Need for reflection

Abdul Sattar
Thursday, Jun 08, 2023

Former prime minister Imran Khan who promoted the politics of hate and created deep divides in Pakistan’s political social environment for years has now adopted a conciliatory tone.Some of his recent statements indicate that ‘the Great Khan’ wants unity among politicians against non-democratic forces, alerting them about the possible invisible plans B and C that might be used to target them in the future.

It is good that Khan is talking about unity among politicians but such unity cannot be achieved until Imran Khan reflects upon his harmful legacy that is tearing the country apart now. He must have a look at the blunders he committed during the last 12 years. He needs to admit those mistakes and apologize for the culture of vilification that his followers adopted to defame political opponents and critics, who dared to challenge his retrogressive political ideology.Khan’s detractors believe that the Great Kaptaan bites the hands that feed him. They point out that when Khan was a political nonentity, many of Pakistan’s media houses gave him space to reach a wider audience. He would be on prime-time shows almost every week, offering his views on drones and the dictatorial regime of the late General Musharraf.

Such appearances helped him boost his popularity as a politician. His stance on various issues was heard by millions of people across the country. But after achieving political popularity, he started targeting the same media outlets, going to the extent of naming and shaming journalists. This attitude created immense hardships for journalists working there. These workers, including female anchorperson and reporters, were also subjected to mistreatment and harassment at PTI public gatherings.

His hostility did not subside after he came into power. It grew exponentially with the PTI government even putting media owners behind bars and banning advertisements. This approach clearly reflected his revengeful mentality. Several independent media outlets faced the same fate. The PTI government also tried to introduce draconian laws regarding the media through parliament, which could not succeed.When Khan came into power in 2018, he had a favourable environment. The country’s institutions were sympathetic towards his party. But instead of delivering on his promises, he unleashed a reign of fear against his opponents, vowing to end AC and other facilities, if any, extended to political prisoners under the rules.

His supporters adopted a semi-fascist approach against his critics, unleashing smear campaigns against people critical of his performance, especially women critics. From approaching the IMF – after criticizing other governments for doing the same – to launching the BRT project in Peshawar (after running campaigns against Punjab’s metro projects), Khan acted against the claims he made prior to coming into power.

He had made tall claims of having in-depth knowledge of running the country but later admitted that his team had been unable to understand the art of governance for months. His team members, who asserted that they could steer the country out of crisis, pushed the country towards more crises.

First his finance minister Asad Umar delayed the IMF deal and later signed it when the damage had already been caused to the economy. Similarly, his belated decisions over LNG and other projects also plunged the economy into a financial quagmire. The frequent reshuffle in the cabinet clearly indicated that Khan’s team was not capable of dealing with the issues that Pakistan was facing.The country’s powerful quarters are believed to have created a smooth path for Khan by removing all the hurdles created by opposition parties. Even then, he failed miserably. He demonstrated a lack of political acumen by opposing normalization of ties with India which could have gone a long way in improving the crippling economy. He used the rhetoric generally used by religious political parties to oppose such a proposal, which at the time seemed to have the blessings of the powerful elements of the state who had realized that an economic way forward could not be possible without stabilizing the region.

When he was ousted in April 2022, he had governments in Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The two provincial assemblies had more than a year to make a difference in the lives of ordinary people, while the PTI-led governments in GB and AJK could have served people for almost the entire tenure. But instead of using these governments to serve people, Khan first took the shelter of their police force to avoid arrest and later dissolved the two provincial assemblies to create political chaos.

Although he was removed from power in a constitutional and democratic way, he came up with a conspiracy theory, changing his stance repeatedly. He first accused the US and then a state official of conspiring against him. He finally blamed the caretaker chief minister of Pakistan, Mohsin Naqvi, for his ouster. This all turned him into a laughing stock. Such an approach only created problems for the country besides deepening political uncertainty that also increased economic problems.

Many believe Khan could have used his governments in the four regions to deliver on his promises and waited patiently for general elections. The PTI governments in the regions could have come up with welfare plans that might have helped Khan become more popular, besides creating political stability in the country that was badly needed to deal with the economic challenges. But Khan chose an aggressive path that finally led to the incidents of May 9.Even after these incidents, which were widely condemned, he tried to create an impression that he was an anti-establishment leader waging a relentless struggle for the supremacy of parliament and civilian dispensation. However, his critics believe that all he wants is for the country’s institutions to support him the way they did in the past. His detractors assert that he was trying to bring back non-political forces in politics to achieve political objectives.

Khan needs to admit that his party was not a result of any genuine political movement unlike the PPP during the decade of the 1960s. It was a project created by cobbling together political opportunists to create a force against those that vowed to follow the Charter of Democracy. So, if Khan really wants genuine democratic forces to thrive, he should reveal the details of Project Imran and promise not to become a part of any such projects in the future.There are also apprehensions about Khan’s intentions towards the 18th Amendment. He needs to extend unflinching support to the amendment and state clearly that he does not intend to scrap this remarkable piece of legislation that could immensely strengthen the federation.

For this he needs to reach out to national leaders, apologize for his past behaviour and vow to work together on the articles of the amendment that have shut the doors to dictatorship and its endorsement by courts.

Khan should also promise that he will put an end to his style of politics that has polarized and badly damaged the social fabric of Pakistani society. The country needs political stability to improve its economy. Khan should patiently wait for general elections so that the clouds of uncertainty could be swept away.

The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: