OVER A COFFEE: Imran’s PTI: Noah’s Ark or doomed Titanic? —Dr Haider Shah
While Khan has made space for himself in the national political scene, we have not observed grand scale defections to his bandwagon
Last year, much before Imran Khan’s public meeting in Lahore, I had examined the Khan buzz in one of my articles. I had then made a prediction that the new political party would only try to dent the urban strongholds of PML (N) and possibly, in some areas of Pakhtunkhwa, while in other areas of Pakistan, it would make little headway. I had also predicted that the rhetoric of change would remain long on words and thin on substance, unless a few fundamental questions were well addressed. Not much has changed even though enough water has flowed under the bridge.
Listening to a recent interview of Imran Khan on TV, one could easily see that Imran resides peacefully in a simplistic world of mythology. There are two main themes of his discourse. One is corruption, and the simple solution offered is that corruption will end within days, if not hours, when he becomes the prime minister. Second, it is Amreeka ki jang (the US’s war) and we are told that once we come out of it, there will be peace all around.
It is helpful to imagine a water supply system when we talk about corruption. As water flows from main tanks and reaches households after passing through a network of pipes, money also travels from the national kitty and reaches the hands of individual earners. Corruption corresponds to leakage of water from the pipes. Prevention of leakages can only be meaningful if the water tanks have enough water. Curbing corruption can also only be productive if the volume of money in the national kitty is enhanced. That is only possible with improved trade and a better investment environment in the country.
This leads us to Khan’s second rhetorical pronouncement, which runs counter to the first objective. By promoting the jingoistic jihadist doctrine that the UN-backed Afghan war is Amreeka ki jang, and we should come out of it, he is essentially prescribing economic suicide for Pakistan, as 85 percent of Pakistani exports are to countries that directly or indirectly support the Amreeka ki jang. When we turn our back on the world, and hobnob with people that the international community considers terrorists, what kind of international investment can we expect in Khan’s brave new Pakistan?
Imran has been referring a lot to Malaysia and Turkey in outlining his vision of Pakistan. Half-truths are always dangerous as these can result in daydreaming. First, let us look at Malaysia. Do not forget that there is a strong Chinese community that is about 25 percent of the population, but contributes 60 percent to the economy. A budget is a quantified plan. Just looking at the budgetary allocations of Malaysia can be educative. In its latest budget, 85 percent of developmental expenditure was allocated to the social sector and the economy, and only eight percent to security, while in operational expenditure, 47 percent was allocated to the social and economic sectors as opposed to 12 percent to security needs. Data speaks louder than words. If Pakistan wants to become Malaysia, then it needs to redefine its national paradigm. Ambitions cost money and mere wishes do not help beggars ride.
Next is Turkey under Tayyip Erdogan. Again Khan falls short of telling the whole truth. Erdogan represents the lower middle class of Turkey, which was sidelined under the elitist military-backed regimes of past years. Khan would have benefitted a lot if he had taken a course in pragmatism from Erdogan. While Khan is glamourising a holy war against the NATO forces, Erdogan has emerged as one of the trusted friends of Obama in the last few years. Not only is Turkey a part of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, it has played an active role in training of the Afghan forces and construction work in Afghanistan. One analyst describes Turkey as “a linchpin of US policy in the Middle East, a NATO partner, an ally in the effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a bridge to Iran.” Recently, it allowed hosting of the US radar system on its soil despite outcry from Russia and Iran. Investors are flocking to Turkey because it has integrated itself well with the international community.
Khan’s grasp of history seems to be superficial as is evident from his statement that before the British rule in India, there was a very just system in India. This dose of Nasim Hijazi-style history must have come from people like Haroon Rashid, Hamid Gul and Zaid Hamid. His belief that an elected SHO will resolve the problems of law enforcement is impressive as a fantasy alone.
Instead of merely tinkering with the leakages in the pipes, Pakistan needs paradigmatic changes to set itself on the course of economic progress. In this regard, the recent thawing of trade relations with India is a welcome step and the opposition party deserves appreciation too for sharing a strategic consensus with the government on this vital policy decision. The demand for ending our aimless adventure in Siachen by Nawaz Sharif was another bold initiative. Only visionary initiatives of these kinds can redeem Pakistan’s economic development, as rhetoric alone cannot bring about any change.
The initial deluge of expectations seems to be settling down in the case of the PTI. While Khan has made space for himself in the national political scene, we have not observed grand scale defections to his bandwagon. Many stranded politicians and ambitious newcomers had jumped into Khan’s party, as they believed it to be a Noah’s Ark in the troubled political waters of Pakistan. The subsequent internal wrangling and the change of heart by some famous names suggest that this ark does not have sufficient deck space to accommodate too many political animals. Whether those who joined the PTI will find the party a Noah’s Ark or discover it to be a doomed Titanic, only time will tell.
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