Give the PM a chance

  • In his success lies our success

As always, people are unhappy in Pakistan. And if you’re one to look for causes for unhappiness, Pakistan doesn’t disappoint.

But this time, the reasons are curious, if not wholly unfathomable.

Because it appears  people are unhappy not just with the state of affairs, but specifically with the new government. But this isn’t necessarily odd. People, the world over, have desires, yearnings, and hope. To demand, therefore, a certain level of delivery from your elected leaders is not just understandable, it’s a necessity.

What’s odd is this: before Khan even took office, bunch of folks were busy sharpening their knives, preparing for the onslaught. Some of it is the same old game – politics.

But that’s just not it. Other factors are also at work: cognitive bias, sublimated rage, and just bad logic. Odder still: a significant percentage of Khan’s detractors are part of the liberal commentariat —  liberals defined loosely here as columnists and editors in the English press, political analysts and so on.

Flip through any newspaper in Pakistan and behold the evisceration of Khan and his policies. This evisceration began long ago, but hit critical mass during Khan’s Dharna. Over time it’s become obvious  the liberal cross-section of Pakistan seems inclined towards a political landscape with no Imran Khan in it.

Let’s unpack this. First, the most common liberal critique against Khan is his alleged softness towards Taliban. This is where he got the unenviable title ‘Taliban Khan’. The argument was  Khan is effectively a hypocrite, living a double-life, privately liberal, publicly purist, handing out green olives to the beast that’s brought us down to our knees.

For once, there is new leadership and vision in the country, and people at the helm whose closets are not jammed with skeletons

Others have criticised Khan for opposing drone strikes in the past, suggesting some kind of pubescent starry-eyed wish-thinking on his part. It’s as though Khan was going around throwing pamphlets to terrorists, desperately soliciting their services to somehow upend the state project as we know it.

 Never mind Khan has repeatedly condemned militant groups, saying  their Islam is not ours, but that doesn’t count. Besides, if proposing viable negotiation with certain figure heads, and pushing for gradual reform – Madrassahs, education, dispensation of timely justice, etc – rather than an outright blitzkreig, is viewed as soft sympathy for Taliban, discounting entirely the depth and nature of the problem, then it’s Khan’s detractors who require contact with reality.

Interestingly, no one has yet proposed a viable strategy on how to get around this problem save Trumpian slogans like ‘destroy the madrassahs!’ and ‘ kill the bad guys!’.

On the topic of drones, one wonders how demanding that the US stop invading our airspace, is objectionable? Granted, the subject is more complex, given our own security establishment’s silent assent on drone operations, but how has Khan’s position on this been problematic?  What was he supposed to say? What is any self-respecting leader supposed to say?  Please come and violate our sovereignty, we’re open 24/7 except holidays?

Second, Khan’s detractors claim his Dharna was largely a disruptive project which cost the state heavily, both in money and needless effort. It’s a wonder how you can still make this argument when the only thing which gave impetus to Sharif’s Panama indictment was Khan’s dharna. This is straight-forward, and requires little deliberation: If you have sympathy for a man who manifestly lacked the grace and dignity to occupy the office of the prime minister, who couldn’t adequately comport himself without some reasonable risk of committing a gaffe or outright public embarrassment in almost any official setting (Nawaz literally had people reading out notes to him in meetings so he wouldn’t flub); a megalomaniac, thrice elected to power, thrice a disaster for the country, someone who came perilously close to declaring himself the Amir-ul-Momineen (Commander of the faithful) in a past life, who now stands nakedly convicted of corruption –  if that’s the sum total of your measure of a leader, then yes,  Khan is not your leader, and you’re part of the problem.

Third, some allege Khan’s 2018 election victory was backed by the army. Suppose that were the case, it had to be massive engineering, because PTI won with quite a strong majority. Besides, since when did Nawaz become a poster child for democracy? Have we forgotten the IJI days and Aslam Beg pouring money to get Sharif elected? Go back further, have we forgotten one of the central figures behind Sharif’s ascent to prominence? A military general who sent us reeling back in time to the medieval ages. Make no mistake, Sharif was never a liberal democrat, his beef with the army is founded not on some high ethical principle, but the ego of a man who has a history of centralising command and control because that’s the authoritarian way of self-preservation.

Fourth, Khan’s detractors have often accused him of U-Turns. He recently got flak on the whole Aasia Bibi case. This is a Christian woman who was behind bars for 8 long years for a crime she did not commit. These eight long years span two democratic governments – PPP and PLM-N. How come nothing happened then? Granted, it was the supreme court which finally acquitted Aasia, but do we seriously believe  evidence of her innocence magically appeared just months after Imran Khan came to power?

In the aftermath of the whole affair, TLP came out in strong numbers, and short of rolling in tanks and initiating full scale civil war, the only option Khan had was to temporarily negotiate, because that’s how the real world works. You can’t overturn something which was nurtured over decades. But this wasn’t enough for Khan’s detractors, who came out guns blazing on how he had committed yet another U-Turn, with utter disregard for the outcome achieved: that finally Aasia Bibi is free and out of the country – something which didn’t happen under Sharif’s watch.

Take another example. The new government formed the EAC (Economic Advisory Council) and appointed an Ahmadi – Atif Mian – as its chair person. Upon massive resistance from religious circles, the government grudgingly withdrew Mian’s offer. No doubt this incident was unfortunate and should have been handled with greater finesse. But this is part of progress – action, and recalibrated reaction. In a country like Pakistan, there are no overnight fixes. Here it should be noted that Sharif, in all his time in office has done little to nothing to further the cause of the marginalised. But still, Khan came under fire for at least trying to do the right thing.

The list goes on, but here’s the bottom line: through most of its history, Pakistan has suffered immensely at the hands of incompetent dynasts. For once, there is new leadership and vision in the country, and people at the helm whose closets are not jammed with skeletons – or relatively so. Either we could give them an honest chance and hope things turn for the better, or we continue down the dark dreary path that’s hurt us before and guaranteed to inflict more pain in the future.

It’s time to strip our biases and tribal loyalties, and give the new government a chance, because ultimately in its success lies ours.