FOR years and years, as he roamed the political wilderness and drew sustenance from the media’s oxygen, Imran Khan had kept on insisting he aimed at changing the fundamentals of governance. His political DNA was fuelled not by incremental ambitions but by transformational aspirations. It was a new Pakistan he promised, not just a better Pakistan.
There’s a difference.
This difference is measured not just in scale, but in fact in the very essence of change. ‘Better’ means improving on the old; ‘new’ means out with the old. The tempered iconoclasm ingrained in his promise of absolute change fanned doubts among the hardened cynics — of whom there is no shortage in the republic — but it also triggered an avalanche of hope and expectancy among those who were hungering for a country glimmering with idealism. Pakistan could be fixed. Not just tinkered with, or modified — but fixed.
Fixing meant identifying the most intractable problems — the real deep-rooted ones — and taking a surgeon’s scalpel to them. Not an aspirin, or an ointment, but a razor-sharp scalpel that could slice through dead tissue and deader morale. The PTI under Imran Khan did just that, and did it repeatedly and loudly till there was no doubt left what he and his party stood for: not just a slightly better Pakistan, or a marginally improved Pakistan, but a naya Pakistan.
The broad sweep of the promised reform — transformational reform — has shrunk to tinkering with an already broken system.
And what would constitute this naya Pakistan? The promised reform agenda took one’s breath away. One look at it and you could visualise a beautiful country for your children and grandchildren. This then was the promised land; a castle of dreams forged in the image of the founding fathers, envisioned as a home for generations upon generations of Pakistanis imbued with the spirit of idealism. PTI sketched this dream on a bland tapestry of hope, and draped it across the imposing presence of Minar-e-Pakistan for the whole nation to gaze upon.
The police would be transformed from the broken, corrupt and brutal institution that most citizens perceive it to be, into an efficient, service-oriented and humane force. This would be a transformation unimaginable in a society groaning under the weight of a colonial institution and accepting it as fate because no government — civil or military — could ever dare attempt such a change. But Imran Khan could. And would.
An education emergency would be declared in the country so that every single child would be enrolled in schools that would impart quality education uniformly across all sections of society. Education would be the PTI government’s highest priority which would mean the entire political, administrative and financial weight of the government(s) would be brought to bear upon this reform. This would be a transformation so colossal, and so spectacular, it would pivot Pakistan towards a genuine strategic re-orientation. No government — civil or military — could ever attempt this change. But Imran Khan could. And would.
A dragnet of accountability would be cast wide, and without discrimination, to bring to justice all those who had committed crimes against the nation through corruption. No man or woman, regardless of his or her status, office or party affiliation, would be spared. None. For a society used to being trampled upon by the powerful and the privileged, this was a promise so wondrous, it felt like a dream. No government — civil or military — had the courage or the audacity to even consider this revolutionary change. But Imran Khan could. And would.
Read: Tracking Naya Pakistan — Three years into power, here’s where PTI stands on some of its promises
The economy would be revived through the injection of tax revenues whose volume would be three times more than the previous numbers. Overseas Pakistanis would flood the country with precious dollars and foreign investment would flow in like a gushing river cascading down the mountain. The leader would inspire trust that would generate so much money that the supply of jobs would outstrip demand. Corruption would be uprooted in 90 days and those billions of rupees looted by corrupt politicians would be brought back, and when ploughed into the economy, would be sufficient to resolve all our financial woes. For a nation battered by the rigours of a struggling and debt-burdened economy, this was the turnaround always promised but never delivered. No government — civil or military — had the vision or capacity to revamp the economy into a regional powerhouse. But Imran Khan could. And would.
That was then. This is now.
Now it’s a struggle to keep the head above water; a struggle to save the situation from collapsing; a struggle to maintain — at the very least — the status quo. It is, in fact, a struggle to grapple with the fundamentals of governance, a struggle to grasp the elemental execution of administrative functioning — unsuccessfully managing commodity prices and supplies — and a herculean struggle to control spiraling inflation as it eats through the monthly budgets of citizens.
The broad sweep of the promised reform — transformational reform — has gradually shrunk to what can, at best, be termed as tinkering with an already broken system. What was supposed to be foundational police reforms have been reduced to reshuffling of IGs and SHOs; what was supposed to be an education emergency heralding the dawn of a new Pakistan, has degenerated into the controversial Single National Curriculum whose promised dividends continue to divide the nation; what was supposed to be a bold and daring process of across-the-board accountability trumpeting the accession of a genuine rule of law, has mutated into a conventional, good old witch-hunt; what was supposed to be an unleashing of economic dynamism — pumping revenues and hope through its veins — has shriveled into a desperate bid to emulate the old cycle which starts from the IMF programme, goes through predictable stages of slowdown, recovery, imports sans exports, growth budget, widening deficit, massive spending and finally back to the IMF. And reform? What reform?
So yes, it is fine to sing, dance and celebrate surviving three whole years, but some in the PTI — and among its supporters — might want to ask themselves one simple question.
Who has changed more: Pakistan or PTI?
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2021