The environment of political drama, chaos and uncertainty is eerily familiar. In the ensuing days, we will see tens of thousands come to the streets to protest Imran Khan’s ouster, as people in major cities in Pakistan and outside have already come forward. It was this popularity on the streets that catapulted his fame from a cricket hero to a political saviour with the promise of a new Pakistan that culminated with his rise in politics in 2018. But numbers on the streets don’t always translate into the votes which he may need in the future if he is to return to reclaim his position and reform his party.
It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Pakistan’s economy is on the brink of a catastrophe. This is something that PTI along with its predecessors are responsible for. With multiple previous governments having failed their people, reviving the country’s economy will be the primary challenge of the new Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif. This is also what will strongly influence the popularity of the party. Imran Khan had made promises of a new Pakistan, a slogan that caught up well and resonated not only with the masses, but the expats and youth who saw a cricketing hero with a charismatic personality to be their leader. PTI built an entire narrative around the “looters.” You’re either with them or against them. In fact, during one of his speeches he has commented, “Humans either side with good or evil. Only animals remain neutral.”
He ran a government talking unceasingly about the failings of other parties, yet failing to critically reflect on the shortcomings of some of his own policies. Imran Khan adopted a unilateral approach as opposed to a collective one. His speeches were often befitting an opposition leader and not a sitting Prime Minister. On his personal Twitter account, he announced his first rally after being removed from office against what he terms is a “foreign instigated regime change.” Not one to mince words, he has been criticised for being brazen and borderline using profanity laden words in his speeches.
However, that is another problem with many members of the parliament of the old and new Pakistan. PML-N legislator, Khawaja Asif, had insulted Shireen Mazari, a minister of Imran Khan’s party, by calling her a tractor trolley.
To add to the unsettled environment, the sitting President, Arif Alavi complained of “discomfort” leading to rest for some days which coincided with his absence during the oath taking of the new prime minister. This move may be viewed as acting like a party supporter and not the head of state.
For those struggling in the times of inflation, it is not about a new Pakistan or an old Pakistan anymore, but certainly who will have the grit to take forward a better Pakistan. No losers and winners emerge out of this unless someone can revive the economy.
Shehbaz Sharif’s tenures as chief minister gave him a good reputation of being a doer and working on development projects. His first priority would certainly be to have a good economic team. The rupee continues to tank against the dollar and the State Bank of Pakistan increased interest rates by two and half percent in one go. Would the IMF route be resumed? Would there be changes midway? There is a lot of uncertainty in the air right now.
Once again polarisation is at its peak and social unrest seems imminent. PTI followers have always been vocal and one of their leaders Shah Mehmood Qureshi himself made an impassioned, fiery speech in the parliament, addressing Imran Khan’s patriotism, which has never been questioned, even perhaps by his opponents. His government’s handling of the Covid pandemic was lauded where as many countries struggled with curbing their numbers.
His politics though will now be questioned after the refusal to sit in opposition, not accepting the sitting government and engaging with them for the larger good to solve the country’s problems. People need healing, not more polarisation. Rhetoric of nationalism is a cornerstone of political campaigns but what the nation needs right now is a strategic plan that strengthens the economy.