This Article is From Apr 14, 2022

Imran Khan's 'Naya Pakistan' Remains Imaginary

On the heels on what has been nothing short of a surreal week, in a tumultuous chain of events, Imran Khan forcibly faced and lost a vote of No Confidence in Pakistan's National Assembly to be ousted from the office of Prime Minister. With 174 votes polled against Khan, a late night unceremonious exit saw a national icon fall from grace, and a united Opposition take control of the treasury benches.

But what does the ongoing political turmoil mean for the outgoing skipper and Pakistan at large? "A rude awakening," Salman Sufi, former Director General of Chief Minister Punjab's Strategic Reforms Unit calls it bluntly. Imran Khan finds himself in an eerily similar quagmire that in the past he once eagerly used to entrap his political opponents. The prematurely-crafted messiah narrative in the shadows that Imran Khan joyously benefited from in the last election proved short-lived as expected. In my opinion, Pakistan will be democratically stronger as political parties in the opposition or government of today have all experienced the hybrid system in one way or another and are set to chart new territories in its wake," he adds.

Others disagree. "The current turmoil underscores the volatility of parliamentary democracies, and especially in Pakistan, where national election calendars are often shrugged off, and government opponents seek to oust governments whenever they smell an opportunity. For Pakistan more broadly, the turmoil is an unfortunate distraction for a country dealing with soaring inflation, worsening broader economic stress, and a worsening terrorism challenge. Ultimately, it's the Pakistani public that loses out the most when political turmoil distracts the leaders -- whoever they may be -- from addressing the concerns that affect the public the most", believes Michael Kugelman, Deputy Director, Asia Program and South Asia Senior Associate at The Wilson Centre.

After a term that lasted nearly four years, what are viewed as some of the biggest successes and failures of Imran Khan's tenure? Salman Sufi believes, "The biggest success of Imran Khan is his mobilisation of the youth and ensuring their political participation." He adds, "I'd argue that one of the biggest successes has been external. Khan went further than many of his recent predecessors to strengthen Pakistan's global engagement with the world. He became a developing world leader on issues like debt relief and combating Islamophobia. On Imran Khan's watch, Pakistan scaled up ties with key countries like Russia and Turkey, and it became an important player in regional diplomacy on Afghanistan," believes Michael Kugelman.

Critics are united on the battered economy as Imran Khan's biggest failure.

"He targeted his opponents using state machinery and avoided every opportunity to do meaningful inclusive reforms in Pakistan. His scathing disdain for his opponents was dressed as an anti-corruption crusade, yet he put the same principles to rest when it came to his own benefit," assesses Salman Sufi.

Imran Khan came into power with the believed backing of Pakistan's military establishment. He projected himself as a political outsider who would clean up Pakistan but ended up by dividing the nation. For many, Imran Khan went from last hope to lost hope in less than 5 years.

With the road ahead for the former premier uncertain, how will history remember Imran Khan? Michael Kugelman says it like it is: "How Khan will be remembered will depend on who is doing the remembering. His hardcore supporters will recall him as a hero who stayed true to his chief concern of anti-corruption, and who stood up to his foes at home and abroad. His critics will view him as a joke -- a stubborn, insular leader who couldn't bring out the big changes he promised and couldn't fix all the policy challenges he inherited."

"Khan would like his legacy to be that of a messiah but for now, he will be remembered as someone who imagined a better Pakistan and built it only in imagination. The 'Naya Pakistan' Mr Khan promised to the public was easier to plug but when it came to execution, he relied heavily on intent as compared to action. He believed that the image of his party cultivated was enough to mask massive inflation, incompetent governance in Punjab and most importantly a divisive rhetoric," believes Salman Sufi.

Politically, Imran Khan may well have run out of allies, but the alleged

'international conspiracy' that ousted him has been met with large on-ground support . On the very day that he lost his trust vote and and became the first Prime Minister in Pakistan's history to be removed constitutionally, his call for 'peaceful protest' met with a massive response across Pakistan. Scores took to the streets to call out the alleged conspiracy against Imran Khan, demanding those responsible be brought to book.

To have the streets echoing in his support is no small feat for Imran Khan. It signals to him, his opponents and his cheerleaders that it's premature to believe his biggest milestones are behind him. 

(Yusra Askari is a print and electronic media journalist based in Karachi, Pakistan)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.