Surely I am not the only one so enthralled by Imran Khan. He continues to amaze me. Consider his latest discovery: Pakistan’s five-year prime ministerial term is too short. But allow me to go back a bit in time before I return to this subject.
To become prime minister of the country, in terms of actual effort, Imran Khan went to lengths (all corners of the country), heights (standing atop shipping containers) and depths (using foul language) that no one else had before him.
From mobilising the young at the grassroots level to co-opting turncoats from the very parties he denounced, from making alliances with religio-rightist parties to erecting barricades, burning utility bills and invading the parliament. Bold, determined, persistent and focussed, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Before he became prime minister of the country, Imran Khan frequently brandished his strong credentials. One, that he knew how to assemble and lead a winning team. And, two, that he had engaged in political activism for two decades.
To support his first claim, he emphasised his success as cricket captain, particularly in winning the 1992 Cricket World Cup. His second assertion put him in a different class from other politicians in Pakistan. He was in politics not as a family heritage, as is the norm in this country, but because he was passionate about serving the nation.
In the years, months and days leading to the election, our dashing, desperate, aspiring and ready-to-be prime minister constituted and presented his team and published his manifesto. Moreover, he did what was a first in Pakistan, revealing long, medium and short term plans, all backed by figures and charts, to put Pakistan on the path of such progress as to make it the envy of other nations.
Not only did Imran Khan announce milestones and targets, parameters and deadlines, including a 90-day plan of action, but also principles and virtues that would imbibe him and his team.
So when Imran Khan became prime minister, his admirers were ecstatic, for cometh the saviour to rid the country of all evils. The public at large, the silent majority shall we say, was optimistic, for he looked promising, very promising in deed. And his critics were confused and bamboozled, for there was a good chance that he would prove that they were wrong about him all along.
In the event, Imran Khan’s admirers had rejoiced too soon and his critics had worried too early. What followed is one disaster after another worthy of a comedy, were it not for the fact that the fate of over two hundred million people is at stake. Always candid and eloquent, here’s how the prime minister gradually and incrementally explained away his failures.
Within months of taking on the reins of government, Imran Khan declared that there was no shame in making policy “U-turns.” In fact, the courage to make U-turns, when required, was a virtue. He made so many in such a short time that critics began to call them W-turns.
After over two years of heading the government, the prime minister regretted that he had been ushered into the corridors of power without any preparation and training. This, he said, was true not only for him but also for his team. I should point out, however, that a large number, if not a majority, of his ministers had had substantial ministerial experience under one or more of the previous regimes, the ones he condemned as corrupt and shameless. It is also significant that, within his bloated and extended cabinet, it is precisely the most inexperienced and amateurish ones who are closest to him.
And, finally, to borrow a term from cricket as Imran Khan himself prefers, he has achieved a hat-trick by lamenting that the five-yearly election cycle in Pakistan is far too short, preventing the implementation of long-term plans. In truth, the five-year term is the longest in any parliamentary democracy in the world. It is five years in the UK, India and Bangladesh. In Australia, it is three years. American presidents are elected for four years, with a limit of only two terms, giving them a maximum of eight years, subject to re-election.
A Pakistani prime minister, in contrast, can enjoy as many five-year terms as he fancies, provided his party is able to muster a parliamentary majority through elections and he retains the confidence of his party.
In India, Jawaharlal Nehru remained prime minister from independence in 1947 to his death in 1964, winning three consecutive elections. In Australia, John Howard won three continuous three-year terms through elections, losing in his fourth attempt. He was prime minister for nearly twelve years (1996-2007), second only to Robert Menzies who served for 18 non-consecutive years (1939-41, 1949-66). If Nehru is remembered as the founder of the modern Indian state, Menzies and Howard are icons of Australian politics.
Margaret Thatcher in the UK won three consecutive elections and remained prime minister for a little over ten years (1979-90), having had to resign early in her third term after she lost the support of her party.
What Imran Khan is aiming for, however, is nothing of the sort. He wants a long tenure not by winning democratic elections, but rather through some autocratic route. In the context of long and secure tenures, he has specifically mentioned China, disregarding the many factors and characteristics of that country’s one-party, autocratic system, which are totally inconsistent and incompatible with Pakistan’s foundational principles, the vision of its founders and the aspirations of its diverse and multi-ethnic population.
In the past, Imran Khan has also praised the Taliban and the Pakhtun tribal Jirga system of justice, falsely equating it with the jury system. Another favourite of his is the Turkish model of Recep Erdogan, who occupies the country’s highest office since 2003. Secretly, Imran Khan may even envy Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, ensconced in the Kremlin for twenty years and counting.
Lucky are we that our visionary prime minister has not mentioned Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus since 1994. Or, for that matter, Hun Sen of Cambodia or Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, in power since 1985 and 1986, respectively. A nation in the throes of multiple crises, financial, economic, demographic, political, social and ethnic, should be grateful for such small mercies!
by Razi Azmi
(Pubished in Daily Times, 5 February 2021)