FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 23

Imran Khan’s rise and fall

Imran Khan’s rise to power and dramatic fall is a fascinating story.

Imran Khan came to power after 22 years of constant struggle in the political field. He was not a traditional politician from one of the established families. He was a new entrant in the field and came with new ideas.

He was a cricketing hero, having won the coveted World Cup for his country and instantly became a national and international celebrity. Immediately afterwards, he launched his political career from the platform of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. His struggle was long and arduous but gradually he began to attract the youth through his slogan of Tabdeeli – change. It was a powerful slogan which became popular among the young generation who also felt disillusioned with the status quo.

After 24 years long struggle in 2018 he won the election and PTI emerged as the single largest party in the National Assembly. However, the PTI had to enlist the support of other smaller parties such as MQM and GDA to form the government. This was the basic handicap with which the PTI came to power and in the end it proved its undoing.

Imran Khan launched some laudable initiatives for the welfare of the less privileged sections of society. He handled the coronavirus challenge with great tact that earned him plaudits from around the world. He also managed to provide a substantial cash subsidy to the needy families during the worst days of the pandemic. The PTI government succeeded in expanding the social welfare system and introduced a health insurance scheme in various parts of the country.

But he committed some major blunders in political decision-making. His decision to appoint an inexperienced political newcomer to the key position of chief minister of Punjab, the country’s most populous province, was whimsical and widely resented by his party men. There were other challenges, too. The cost of living increased manifold, with a sharp rise in food prices. This greatly dented Imran Khan’s popularity among the masses.

The PTI government’s difficulties were compounded by poor governance, a deepening economic crisis, fruitless accountability and hostile propaganda in a section of the media. Frequent U-turns, thoughtless foreign policy statements and endless confrontation with the opposition lost him support where it matters. Political weather became murkier and murkier due to Imran Khan’s ego-centric style, lack of political wisdom and one-sided approach on critical domestic and foreign policy issues. All this provided an opportunity to the discredited opposition parties to join hands, approach disgruntled elements in the ruling party and send the right signals to the establishment expressing their readiness to play ball.

All this is history now. What next? By temperament, Imran Khan is a fighter and he has indicated that he will not give up. His narrative is that he is the victim of a US-led conspiracy to affect regime change in Pakistan. The narrative is selling because there is a streak of anti-Americanism in the streets of Pakistan. Imran Khan is known for his undisguised anti-Western bias on foreign policy issues, and his harsh criticism of America’s war in Afghanistan. He openly refused to toe the western line on the Ukraine war.

As was expected, Imran Khan has gone to the people and been holding massive rallies in various cities. His charisma has not faded and the middle classes as well as starry-eyed youth continue to support him. This has naturally given pause for thought to the powers that be. The situation is no less worrisome to the combined opposition which is now faced with the same challenges of governance as the PTI, including rising food prices and petrol and utilities charges.

PMD parties came together on the one-point agenda of removing Imran Khan from power. Now that the cementing bond is gone, cracks have begun appearing in the ranks of the new government. Never in the history of Pakistan has a government composed of such diverse and diametrically opposed elements come to power. Dissenting voices are becoming louder, with the JUI chief asking for new elections at the earliest. The MQM too is disgruntled. The appointment of Hamza Shahbaz as chief minister of Punjab, while the father is prime minister, has left the PML-N exposed to charges of naked and ruthless pursuit of dynastic politics.

The million dollar question now is: how long will the PDM government last? How long will the marriage of convenience work? Shehbaz Sharif’s position is more fragile compared to Imran Khan’s.

According to many analysts, Shehbaz Sharif will not be able to sustain his coalition government for long as internal contradictions within the rank and file of the united opposition are deep and unresolvable. The MQM, PPP, Baloch MNAs and others pose a standing danger to the Shehbaz Sharif administration. The ultimate solution will perhaps lie in going for early elections.