Imran Khan promised a new direction for Pakistan. His election campaign focused on fighting elite corruption and abuse of power. Now, however, people are becoming disillusioned by Prime Minister Khan because under him, government policies have increased discontent, hardship, and ill will. The government seems unable to deal with mounting inflation, rising unemployment, and water and gas shortages.
Hope is turning to despair as incumbency has exposed that Khan is ill-prepared to lead the country towards a better future. His tenure at the helm is high on rhetoric and low on performance. And for Khan, casting blame elsewhere has run its course. It appears a ruse to hide misgovernance and poor economic performance.
Even Khan’s anti-corruption campaign has yielded mixed results. Courts have convicted some opposition politicians for mega-corruption, notably former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. But the promised return of fantastic figures of billions of dollars in looted money from abroad to aid the chronically ill economy is yet to materialize. Opposition leaders complain that Khan’s anti-corruption efforts are a political witch-hunt. They feel vindicated by the government’s incompetence and political failures.
Undoubtedly, Khan inherited deep-rooted political, economic, and social problems. The hybrid structure with actual power in the hands of the military bureaucracy, massive corruption, and a frail economy is an enormous challenge. It has hamstrung previous governments and derailed the country’s development. But Khan is yet to outline a broad vision and direction to solve deep-set structural problems.
Instead, Khan and his diminishing supporters stubbornly stick to their mantra. The elimination of corruption and an Islamic welfare state is a cure-all. But a troubled and unstable country facing multi-faceted problems needs more than just fanciful solutions.
For instance, Khan’s dream of establishing an Islamic welfare state in Pakistan is far-fetched. The idea of sustaining both a national security state and a welfare state for a highly-indebted and impoverished country is a non-starter. It can only compromise the remaining economic sovereignty. In addition, finding the means to maintain a cradle-to-grave welfare state in a country with an exploding population is nonsensical.
Equally disturbing is the plan by Khan’s government to introduce a Single National Curriculum (SNC) as the solution to Pakistan’s many education woes. The SNC dictates more religious education, no ‘blasphemous’ content, and an unthinking conformist mindset. Khan expects Pakistan’s future leaders to break the Western “shackles of slavery” and raise the standards of morality in society.
But more ideological education can only worsen the pressing problem of radicalized youth joining jihadist groups. It will not help Pakistan’s students to compete against students from most other countries. Those countries committed to becoming global knowledge powerhouses through scientific and secular education. The new education strategy is unlikely to deliver well-rounded workers needed for the government’s much-hyped plans to make Pakistan a geo-economic hub of the region.
Khan’s smug, arrogant, self-righteous style is part of the problem. It has alienated important constituencies, at home and abroad. Khan has designated himself an expert on domestic and foreign policy with little to show for it. He comes across as a closet Islamic autocrat on a spiritual mission. Bereft of original ideas, Khan’s admiration for the by-gone Golden Age of Islam and the faithless Chinese model, and distaste for the loose morals of the West shape his narrow thinking.
To add to that, Khan’s brand of politics mixed with religiosity and his appeasement of radical Islamism threatens a struggling democracy and fragile polity. Khan’s vociferous support for the violent and xenophobic Taliban regime in Afghanistan has damaged Pakistan’s standing in the comity of nations. Critics often accuse Khan of sharing the Taliban world-view of no political freedoms and the oppression of women and minorities.
The public is growing tired of Khan’s soapbox oratory, populist rhetoric, and assurances of change. In such dire circumstances for the country, Khan’s reluctance to work with the ‘corrupt’ opposition leaders make a mockery of the democratic process that brought him to power.
Pakistan is at a decisive moment as a country and a people. It is doubtful that Khan will realize that blind faith alone cannot take the country forward. That said, only free and fair elections, without institutional interference, should determine whether Khan is fit to lead. We hope that the voters make a wise choice for the common good.