Imran Khan’s much vaunted ‘surprise package’ has delivered a damp squib in his ‘amal bil maroof’ Islamabad jalsa. His impending ouster as prime minister through a vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly is, he contends, a conspiracy hatched by unnamed foreign powers with his local political rivals playing a generous helping hand.
This rather outlandish claim comes across as a thinly disguised conspiracy theory considering that no proof was given other than a piece of paper waved in public as evidence that can’t be disclosed. This won’t cut it with his detractors or even most of his supporters.
So, what next for Khan and Pakistan?
The current crisis that finds Khan adrift in choppy political waters won’t resolve without him losing his government and the opposition filling the vacuum in his stead.
Khan has only himself to blame for the mess he is in, considering that it is his own partymen deserting him and, it appears, his coalition allies, ahead of the vote expected in the first week of April 2022. He can’t blame the opposition for luring his team players away, when he was himself guilty of the practice, when he was trying to form a government. Poor governance is not a conspiracy. It’s a reality.
With the benefit of hindsight of his duration in power, Khan’s downfall – he will be the first prime minister to lose a vote of no-confidence in Pakistan’s parliamentary history – can be put down to his deeply personalised scorched-earth exclusionary politics. The fact that his party did not get a simple majority in the National Assembly in 2018 means that the voters did not give him a decisive mandate.
His voters premised his prime ministership in coalition politics so he could share power not just with other parties but even share governance and authority within his own party – something he proved spectacularly inept at.
His voters premised his prime ministership in coalition politics so he could share power not just with other parties but even share governance and authority within his own party – something he proved spectacularly inept at. All he had to do was be a team player but ironically even his cricket background did not prepare him for it. He preferred a no-questions-asked dictatorial form of captainship that ultimately endeared him to few within his ranks other than his hand-picked spokespersons and special assistants from outside Pakistan.
Since the chaotic closure of the 1990s that ended in General Musharraf’s Martial Law ousting the Sharif government, enjoying a two-thirds majority to amend the constitution at will, Pakistani voters have repeatedly invested not in autocracy but in a plural voting pattern that encourages an inclusive polity requiring coalition governance. The Pakistani voters want an inclusive polity, not the exclusionary brand practiced by Khan.
Both Zardari and Sharif Mark III understood this and, despite their problems, worked in tandem for parliamentary brand of politics rather than Khan’s form that mimicked a presidential style of governance and totally refused to engage with either the parliament or the opposition as co-stakeholders in the political system.
In the incredibly pluralistic polity of Pakistan, voters want this diversity reflected in various political parties in power in the different provinces and coalition governments at the federal level. The message is clear: we all work together to reduce polarisation and encourage collaboration. The larger opposition parties, such as the PPP, PML-N and JUI-F, understand this so much better than Khan ever could.
Despite their otherwise serious differences, the opposition parties have been willing to collaborate not just amongst themselves but also with other much smaller parties, such as the PML-Q, MQM and BAP, and willing to share power with them. They all seem to embody the inevitability of political pluralisms and inclusion as a means to deliver on people’s mandate to work together against the fundamental problem behind Pakistan’s political crises: the stranglehold of the establishment that chokes people’s ownership of the state and its policies – and its resources.
Khan’s real crime is his breathtaking gross governance incompetency where he interrupted the longest growth and revenue run in Pakistan’s economic history and brought the growth rate to zero in 2020, and amassed more debt than he can count.
Khan’s mounting political isolation and angry row with the establishment that are now no longer a secret are inter-related. It is a logical outcome of the failure of Khan’s government to deftly manage the twin burden of a functional economy and the establishment’s expectations. Even the more experienced PPP and PML-N haven’t managed to – in the end – satisfy the never-satisfied establishment. But at least they governed the economy much better than Khan.
Khan’s blaming the PPP and PML-N as corrupt and thieves – never proven in 30 years of court trials – is patent nonsense as the twin primary metrics of development – the annual growth rate and tax collection – hold up well for both these parties who the voters trusted to power in eight of Pakistan’s 11 direct elections. In the post-Musharrafian Martial Law, these two parties were in power for 10 years and, except for one year, in the remaining nine years the annual growth rate and tax collection was always much better than the preceding year.
Khan’s real crime is his breathtaking gross governance incompetency where he interrupted the longest growth and revenue run in Pakistan’s economic history and brought the growth rate to zero in 2020, and amassed more debt than he can count. He has been the biggest consumer of his own rhetoric about himself as the born-to-lead captain of Pakistan and the military propagandist branding of him as sadiq and ameen. These have proved poor substitutes for what matters: economic growth and political inclusion.
Khan’s establishment-backed, hate-fuelled, intolerance-laced politics is coming to a logical end. It’s hard to see how Pakistan can go more downhill from here, if the more experienced political hands coming to the helm are any indication. It’s not easy but the only way ahead is a painful slow recovery driven by inclusive, collaborative economic-centered politics. It’s time to leave Khan behind.
The writer is a current affairs analyst.