By Kumar David –
Pakistan’s military must be dethroned to normalise the Subcontinen: Imran Khan’s victory throws liberals a life-line
At last something for our straw-clutching liberals to cheer about; a specimen of unimpeachable genre and Oxonian vintage, a gentleman to the tips of his fingers and squeaky clean to boot. In 2010 he was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame. The family was affluent and of Pashtun ethnicity though I think not of noble ancestry; but who cares, he has done the liberals proud. I am not one of their dying breed but Imran has something to fete me too; his father, Ikramullah was a civil engineer who graduated from Imperial College – good school, I can vouch for that!
Good hard-hitting left-liberalism; his pep talk speaks a lot about the poor. His non-cricketing record is more about social-work and building hospitals (he raised more than $25 million from all over the world for a cancer hospital) than anything a UNP or SLFP/SLPP bum or leader has done. But there is no denying he did indulge in a bit of painting in his youth; the colour was red, the canvas was the town. The handsome Khan renders the visage of a president much in the news these days for serial philandering look like a pig’s arse. I am not going all gooey liberal; there is indeed a darker side. It is Imran’s alliance with religious right-wing parties and the hardly concealed warmth of the military that upsets his liberal fans. To explain it away as just anti-Americanism, Pashtun genes and a fiercely independent personality ignores that these ghosts of past alliances and the Judas kiss of the military could prove his undoing one day. But heaven forbid; these days we need to grab at every liberal straw.
Imran called liberals “fascists and scums” for cheering American policy in Afghanistan and supporting drone and ground assaults on militants in the border regions. Nevertheless the liberals are over the moon and mass expectations are that the new broom will sweep away the muck of the past. Similar expectations in Lanka post 8 January 2015 were beyond the ability of the Ranil-Sirisena duumvirate to fulfil and the 10 February 2018 flop was spectacular. The expectations and the snares facing Imran are eerily similar. The eye-catching motif of his campaign was “defeat and eliminate corruption”. Failure to prosecute and incarcerate Rajapaksa era crooks was the rock on which Yahapalana was shipwrecked. However there is hope Imran will do better. He fired 20 provincial MPs found guilty of corruption; in the UNP, SLPP or SLFP, perish such thoughts, pariahs invariably are in the scrum for cabinet posts!
Disputing the legitimacy of the election is the universal drivel of a losing side anywhere in the world, but a European Union monitoring team did say that the campaign featured a “lack of equality”, meaning it was not a level playing field. The EU mission, but did not allege fraud in voting or counting procedures but did complain about an uneven playing field during the campaign and noted that “during counting, security personnel recorded and transmitted the results, giving the impression of a parallel tabulation”. FAFEN, an independent Pakistani election observer network was unsatisfied with counting procedures. Imran has said his party will cooperate with any investigation.
The eleven point centrist agenda
Here is the centrist programme of PTI or Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice); the name has a liberal twang like that of the late Rev. Sobith’s outfit. The summary is culled from several sources. Readers will observe the big basket of goodies but proof of the pudding remains in the eating. This summary is for your interest; I am not vouching for any of it.
PTI will invest more in education, and implement a standard, high quality education system across Pakistan. No country can flourish without emphasis on education. The Asian Tigers educated children and adults. Half Punjab’s budget is spent in Lahore alone. Countries don’t flourish by roads and bridges but by human development.
PTI will give health priority and establish a quality healthcare system. Health insurance will be provided for those in need and hospitals established. The poor will receive treatment, the rich can get it in Pakistan rather than overseas.
Revenue generation and tax reforms:
The tax rate will be lowered and more people brought into the net. Reforms will ensure high collection. Each year Rs 8000 billion will be collected to ensure steady revenue. How to generate revenue to be rid of heavy debts? “We don’t have money to run the country, we are in heavy debt. I will show how to gather money” but Imran gave no details. [Note by KD: Imran’s first embarrassing job after taking office may be to approach the IMF for $12 billion bailout].
