OVER A COFFEE: Energising youth, but for what? — II —Dr Haider Shah
Having energised the youth, both liberal and radicalised, Imran has become an icon of hope for those who feel that a leader can do a quick-fix to the deep rooted socio-economic problems of Pakistan. There is a need for caution though
The Lahore meeting of Imran Khan received wide coverage in the media, followed by enthusiastic commentaries in talk shows. Personally I could hear two voices inside me, of the Leibnizian optimist and the ‘nuktacheen’ (disbelieving) cynic. Drawing some insights from the Theory of Constraints I am interested in knowing whether the constraints that are holding back Pakistan from achieving optimal performance have been correctly identified or not. And in order to eliminate the constraints, what Imran wants to change, to what and how.
The optimist sees the presence of energised youth as a very positive development. Perhaps Imran is so multi-coloured that different sections of the population believe him to be personifying their cause. He appears as a liberator to the cheering girls and an anti-US hero to the young participants wearing jihadi headbands. For an optimist this is a sign of a national leader giving hope and dreams to all sections of the population. The cynic remains unconvinced, replying that in times of transition all divergent groups stay together but later smaller organised militant groups overpower the larger less organised groups.
Since Imran’s supporters believe him to be an icon of change, it is important to find answers to his ‘constraints management’ strategy. The budget is defined as a ‘quantified plan’ and no change manager can ever succeed if there is no budgeting plan. Pakistan’s biggest budgetary constraint is that our spending is always more than what we earn from all internal sources. Consequently, we find it difficult to spend on areas that are the backbone of development. The economic managers find it even more difficult when one-third of all national earnings are taken away by the military, leaving only about two-thirds for other heads. The military budget is linked with threats and perceptions of threat. It can only be reduced if we go for a paradigm shift like many major powers after the Second World War. Unfortunately, we could not see any hint of change in Imran’s policy speech in Lahore as far as this ever growing constraint on our national progress is concerned. On the contrary, he sounded belligerent and drew inspiration from our army generals’ strategic depth fallacies.
Of late Imran has been mentioning ‘thana’ (police station) culture and the remedy he suggests is that all SHOs will be elected. Imagine, all sector in-charges of the MQM becoming SHOs of their localities or a nephew of a Baloch sardar (tribal leader) with private jails becoming a police officer. Even in the UK the previous Labour government shelved the idea of having elected police commissioners after toying with the idea for some time and the Conservative government has also postponed it due to stiff opposition from police officers. If Imran was writing a sequel to Plato’s Republic or Thomas More’s Utopia, then this suggestion could have been taken seriously.
To become a national level politician one can argue that you have to be a good marketing guru to the point of selling refrigerators to Eskimos. However, it was sounding like a spokesperson of the Taliban in front of a liberal crowd that was perhaps most disturbing. Imran’s argument is that no country ever kills its own people. In the US, Abraham Lincoln took up arms against his own people when the writ of the state was challenged over the slavery issue. Spain carried out a long anti-terrorism war against separatist Basques under the ETA who have finally put down their arms this month. Sri Lanka waged a long war against its own people making sure that the terrorist movement was eliminated. Even China has used force not only in Tiananmen Square but it also crushed the East Turkestan Islamic movement in Xinjiang region under its ‘strike hard’ policy. Ironically, the central plank of Allama Iqbal’s pan-Islamic message was to be one in solidarity with the Muslims of Kashgar. But, unlike the Muslims living in the US, the UK and even Indian-held Kashmir, the Kashgarite Muslims are not even allowed basic religious freedom. It is in our national interest not to pay heed to poetic calls and forge good relations with China on account of pragmatic geo-strategic needs. But then why do we not extend the same secular approach to other regional countries and stop meddling in the internal affairs of our neighbours through jihadi groups that Imran fondly mentioned in his speech? Imran’s speech was dangerously close to the glorification of the extremist groups based in FATA. If Imran plans to remain wedded to his radical Hamid Gulian approach, then one needs to recall the king’s advice upon seeing Hamlet’s condition: “Madness in great ones must not unwatch’d go.”
Having energised the youth, both liberal and radicalised, Imran has become an icon of hope for those who feel that a leader can do a quick-fix to the deep rooted socio-economic problems of Pakistan. There is a need for caution though. Imran had announced to act as a one-man demotion squad against Altaf Hussain three years ago. There is a meaningful silence on that front since long. The ‘sheru’ (lion) at Imran’s residence is a gift from General Musharraf. Imran’s candidates in the previous elections were also not much different from those of the other political parties and even Imran’s choice for his party’s spokesperson in the recent past had not been very inspiring. A leader who has been very flexible and accommodative in the past will hopefully be even more flexible if given an important role in the future. That is how cynics and sceptics can stay reassured.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org