On November 6, 2018, a photograph appeared on the Twitter timelines of Pakistan. It was the image of a tired-looking man and his three little children, huddled under an old blanket, sleeping on a road, their backs resting against a yellow and black road divider. There was a red-haired, raggedy doll lying at the edge of the sheet on which all of them slept, tightly curled into one another. Around them was the merchandise of the man, probably a street hawker: baskets made of wicker and a few colourful plastic bicycles. The picture was taken by some concerned citizen as the family of four slept on the side of a road in one of the most affluent areas of Lahore. Twitter in Pakistan erupted into a wave of sympathy and compassion.
Three days later, another set of photos appeared in which a kind restaurant-owner had taken the family for shopping and food; he is also said to have enrolled the three children in a school. I thought it was one of the most beautiful things I had seen in ages.
And as I believe there is no power like that of positivity of humanity in a world marked with cruelty and apathy, there appeared another tweet on November 10, 2018 in which the photo of the man and his three children and his meager wares was re-posted. This time the tweet was from the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan: “Today I laid the foundation for 1st of 5 shelters for the homeless in Lahore & one in Pindi to be followed by shelters in other cities. We are committed to building a social net for our poor citizens so everyone has a shelter over his/her head & access to health & education.”
Power of humanity, empathy, compassion, awareness of responsibility and the quick response of government to the pain of citizens, that is the essence of this one act of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
This same empathy and the desire to do something tangible for the voiceless, nameless and faceless Pakistanis led Khan to the establishment of the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital, the first-ever cancer hospital in Pakistan, built in his mother’s name, for those who couldn’t afford the exorbitant expense of a cancer treatment.
Khan the cricketer became Khan the philanthropist, and that philanthropist became the politician who always had a profound awareness of the inequality and unfairness of a corruption-ridden Pakistan where financial realities created walls and divisions of who lived amidst luxury and whose three children huddled under one blanket on a dark, cold November night.
The five shelters, apparently a small thing in the big scheme of the initiatives of a new government, is a reiteration of Khan’s pre-electoral promise and his post-swearing-in announcement as the prime minister of a Pakistan that faces numerous economic and other challenges in the first three months of his government. It is a reiteration of his mission to create a Pakistan that is for all, a Pakistan that is modelled on the social welfare state of the 7th century Madinah, where everyone despite their differences of material status live with dignity, and an assurance of a life where all rights are a given and not an everyday struggle.
Khan, as the prime minister, inherited an economy in such dire straits that there seemed to be no other option than to approach old friends, Saudi Arabia and China, for financial help. An IMF bailout package is also on the cards. Contrary to his decades-old stance of, when in power, not seeking aid from any country, faced with the reality of an imminent Pakistan-on-financial-precipice, Khan is trying to form short and long-term policies that have as their goal a robust economy that is self-reliant: increase in domestic and foreign investment, growth in exports, a sustainable tax-system, accountable remittances of overseas Pakistanis, ease of doing business, elimination of corruption and formation of an incorruptible mechanism of accountability.
The Imran Khan government as per its 100-day agenda, focused on revitalisation of Pakistan’s economic growth, is working on establishment, improvement and strengthening of various fields: creation of jobs for young Pakistanis; revival of manufacturing and facilitation of rapid growth of SME sector; policy framework to build five million houses for people from low-income backgrounds; enhancement of tourism; tax reforms; creation of a business-friendly environment; transformation of key institutions; solutions to energy challenges; augmentation of access to finance; and guarantee of CPEC as the business game-changer in the region.
Khan’s government, as per his electoral and post-electoral promises, is motivated on establishment of a system that has as its major areas of importance the small and the big picture. Khan’s idea of a strong Pakistan is that of a proactive government and not that of a reactive one, reliant on making, remaking, shuffling and readjustment of policies. It is not easy, it is not flawless, it is not without errors of judgement and lack of experience in certain matters, but it is on the right track: focused, future-based, and zeroed in on the betterment of the nation, domestically and otherwise.
The major difference, in my opinion, between Imran Khan – despite all his much-judged flaws, idealism that is mocked and occasional governance missteps – and most other former rulers of Pakistan is one: Imran Khan’s government is not working on a self-serving agenda of accumulation of unaccounted wealth, unchecked power and imperviousness to accountability. While appearing self-absorbed to the naysayers and the critics, Khan as the prime minister is exactly the opposite of that: all his attention is focused on making Pakistan a solid, fair, vibrant, dynamic and a prosperous country that is for all who call it their home.
And that Imran Khan while serving the country as the prime minister notices the misery and pain of even that one man and his three children sleeping huddled in an old blanket on the side of a road on a dark, cold November night.