Corruption will be controlled by strengthening the Federal Board of Revenue and the Judiciary (“Fat hopes!” we Sri Lankans will exclaim). Imran cited the expulsion of 20 MPAs from his party for “selling votes” earlier this year.
- Tax on exports to be lowered in order to compete with India.
- Overseas Pakistanis to be encouraged to invest in Pakistan.
- New businesses to be encouraged.
- Hotels and amenities will be built; four new tourist destinations to be added each year.
- Lower tax on electricity and gas to compete with Indian market.
PTI promises to help people into employment by building cheap houses; cheap houses for the poor, more jobs. More technical universities to create a skilled workforce. Jobs in tourism and in industries like textiles. Businesses with employment opportunities for youth will be facilitated.
Improve agriculture and lives of farmers on an emergency basis. “They work for the whole year and get nothing in the end. They are exploited by the sugar mill mafia. The mafia will be brought to justice”.
Strengthening the federation
The federation of Pakistan will be strengthened giving provinces more rights and new a local government system established. Local governments will have directly elected mayors in all cities. A new province will be created in South Punjab. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas will be merged with the Khyber Province.
“In Khyber (a province controlled by Imran’s party) the police is depoliticized. There’s no victimization, there was not a single extrajudicial killing in the province but in Sindh Province notorious Police Chief Rao Anwar (now on murder trial) killed 400 people.”
The environment is a priority. “For the first time, the Khyber provincial government paid special attention to the environment. We plan to plant 10 billion trees across Pakistan and clean the rivers”.
Imran claimed that his party has an extensive program for women empowerment. “Whatever I am today is because of my mother made me patriotic and truthful.”
Relations with India
The biggest obstacle confronting Imran Khan is the military. An Indian newspaper (or Minister) sneered: “They have only elected a new prime minister, not a new army commander; nothing will change”. The military may not interfere excessively in domestic policy, but foreign policy, in particular arch rival India and the complicated relationship with America is handled by the military. Imran’s hands will be tied; unless he goes on the offensive and stirs mass support he is unlikely to wrest control. This is not say he can’t – he has shown fierceness at times and may be bold about the Indo-Pak equation – but this is where the erstwhile chummy relations with the military and the religious-right could be a drag. Furthermore PTI does not have a parliamentary majority forcing it into a coalition government weakening it in these conflicts.
He has to bowl short, fast and on the leg-stump at the Generals; crack a few skulls. Either he contains the army or it will have him back in the pavilion, cap in hand. Does Imran want to captain the nation and come in to bat at number 11? If the new captain opens the bowling fast and furious, goes out to the people, enthuses his supporters, seizes the initiative and blasts to the boundary through the covers, he can force the military on to the back-foot.
“Success goes to those who dare and act, it seldom goes to the timid” to quote India’s first Prime Minister. This is Imran Khan’s choice of the moment. The equation with New Delhi is the cardinal pivot on which his leadership will be tested; great or pedestrian? It may cost him his life in a military coup or it may earn him honours far outshining 1992 cricketing glory. Ever the showman, he will not be easily cowed and hopefully the Generals have met their match. This is Pakistan’s January 8, one prays the outcome is better. Normalisation of Indo-Pak relations will be a gigantic forward step for both countries and for the Muslim and Hindu people of the subcontinent.
Within a month it will be clear whether Imran can enthuse the people and assert the primacy of his government, or whether, having entered into a Mephistophelean contract, he will be a pliant tool in the hands of the Generals. Imran is on record saying: “The army is the only institution in Pakistan that works”. True, but now it is his job to get civilian institutions to “work” and bring the Generals to heel. Lenin and Mao, over decades, fashioned an instrument, the party, which had the mass power to leash the army. Imran must mobilise civilian Pakistan because he has no such instrument. “There is a tide in the affairs of men which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries”.
I do not have space today to write about ties with China and America; so two summary comments will have to suffice. Economic and strategic ties with China will remain much the same; with America, I foresee some fence mending.