Promises to keep


Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan PHOTO/Daily Times

When I returned to Pakistan in 2010, Imran Khan was an emerging presence on the political scene. Asif Zardari had been swept into office on an outpouring of sympathy for his assassinated wife. He cared little for her legacy. He sought only to cash in on her popularity. Nawaz Sharif never really developed beyond being a Punjabi politician. Neither he nor Zardari had the qualities, passion or moral imagination to transform Pakistan.

Imran Khan projected an image of simplicity and sincerity, of a leader not interested in accumulating wealth, confident in his achievements in cricket and philanthropy, seeking to be a national statesman rather than a ‘successful’ politician, and with a transcending and empowering belief that ‘someone up there liked him’ enough to be the saviour of Pakistan. He embodied hope, instead of the acquiescent despondency the ruling elite and its servile public intelligentsia and political ‘commentariat’ sought to inculcate in the people.

Many, especially among the English-speaking middle and upper classes saw Imran’s confidence and faith in himself as an arrogant lack of both humility and sophistication. Many more among the youth and the poorer classes saw him as exactly the maverick outsider needed to challenge the ruling elite who were the principal impediment to Pakistan’s progress. This perception outweighed all his alleged shortcomings. It put him on a level far above his tainted rivals.

Before the 2013 elections, I suggested that any result other than a win for Imran would be uninteresting as it would mean the political cavalcade to hell would continue. Only he would bend his every effort to cure the cancer of political, social, economic and institutional corruption that was killing Pakistan. He did not win. Instead, he displayed a remarkable resilience and tenacity as an opposition leader to ultimately bring down a corrupt government at the centre while providing perceptibly better governance in KP.

An unbridgeable chasm opened up between Nawaz Sharif and the military/intelligence establishment. Massive corruption scandals involving him and his family surfaced. These developments led to his judicial ouster, disqualification and imprisonment. Imran Khan’s political fortunes underwent a sea change.

Imran entered the 2018 elections with an ‘umpire’ more in the mould of Idris Beg than Dickie Bird! The umpire’s finger was far more upwardly mobile than in 2013. Imran no longer inspired the same enthusiasm. He was more popular in defeat in 2013 than he was in victory in 2018.

Nevertheless, the cynicism and disappointment generated by his proximity to the power establishment abated in the moment of his triumph. Past hopes were stirred. He was expected to provide relief from the filth of pervasive corruption and, not least, from the lethal costs of self-serving political and policy interventions by an unelected and overweening but inept ‘deep state’. At least democratic control over domestic and foreign policy was expected to result in much less folly, disaster and isolation.

Dawn for more

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