Here we are in naya Pakistan, the land of hope and glory promised to us by Imran Khan and his party.
PTI adopted the slogan of a ‘new Pakistan’ six years ago when the party was repackaged and relaunched. The idea of change obviously struck a cord with an electorate fed up of being ignored and exploited, crippled by the rising cost of living and demoralised by the nepotism, corruption and general lack of respect surrounding them.
The excitement of something new is that it replaces the old, the jaded, the tried and tested. However, so far naya Pakistan looks a lot like purana Pakistan. What has changed of course is that now we have a prime minister who is very fit and quite good-looking. What has not changed is that he’s surrounded by a lot of the same sort of politicians — unfit, not good-looking, some lotas, some hawks etc. — and he’s pandering to the religious lobby in much the same way as his other rightwing predecessors.
What has also not changed is the slogan of making preceding politicians ‘accountable’. The new regime keeps promising that it will track down the ‘missing millions’ (or billions) that previous administrations have ‘looted’ and it will punish all the offenders, except, of course, those who are now in the PTI.
The look of the federal cabinet is not new either. As many commentators have pointed out, the majority of ministers and advisors in the cabinet also served under the military dictator General Pervez Musharraf. Also not new is that there seems to be a reliance on technocrats which is generally the model favoured by military rulers. And, certainly, not new is that all decisions seem to be being made by the man in charge, rather than his associates.
This lack of delegation may worry some people but obviously the counter argument is that people have voted for the PTI because they believe in Imran Khan. They believe he is the one (the only one) who should make all the decisions. So while it was somewhat cringe-worthy to hear the PTI leaders respond to all questions (such as, who was going to be the PTI’s chief minister in Punjab) with the happy refrain ‘Khan Sahab will decide’, this is perhaps what voters want: a strong and authoritarian captain.
Naya Pakistan is all about new beginnings and ‘change’ has been the buzzword for years: ‘tabdeeli aagayi’ we are told, ‘change is here’.
Yes, but where?
If change consists only of badmouthing rival politicians or clearing roadblocks near the urban residences of other political families, well that’s not very constructive. So far the messaging of the naya leader has been good but nothing concrete has actually materialised.
PTI’s Asad Umar has been widely regarded for the last five years as finance minister-in-waiting; yet now that he actually is finance minister, nothing concrete has been announced about the economic model or financial direction the PTI government will follow. Foolish really of people like me to think he had it all worked out and that the PTI’s rhetoric about ending dependence on foreign aid etc. was actually underpinned by some sort of research and planning.
There’s been a lot of spin and an emphasis on optics which unfortunately social media, particularly Twitter, has often exposed as hollow claims. These include the austerity tea-and-biscuit claim, the no-protocol-and-cavalcade claim and the no dakoos (dacoits) claim. Many more of course, but these have been the most entertaining.
What is new though is that the PTI is in power and now actually has to work on legislation as well as policy. Their last stint in parliament was just a long series of protests and non-cooperation. Imran Khan’s own attendance in the National Assembly was a mere 5 per cent. But now they seem to be demonstrating some new respect for the institution (no matter that their dharna model will now be followed by rabble rousing forces like the TLP).
Messages of austerity and egalitarianism meanwhile, are not totally new but they are good if they prove to be more than mere lip service.
And what’s absolutely not new is the sight of people shamelessly angling for appointments in the new set: the usual people — media types, analysts, ex-diplomats etc. As we have seen before this process generally begins on the election night.
What’s really new though, is that despite the feeling of déjà vu there is still a real sense of hope — that somehow, no matter what the odds, Imran Khan will change something for the better. That’s rather nice and hopefully it’ll be some time before this is crushed by old foreign policy, old religious rhetoric and old dakoos.