He talks about them in almost all his speeches. The obvious concern for their plight is the highlight of each interview that he gives in his trademark straight-from-the-heart language. Reportedly, there is hardly any cabinet meeting in which their issues are absent from his itinerary. Most of the new plans of his government are focused on the establishment of a system that would guarantee a life of dignity and ease for them. Every issue that they battle with on a diurnal, in perpetuity, is on the top of his short- and long-term plan of what is most important. There is never a day when he is not fully aware of their pain. There is never a day when he takes a break from working for them.
Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan and the underprivileged people of Pakistan. Khan’s concern, his empathy, his response, his actions for the suffering millions, for the aam aadmi, for the poor. This is the fundamental reason–other than his financial incorruptibility and absolute devotion to Pakistan, the other two reasons–for my continuous support of his government, of his prime ministership. The moment I feel that Khan the prime minister is unconcerned about the wellbeing of the millions of Pakistanis who belong to the low income stratum of society, or those who live below the official poverty line, or those who die the way they live–forgotten, broken, invisible–my support for Imran Khan would cease to exist. It is as simple as that.
There is not a bit of doubt in my mind that the world we exist in is not an ideal one. Pakistan circa the last twelve days of December is not a replication of the Medina ki Riyasat, the ideal that is Khan’s constant aspiration. Pakistan that Khan governs is in the process of emerging from the fragile edifice of decades of bad governance, gleaming but hollow economic policies of the previous government, agendas to benefit the few privileged ones, and short-sightedness that guaranteed that the lives of the poor remained stuck in a Groundhog Day of misery.
I know that many excellent ideas will not become a reality. Best laid plans will fall apart. Policies will fail. Promises will be half-fulfilled or broken. U-turns will happen. Delays will occur. Misjudging the situation and mishandling of issues will happen. Big dreams of a utopia will scatter like flakes of snow in Nathiagali. What will remain intact, immovable, unbroken: Imran Khan’s empathy for the poor invisible Pakistani.
The united opposition of Pakistan accuses Imran Khan of being a “selected” prime minister who has zero compassion for the common man, has non-existent concern for the issues of the aam aadmi, and is least concerned about finding solutions for the agony of the majority of Pakistan. The battle for their political survival is re-captioned: a war against an uncaring Imran Khan to whom the pain of people is irrelevant. A very few examples of such outright dishonesty as this Machiavellian allegation exist in the history of Pakistan’s convoluted politics.
He is called fickle, master of U-turns, flaky, but one thing Khan cannot ever be accused of is apathy to the issues of the low-income earning Pakistanis. Countless speeches and statements bear testimony to Khan’s never-ending concern for the wellbeing of people. Everything he promised or wished to see as a reality may not have materialised so far, but to assume that he does not care is as fallacious as the sun rising in the west. His plans for the betterment of the common man have been affected by bad governmental implementation strategies or lack of administrative farsightedness, but even a mere allegation of indifference is nothing but vicious point-scoring, and crowd-rousing populism of the united opposition.
From July 26, 2018 when his party won the majority in the elections to the inauguration of the Sehat Insaf Card programme for the residents of AJK on December 18, 2020, almost every speech of Prime Minister Imran Khan has focused on the pain of the underprivileged Pakistani.
On July 26, 2018, Khan the leader of the majority-winning Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf said at the beginning of his victory address to the nation: “…and I would want our entire country to think on these lines… The identity of a country is not how its rich people live. The identity of a country is how its poor live, how its weak live. No country makes progress if it has a small island of rich people and a sea of poor people.”
On March 17, 2020, in the initial days of the coronavirus pandemic in Pakistan, Khan in his first national address stated: “…I want to tell all of you that Pakistan’s circumstances are not that of the USA or Europe. Our country has poverty. Almost twenty-five percent of our people live in acute poverty. We are getting out of a very difficult time, our economic conditions, 2019 was a very hard year for us. There is unemployment, business is slow. If we were to close our cities [lockdown in the time of coronavirus], people are already facing a bad time. On one side we will save them from corona, on the other side, they will die of starvation. [In case of a complete lockdown] what will happen to our poor people?”
On March 20, 2020, Prime Minister addressed the nation again: “…our issue is that twenty-five percent of Pakistanis live below the poverty line. That means that they are unable to have two proper meals. If I implement a full lockdown today, it would mean that rickshaw drivers, roadside sellers, taxi drivers, small shopkeepers, daily wage earners of my country will be locked inside their homes. Would they have resources to feed their families for two weeks? Do we have the capacity that we provide them food at their homes? Right now, our capacity is not that. If I enforce a full lockdown, I would have to think: what will happen to my Pakistanis who live under the poverty line?”
On April 9, on the commencement of the Ehsas Emergency Cash Program to help the underprivileged Pakistanis in the time of coronavirus, Prime Minister Khan tweeted: “Today was the launch of the biggest cash distribution by any govt in Pak's history, directly to the most vulnerable and needy citizens in our society. This is a great achievement of our govt to transfer cash to the needy in our society on such a massive scale across the country. Rs 144 billion will be distributed amongst 12 million families over the next two weeks.”
On July 10, 2020, Prime Minister Khan announced: “National Coordination Committee on Housing and Construction has been formed. Let me tell you the reason for its creation. Firstly on its agenda is the Naya Pakistan Housing, our effort to build houses for the aam aadmi, the poor, to build houses for that stratum of society that doesn’t have cash to buy a house.”
On December 18, 2020, Prime Minister Khan spoke to a ceremony held in Islamabad for the commencement of a universal health coverage programme for the residents of AJK. Before explaining the merits of the new programme, Khan talked about one of his biggest passions: “The reason for making [Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital] was that there should be a hospital that if there is a home with [a family member] suffering from cancer, they should be able to go to a hospital without the stress that they do not have money for the expensive treatment of cancer. My biggest happiness about opening a cancer hospital twenty-five year ago was that those helpless people who couldn’t even imagine getting a [full] cancer treatment could go to that hospital [SKMH]. Even today they [poor patients] receive free treatment. They get the complete treatment that the privileged people [paying patients] receive. Doctors and nurses do not discriminate between patients [on the basis of their material background] at that hospital.”
Ehsas for the poor, empathy for the suffering, pain for the invisible, responsive to the forgotten, as long as Imran Khan the human being feels and articulates these emotions, I say with utmost sincerity and absolute certainty that the current issues of the poor–inflation, unemployment, lack of opportunities, sameness of existence–will always be the top agenda of the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan. He will never stop feeling their pain.