his many marriages. There are questions as to whether the move from flamboyance to religiosity is quite so authentic as presented. None of that really matters to the man on the ground, since Imran does seen to want what (he thinks) is best for Pakistan. Khan is and always has been a one-man show, with the team required to follow the Kaptaan to the death. In the nature of things, the milt-establishment will try to lead him by the nose. Life in Pakistan can only get more interesting, if a little precarious for almost everyone concerned.