By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
When Pakistan’s most successful cricket captain Imran Khan became Prime Minister of his country in August 2018 after a long and hard struggle against a deeply entrenched feudal Establishment, many believed that he had in him the ability to replicate his success as a cricket team builder and skipper in the new field of governance.
His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), ideologically hitched to probity and public service, was rearing to demolish the Pakistani system steeped in corruption, selfishness and dynastic rule.
Imran was (and is) routinely dubbed by the Opposition as a Prime Minister “selected” by the army and not one “elected” by the people, but no one in his right mind can take away from him the groundswell of popular support he enjoyed in his march to power in 2018.
He promised to build a New Pakistan (Naya Pakistan) which would be ruled as per the just, compassionate and progressive system devised by Prophet Mohammad to rule Medina (Riyasat-e-Madinah). A non-communal person at heart and a devoted to Sufism, Imran reached out to Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian minorities, attending Deepavali festivities and giving armed protection to churches celebrating Christmas Mass. He re-started the project to open the “Kartarpur Corridor” to link a famous Sikh religious shrine called Darbar Sahib in Karatarpur in Pakistani Punjab, with another famous Sikh shrine Dera Baba Nanak Sahib in the Indian Punjab for the benefit of Sikhs in Pakistan and India.
Imran tried to turn a government of the elite, by the elite, and for the elite, into a government for the Aam Aadmi ( common man). The leading Pakistani journalist Meher Tarar wrote in Gulf News that Imran began to build shelters for the homeless and to construct toilets for the underprivileged. He gave nationality status to the Afghan refugees; began a movement to plant a billion trees; started the “Insaf Sehat” health card scheme; and a scheme to build affordable houses.
He initiated the Ehsas program for the short and long-term assistance and rehabilitation of the lowest-income strata of society. Imran also opened langars (soup kitchens), an initiative in collaboration with the Saylani Welfare Trust. He introduced free treatment for the poor at the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital in Lahore and Peshawar which he had himself built.
Imran created the political atmosphere for the release in November 2018 of the Christian girl Asia Noreen bibi who had been unjustly sentenced to death for blasphemy, a common way of harassing non-Muslims.. He released Indian fighter pilot Abhinandan Varthaman after his plane was shot down in an air battle in February this year.
Imran began modernizing the curricula at the Madrassa religious schools to include science and other secular subjects to curb Islamic fundamentalism which had bred political extremism and terrorism.
The jailing of businessman-politicians Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari and others for corruption; and his moves to collect dues from business heavy weights had shaken entrenched elements.
But there were huge obstacles to clear before any good could be done in a sustained manner in Pakistan. The economy was in a shambles (for no fault of his though). His predecessors, the Sharifs, Bhuttos and the military rulers had ruined the economy.
According to Economic Times, GDP growth fell from 5.5% in Financial Year 2018 to 3.3% in FY 2019. It is expected to come down to 2.4% in FY 2020. Foreign Direct Investment fell by 51.7% and Foreign Private Investment was down by 64.3% . Imports shot up but exports had been poor.
The fiscal deficit is 7.1 % of the GDP, the highest in seven years. Gross Public Debt to GDP is 77.1%. The Gross Public Debt went up from Pak Rs.16.3 trillion in 2013 to Pak Rs.28.9 trillion in 2018. The Balance of Payments situation is alarming. To add to the burden on the exchequer, the military takes between 17 and 22% of the national budget even though it runs businesses valued at US$ 100 billion. Lack of internal and external investment had led to joblessness. Inflation is expected to go up to 13% in a year, a ten year high.
China, Saudi Arabia and the IMF had come to Imran’s rescue with funds but in the absence of fundamental changes in the economy and reforms such aid would only be a palliative.
Foreign Policy Failure
In the area of foreign relations, Imran has not been able to match India’s clout on the critical issue of Kashmir. Despite widespread international media criticism of India’s action of reducing the powers enjoyed by the Muslim-majority State of Jammu and Kashmir; and despite China’s support, the UN Security Council did not pass a resolution against India. China itself was ambivalent. President Xi Jinping entertained Imran in Beijing but he also paid a visit to India for a summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in which trade and not Kashmir was discussed.
To add to Imran’s embarrassment, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recently put Pakistan on the “grey list” for not doing enough to curb terrorist financing. Opposition leaders slammed Imran for saying in the US that Pakistan had “blundered” by supporting the US war on terror and admitting that it had sheltered the Al Qaeda and other militants.
According to the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG), from among the 40 recommendations, Pakistan fully complied with only one, largely complied with nine, partially complied with 26, and totally missed four parameters, which were mandatory if Islamabad wanted to be removed from the grey list.
Islamic Radicals’ Challenge
Imran’s failure on the Kashmir front and his threat to the influence of Islamic outfits encouraged the latter to raise the banner of revolt. Firebrand religious leader Maulana Fazalur Rehman, Chief of the Jamiat Ulema Islam (Fazal) or JUI-F, is going to stage a “Azadi March” or “Freedom March” to lock down capital city Islamabad to “dethrone” Imran Khan. The Azadi March will begin from across the country on October 27 and will reach Islamabad on October 31.
The Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) led by the Bhutto-Zaradaris and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) led by the Nawaz Sharif family have also joined the JUI-F movement.
“With Imran’s resignation, all issues in Pakistan would be resolved,” said Bilawal Bhutto chief of PPP whose father and former Pakistan President of Asif Ali Zardari was sent to jail on corruption charges. “Prime Minister Imran Khan is a hurdle when it comes to the restoration of democracy, economic revival and media freedom,” Bhutto added.
The Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has also jumped into the fray. It warned the government against any measures to block the march. It said the country’s legal fraternity will “not hesitate to launch a nationwide campaign of protest” if the government denies the constitutional right to protest. Shaken, the government has formed a committee to negotiate with the JUI-F. It is headed by Defense Minister Pervez Khattak.
The military’s role in this is still unknown and is a subject of speculation. It was recently reported that some disgruntled top businessmen had complained to army chief, Gen.Qamar Javed Bajwa, about Imran’s policies. This is because the army is believed to be the power behind Imran. According to Economic Times Gen.Bajwa is urging Imran to be conciliatory with Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the leader of the Freedom March. The advice and influence of the newly appointed Interior Minister Brig.Ijaz Shah, who had handled key militants when he was Intelligence Bureau chief, could be crucial in shaping events, reports say.