Good luck, Imran!

Good luck, Imran!
The Miltablishment, Judiciary, ECP and Media – “pillars of the state” – are entitled to pat one another on the back for successfully putting Imran Khan in office. Their task became doubly difficult after Nawaz Sharif defied expectations to return to the country and court arrest, triggering sympathy votes in Punjab that threatened to derail their carefully laid plans.

The opposition parties are rightly crying foul. They have demanded the resignation of the CEC and his associates for facilitating the theft of the general elections. The ECP’s explanation about the mysterious breakdown of the RTS system – denied by NADRA which put the system in place and monitored it — and the extraordinary delays in announcing the results hasn’t washed. Nor is it easy to stomach the fact that in many constituencies the lead of the winner is less than the number of rejected votes. The sharp rebuke from the ECP confirms a decidedly partisan sentiment in its ranks.

Clearly, those who thought that unprecedented pre-poll rigging would suffice to get “suitable results” were wrong. A last-minute intervention was necessitated in the dead of night on Election Day when the numbers seemed to be going awry. But that’s not the end of the story.

The “Independents” are now being corralled and branded. Small fry like the GDA, PMLQ, MQM, BAP, TLYRA, etc are being offered “sweetners” while the PPP is being whipped into submission. Asif Zardari, Feryal Talpur,Owais Tappi, Yousaf Raza Gillani, and a clutch of other Zardari cronies and PPP leaders have been read out the Riot Act by NAB and FIA: Cooperate or Else.

Still, it’s going to be a long haul for Imran Khan and Associates. The bare victories in Islamabad and Lahore will be buffeted every day for the next five years. Indeed, the project of putting Imran Khan in office will have to be updated by a project to keep him in office. Amidst this, the core objective of “Tabdeeli” will be very difficult to achieve.

For starters, Imran Khan will need help in assembling his teams in KPK, Punjab and Islamabad so that the core objective is kept firmly in mind. The refusal to appoint Pervez Khattak as CM of KPK suggests that the Miltablishment will retain veto power over critical appointments. The buzzwords in these quarters are “Neat, Clean and Obedient”. But a contradiction between means and ends is already palpable. The PTI has been stuffed with dirty “lotas” and traditional, status quo “electables” to bring Imran into office and keep him there by a carrot-and-stick policy. But “Tabdeeli” requires motivated ideologues to sacrifice self-interest and support hard decisions. The current intraparty spat over the CMships of KPK and Balochistan, or the resistance faced by Not-so-Neat-And-Clean Aleem Khan, or the visible power struggle between Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Jehangir Tareen for the coveted CMship of Punjab, is just the tip of the iceberg. The notion of public service or duty – central to the requirement of “Tabdeeli” — is alien to these folks.

The celebratory fireworks on the day Imran Khan is sworn in as Prime Minister will be followed by a different display of fire power. The Miltablishment, which has been tarred in the public imagination by its blunt political intrusions of late, may withdraw behind the curtain and let the “elected” government take responsibility for its actions. That would give the media and judiciary scope to redress their failing credibility by taking the government to task. Indeed, neither pillar of the state can afford to be pro-government for its own sake – the media for its commercial interests and the judiciary for its independence from the executive. This is bound to put several spanners in the works.

As if this isn’t enough, the job of putting the economy on track will provoke howls of protest from the very classes that have voted for Imran Khan. Currency depreciation will fuel inflation. Reduction in budgetary deficits will curtail public expenditures, consumer demand and employment. Plugging the balance of payments gap by curtailing imports and capital transfers will restrict commercial activity (SBP has already banned imports on open account save for essential raw materials). Increasing tax rates will be unpopular. Provincial bureaucracies and politicians will fight tooth and nail over any attempt to reverse the last NFC Award that flushed them with money, no less than any attempt to devolve power and funds to local governments, which are the preferred nurseries of the Miltablishment for nurturing “neat and clean and obedient” politicians.

The Miltablishment will also expect Imran Khan to exploit his “star” status to manage foreign policy productively. But it would be naïve to expect the two key players that impinge on us, India and the US, to overnight repose trust in him so long as he remains a proxy. The problem is that if Khan tries to cut loose from his key benefactor in pursuit of his own vision, he will feel the heat just like Nawaz Sharif did.

Good luck to Imran Khan!

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.