Three Years On, PM Imran Khan Has Yet To Deliver On His Promises

By the time he took the oath of office in August 2018, Imran Khan was a legend in the world of cricket and a philanthropist who built hospitals. To millions, he was an honest man and a straight shooter. 

He had been active in politics for a long time but had failed to make a mark. His party held only one seat in the National Assembly and formed the government only in one province. His fame grew when he led a political sit-down in Islamabad to topple then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, charging him with indulging in massive corruption.

During his campaign, Imran made a series of grand promises that one might dismiss as typical electoral rhetoric. However, Imran was an educated man who had earned the Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree from Oxford University. Not being a run-of-the mill politician, people expected him to speak the truth.

People took him on face value when he promised to bring back $200 billion of looted wealth. More than a thousand days later, the promise remains unfilled. Imran must have known it would not be easy to fulfill. He made it knowing that the public, desperate for a change, would fall for it. That is why his electoral slogan was “tabdeeli.” 

Imran promised to create a new Pakistan that would occupy the high moral ground of the Holy Prophet’s Riyasat-e-Medina, the democracy of Sweden, and the economy of China. Millions in Pakistan bought into this Utopian vision.    

He promised to raise the standard of living in Pakistan to the point where people from other countries, including the Arab world, would move to Pakistan rather than the other way around. Imran said he would not go around the Arab world with a begging bowl unlike his predecessors. Nor would he knock on the doors of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). 

What is the reality? Based on the Trading Economics website, virtually all economic indicators are trending in the wrong direction. External debt stands at $122 billion, up by 20% from the time Imran assumed office. The deficit in the balance of trade is Rs. 691 billion, up by 70%. The consumer price index has risen by 50%. The Rupee, at 0.6 cents to a dollar, has lost a third of its value. GDP per capita, a widely used measure of economic wellbeing, has stagnated. At $1168, it is just 9% of the world average.

Imran is now into his fourth finance minister. The first, Asad Umar, had promised to put the economy on a sound footing in a hundred days. When he failed, Imran replaced him with Hafeez Shaikh, a voice from the past, giving the new Pakistan on old look. Pakistan is doing everything Imran said it would not do. It is borrowing heavily from the Gulf Arab states and the dreaded IMF. Imran has also appointed a man from the IMF as the State Bank Governor. 

As if restoring peace with India was not enough, he promised to eradicate Islamophobia from the world. Shrewdly, he only went after the West on that topic and continues to deny that China is mistreating its Muslim minorities, calling China alternatively an “all-weather friend” and saying at other times that it is China’s internal matter.  


Despite his lofty talk about human rights and freedom of the press, Imran has bonded with dictators and tyrants around the world. He went so far as to chauffeur the murderous crown prince of Saudi around town when he visited Islamabad.

Claiming that he knew India better than any other Pakistani because he had played cricket there, he promised to bring about a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute. Relations between the two neighbors are at an all time low. Kashmir continues to be a cauldron. Imran’s appeals to the UN to implement its resolutions calling for a plebiscite have fallen on deaf years. Neither China nor any of the Arab countries have pushed India to change the status of Kashmir.

As if restoring peace with India was not enough, he promised to eradicate Islamophobia from the world. Shrewdly, he only went after the West on that topic and continues to deny that China is mistreating its Muslim minorities, calling China alternatively an “all-weather friend” and saying at other times that it is China’s internal matter.  

Imran said he would end the army’s interference in Pakistani politics since the army and the political establishment were “on the same page.” Within a few months, he was extending the tenure of the army chief on grounds of national security, essentially confirming that the army had written the “page.” Pakistan is now rife with rumors that the army chief may get a second extension. 

The army has found Imran to be their best spokesperson since he does not wear a uniform. He has been transmitting changes in the army’s thinking, saying that Pakistan is no longer seeking strategic depth in Afghanistan, that General Musharraf made a mistake by joining the US war on terror in Afghanistan, a statement that the army would have found impossible to make, and that Pakistan provided intelligence about Osama’s whereabouts to the US, totally contradicting then-army chief General Kayani’s narrative. 

Imran can be much too glib for his own sake. At one point, he said that women are raped because they wear enticing clothing. At another point, he referred to Osama bin Laden as a martyr. Of course, those might be his true views and not just gaffes.

He openly professed support for the Taliban during their first reign of terror from 1996 to 2001. For ignoring their misogynistic and primitive politics, he earned the moniker Taliban Khan. When the US pulled out of Afghanistan in August, he said the Taliban had “broken the shackles of slavery,” implying that the US had enslaved the Afghan people. Now he is calling on the US to recognize Afghanistan.

Upset that President Biden has not called him, he restored to name-calling by saying that the US Secretary of State was ignorant when he appeared before Congress on Afghanistan. Imran refused to meet with the visiting US Under Secretary of State in Islamabad, furthering his belligerence toward the US. What he hopes to get with that attitude is unclear. 

The Supreme Court had dismissed Imran’s predecessor because he was named in the Panama Papers. Now several of Imran’s political associates, including his finance minister, are named in the Pandora Papers. It is unclear whether Imran will take any actions against them.

Any serious observer of Pakistani history knew that the promises Imran made three years ago were bombastic, grandiose and pompous. His recent UNGA speech, given remotely, changed few minds among the world’s leaders. However, despite his multitudinous failures, he retains his popularity where it matters the most to him – with the army and its fans.

Dr. Faruqui is a history buff and the author of Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan, Routledge Revivals, 2020. He tweets at @ahmadfaruqui