PM Imran Khan is being dogged by his ‘Naya Pakistan’ promise

The media and social media that was enamoured of Imran Khan as a dignified cricket captain of Pakistan show signs of confrontation. The charisma of the kaptan is fading out

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan

Sankar Ray

The catchy slogan, Naya Pakistan, riding on which the meteoric advent of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf took place eight years ago now confronts its supremo and the Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan Niazi in the 75th anniversary year of the birth of Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s dream nation.

Two years ago, the PM, flanked by' Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi, adviser to the Prime Minister on Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, adviser to Prime Minister on commerce Abdul Razak Dawood, and minister of state for overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari, conceitedly told a packed house, mostly comprising non-resident Pakistanis in Washington, “People ask where is Naya Pakistan?…It is being created in front of your eyes. Democracy is successful when the leadership is answerable."

But the harsh reality is that it gradually turns into a pious platitude. Khan’s promise of one crore jobs to the jobless remains almost on paper. The national economy deteriorates, turning into a dependent and ailing state while the political commitments get disenfranchised and dispirited. Frustration seems inoculated into PTI’s support base, built through populist rhetoric and tactics aiming at delegitimisation and cornering of conventional parties and positioning itself as the ideal voice.

The aptly put sub-heading of a study –a report card of ‘Naya Pakistan’ is Breaking Promises- The Ass in Lion’s Skin’ led by Insane Wilma, research professor and chair of Islamic Studies and Intercultural Dialogue at the Alfred Dakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization (ADI), Dakin University, Melbourne, Australia, infers: “Unable to live up to its promises, the party frequently hid its failures behind increasingly dense and intensifying populist rhetoric focusing on vindictive character assassinations of political opponents, specifically through the use of crude and foul language”.

Promises like small business-led growth and patronage to export driven sectors remain unfulfilled. Much before the Covid-19 pandemic, debt and liabilities went vertically up by Rs 11 trillion (more than $70 billion) within one year. During the same period, the Pakistan Stock Exchange, the KSE-100 index, witnessed sharply bearish trend, along with one of the worst devaluations of the Pakistan Rupee against the US Dollar. The inflation rate rose to 7 percent and, unemployment inched up to 9 perhcent.

The media and social media that was enamoured of Imran Khan as a dignified cricket captain of Pakistan show signs of confrontation. The charisma of the kaptan, which was the core of PTI, has begun fading out. Pity is that the ruling party in Islamabad has been escapist towards the socio-religious and ethno-economic realities that hinder the struggle for restoring democratic life experienced ephemerally in the late 1950s. In the 2018 general elections, PTI won absolute majority, securing 31 percent of valid votes and winning 149 seats in Pakistan’s National Assembly.

Imran Khan borrowed the slogan from Shakh-e-nihal-e-gham'. ('shakh' is a branch, and nihal is tree or sapling) reminiscences in Urdu by Ali Amjad, whose English version, 'A Branch of the Sapling of Sorrow- A Life Story (tr. Arif Ansari), has been released this year.

Amjad was the legendary organiser of protracted and historic strike of workers of the Tata Iron & Steel Company in Jamshedpur in 1958, under the banner of All India Trade Union Congress. ‘Amjadbhai’ led several strike actions before he migrated in 1968 to Pakistan where he earned a fame as a champion of working people as a labour lawyer.

After the dismemberment of Pakistan in mid-December 1971 and subsequent ascension to power of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his Pakistan People’s Party, he wrote, “For the first time the shine dimmed from the Armed Forces in Pakistan’s history. Or, the faith that people may have had in their hearts for them was replaced with sorrow, anger and helplessness.”

But Amjadbhai would have been shocked had he been alive as the so-called champion of ‘Naya Pakistan’ today shouts against the 10-party opposition, sitting on the lap of ‘miltablishment’ that calls the shots from Islamabad.

The Taliban are about to capture power in Afghanistan within months, after skilfully combining military and diplomatic measures. Pakistani democrats and intellectuals look down upon the tottering Ashraf Ghani regime as a puppet of western powers. The PTI regime’s nightmarish headache is a huge economic crisis ahead as thousands of Pashtuns will flee Afghanistan and head towards neighbouring provinces in Pakistan.

The irony of history is that the premier was for years together a sympathizer of the Taliban. “The agonizing factor for the troubled Indian neighbour is that it is fated to suffer the blowback from the Taliban victory while America can lick its wounds and try to ‘scapegoat’ Pakistan from far away,” grimly reminds The Friday Times editor Najam Sethi.

(IPA Service)

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