190228 imran khan
Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Image Credit: Instagram

Political commentators across Pakistan continue to debate as to why Imran Khan’s (IK) government, that assumed power in 2018 with such promise, lost power and going forward what is the likely scenario.

For many years the opposition taunted him as ‘the selected prime minister’ in the National Assembly (NA). Ironically, having ousted him, the opposition candidate for prime minister — Shahbaz Sharif was elected by the same assembly.

Pakistan’s politics makes unlikely bedfellows. The ‘no confidence’ motion against IK came in when Pakistan’s ailing economy, exacerbated by Covid-19 pandemic, was actually improving. The motion was carried through only after his coalition partners switched sides.

As they say in Pakistan, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” Sharif’s cabinet, a disparate coalition, comprises of the old faces, exceptions apart, dating back to 1980s.

Reading the winds correctly, IK quickly embraced the election mode even before the ‘no confidence’ motion was tabled in the NA. When others argued for working within the assembly, he took his message to the public, holding rallies across different parts of the country.

Post his ouster from power, IK has done his round of three hugely successful rallies at Peshawar, Karachi and Lahore and has undoubtedly taken his nationalist message to a higher level. He is making some amends but continues to spew contempt for the imperialist powers and their local facilitators.

Khan’s narrative

Khan is keeping the debate of ‘dynastic corruption’ alive in the country. He has successfully brought forth the issue of ‘elite corruption’ at the centre of political debate in Pakistan. The former PM is driving home the point that the PPP and PML-N, that ruled Pakistan for much of the last three decades, cannot be expected to improve things.

In process, Khan has disrupted the status quo of Pakistan’s political system. Adroitly, he has placed himself as a lone crusader against exploitation.

Pertinently, Khan’s story cannot be dismissed by simply criticising him. Pakistanis are coming to listen to him in droves and feel an adrenalin of change. His return to popularity is a wake-up call for his political rivals, who thought he was down and out. Because of his rhetoric, a spirit of patriotism has engulfed the country.

He plays politics, like he played his cricket where he is arguably rated among the top captains of all times. He creates high pressure and keeps everyone guessing. He tests wits and patience. IK’s style, substance and rhetoric are polarising, inflexible, and threatening towards those who oppose him.

Ready to pick up the fight, through the show of massive public support all across the country, he has put the parties that ousted him only weeks back, on the defensive. He is pushing for early elections and now lives to fight another day.

Personal politics

Pakistan’s politics is personal and not ‘national’. IK did not go for his failings alone. Yes, many of the vital issues affecting the common man, whose hopes he raised, have been handled clumsily.

Much of the term his government was clueless about how to fulfil the various social welfare promises announced by Khan. And yet people are now questioning the motives behind the back room deals cut to oust IK.

Relentlessly Khan has charged his opponents of creating a ‘hereditary democracy.’ Reminiscent of ‘Rana rule’ in Nepal during 1846 and 1951, when the great champions of democracy — Great Britain — intervened to install the Rana family as hereditary prime ministers in Nepal. Their grip only loosened when India became independent in 1947 and in 1951 Ranas were ousted.

Though characters may be different in Pakistan, there have been similarities to the Nepal case.

Often Khan’s detractors do not realise that despite charges of inadequate delivery, IK’s call for Naya (New) Pakistan raises hope among millions of people in Pakistan.

His appeal of a self-respecting nation empowers people and they like listening to it. Through his rhetoric, he represents and reflects the aspirations of the people — young and old, men and women — of Pakistan. He has taken the battle to the ultimate arbitrators — the people.

Sajjad Ashraf served as an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore from 2008 to 2017. He was a member of Pakistan Foreign Service from 1973 to 2008 and served as an ambassador to several countries.