A labourer rests on his push-cart in Karachi
A labourer rests on his push-cart in Karachi. Pakistan is in an economic slump which has led many to question Imran Khan’s administration’s competence. Image Credit: AP

Rawalpindi : Mohammad Sohail looks around his empty tailor’s shop and sighs at the lack of business.

“I was taken by Imran Khan’s -slogan of change, but the hopes I had have -almost vanished now,” he says, surrounded by bolts of cloth, but no customers.

Business is well down since the tailor voted for the former cricketing superstar 12 months ago. Two other salesmen at the cavernous Rawalpindi shop have been laid off in cost cutting.

“He should be given some time, he’s only had a year,” his colleague Chaudhry Shabaz counters. “I’d vote for him again. I think he will deliver.”

This week marks a year since Khan’s transformation from sporting legend to the prime minister of a 210 million-strong, nuclear-armed nation. The 66-year-old arrived in Washington Sunday for his first talks with Donald Trump, where America will again try to court Pakistan’s help in delivering a political settlement in Afghanistan. Yet at home Khan leaves an economic slump which has led many to question his administration’s competence.

At the same time the opposition allege his signature anti-corruption purge has been revealed as a skewed political vendetta, as rival after rival is locked up by anti-graft investigators.

Rooting out corruption was the election rallying cry for Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. His populist campaign blamed the country’s woes on a thieving political elite which spirited away billions into overseas accounts at the expense of health, education and development.

Months before polling, prime minister Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N party had been ousted in an anti-corruption investigation after the Panama Papers international leak of documents linked his family to offshore accounts.

After years in the political wilderness, Khan won the clandestine backing of his country’s powerful generals, who have either ruled the country directly or pulled strings behind the scenes for much of its history.

Khan’s promises of a cleaner, more equal country along with a welfare state saw the PTI win the most seats in parliament and then build a coalition with a slim majority. A year on, a recent Gallup poll said his popularity had plummeted, with his -approval rating falling by 13 per cent in two months. Rawalpindi’s residents reflect the deep divide in the country.

“I had more than 1,000 hopes and expectations for Imran Khan,” said Naseem Ahmad, who canvassed for the cricket World Cup-winning captain. “We would be happy and secure. But now we realise we were wrong. I should have voted PML-N.”

Rising prices are his main gripe against his former voting choice. But plenty of others in neighbouring shops defend him and urge patience.

“You can’t change things in one or two days,” said Mohammad Atiq, a bakery manager. “It was the corruption I wanted to see change and I like how many they have arrested.”

Mr Khan is fighting a balance of payments crisis, rising inflation, a falling rupee and low exports. A £4.8 billion (Dh22 billion) IMF bail-out has been accompanied by subsidy cuts and tax hikes. He has been unable to make the switch from populist street campaigner to statesman, says Farzana Shaikh, a Pakistan expert at the Chatham House think tank.

“Clearly the art of governance is one that escapes him,” she said.

Any opposition might be expected to have a field day in such circumstances.

Instead, the two main parties, the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and their dynastic leaderships are harried by a barrage of anti-corruption investigations. After the arrest this week of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in an inquiry into a natural gas contract, two former prime ministers and a former president are now behind bars. The opposition says the cases are a selective witch hunt and Khan nothing more than a military puppet.

With such political acrimony, there seems little hope the prime minister can build consensus to try to get reforms through parliament.

When Khan greets Donald Trump tomorrow, he will meet a leader with one eye already on completing his term next year and running for re-election.

It is a measure of the difficulties faced by Pakistani leaders that in 70 years, not one of the country’s prime ministers has completed their term.