Jahangir Mohammed of the Centre for Muslims Affairs says in the first year of his administration Imran Khan has yet to show any major signs of progress, but that may be because of huge opposition forces and vested interests opposed to any change.
A year ago Pakistan elected a new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, after prolonged periods of corrupt dynastic family and military rule.
Khan’s convincing electoral victory led Pakistanis at home and overseas to sing “tabdeeli (change) is coming.” His Pakistan Tehreek -e-Insaaaf (PTI) had created a popular movement aiming to end political corruption, exit the “War on Terror,” and meet the needs of the poor.
A populist movement like this had not been seen in Pakistan since the 1970s when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto emerged in Pakistani politics with his socialist slogan of “Roti Kapra Makaan” (food clothing housing).
Imran Khan had come a long way from being a political novice to an experienced political campaigner. Despite accusations of being a “puppet” of the military, no impartial observer can deny that he had worked tirelessly for over a decade to win over the Pakistani people.
Whilst nobody expected PM Khan to change Pakistan in 12 months, let’s assess his performance against his promises in his first year.
But I must say that one of the challenges of assessing his performance is navigating the exceptional amount of propaganda and fake news about him since he came to power. This comes from a variety of opponents, primarily the old order and their media friends but also Islamic activists linked to the old guard, or those envious of his support from the masses and his rise to power.
It was also inevitable after decades of a corrupt politics leading to a corrupt culture in Pakistan that there would be fierce resistance to change. Many in his own party had previously been part of the other parties, and I am informed some are as resistant to change as those outside the PTI.
International debt and self-sufficiency
On assuming office, it became clear that Pakistan was facing a balance of payments/foreign reserves crisis. In fact, the government may not have survived or would have been unable to pay its debts and manage the economy without further international loans.
Imran Khan tried to avoid another IMF bailout and went on a mission to Muslim countries to ask them for assistance. He was successful in raising around half of the 12bn dollars of investment that was needed from countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others.
However, he still ended up taking out an IMF loan of $6bn. The IMF, however, notes that Pakistan has started a positive programme of policy reforms. Khan has also managed to persuade the USA to reinstate around $800 million of aid it had withdrawn when he came to power.
Whilst this assists Pakistan in the immediate term, it means that Pakistan is now indebted to a number of dynastic Gulf rulers as well as the IMF, USA and China. So it comes at a price of having to implement their policies and conditions, high interest repayments, and confines Pakistan to being a dependent state for the foreseeable future.
The consequence of the time it took to plug the gap in foreign reserves through loans and the effects of austerity measures kicking in has meant that inflation is now the highest it has been for five years at 10.3%, and the Pakistani rupee has devalued to around $160.
This is undoubtedly causing hardship for the poor and leading to vocal noises from the middle and upper classes who are in fact less affected than they complain.
A major campaign pledge of the PTI was cleaning up government, tackling corruption and recovering stolen wealth from former political party leaders and government officials, much of which is stashed or invested overseas.
At a personal level Khan has set an example by reducing the costs of his government, including PM residences and travelling expenses and putting government buildings to economic use. Very few in Pakistan doubt Imran Khan’s honesty and integrity compared to previous leaders of the country.
He has also set about arresting the alleged fraudsters and started the process of identifying their misdemeanours and assets, whilst negotiating with those countries where proceeds of corruption are stashed.
However, major recovery of laundered money – which it is claimed would have a major impact on debt repayments – has yet to be seen.
Unfortunately, corruption and bribery have become endemic in Pakistani society, and only a major educational programme starting at school, inculcating Islamic values and principles, can properly address this issue at its roots.
Increasing tax revenue and land reclamation
Very few people in Pakistan pay direct taxes so indirect taxes tend to be imposed which mainly affect the poor.
Increasing the income base of Government to provide essential welfare services and repay debts was essential to the PTI programme. But everyone from private doctors/consultants, lawyers, big property owners to businesses, media outlets and journalists avoid paying tax in Pakistan. And a great deal of resistance from tax avoiders is reflected in social media hate and comments directed at Imran Khan.
So whilst around 25,000 new people have been brought into the tax net, and a scheme for self-assessment is being proposed, increasing the tax base will remain a major challenge for the government.
Private individuals have also encroached on or built on land which is not theirs. Some action against those who have built or taken over stolen land has commenced and is unpopular.
War and peace
Imran Khan has been the most vocal opponent of the U.S.-led “War on Terror” in Pakistan.
His view that there could only be a political solution to the war in Afghanistan and the Kashmir issue has now been widely accepted at home and abroad. He has made it clear that Pakistan will never again fight other people’s wars but will be a “partner for peace.”
On the Afghanistan front, progress is being made on negotiations between the Pashtun resistance groups and the USA which Pakistan has been mediating, and a political settlement is expected in the near future. Khan’s firm stance on this issue has had an impact internationally and has brought some relief on the domestic terrorism front.
However, Khan’s constant protestations about peace, political settlements and international dialogue have been seized on as a weakness by the military ideologues of the RSS and the BJP rulers of India.
The Pulwama incident was a test by India to see how prepared Pakistan was for military action on the Kashmir front. Khan is generally perceived in Pakistan to have done well on the response to and handling of Pulwama, portraying Pakistan as a responsible nuclear state.
However, with the annexation of Jammu and Kashmir by India recently, and the anticipation that Azad Kashmir is next for attack, getting rid of Indian agencies in Afghanistan, Baluchistan and Kashmir will be a major challenge in the coming year.
Khan personally seems convinced that his policies of talking to other nations and international agencies will resolves military and political issues. He also appears to have developed cordial relationships with many leaders and countries.
Only time will tell if his diplomatic approach will work. Most powerful states these days tend not to fight wars against each other, nor do they rely on the UN. Instead, they use proxy paramilitary groups, sub-contractors and an array of local political groups/allies. It remains to be seen how Pakistan will respond on this military challenge.
On other international issues affecting Muslims, Khan has been rightly criticised for his silence on China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims. People understand Pakistan’s intimate relationship with China and that it’s CPEC project is important, however they expect better from someone who claims to want to establish a “Madina riasat” and is otherwise an outspoken individual.
Release of Pakistani prisoners
Many Pakistanis are imprisoned overseas, sometimes for no apparent crime as in the Gulf States. In other places some are political prisoners or victims of injustices.
Khan has long championed the case of Dr. Afia Siddiqui imprisoned in the USA, and whilst there appears to be a willingness to release her she has still not been released.
Khan was however successful in pleading the case for the release of Pakistanis held in prison in Saudi Arabia and over 2,000 prisoners were pardoned by Prince Salman.
But in Pakistan disappeared individuals or political prisoners are still being held. Khan’s promises of due process and rule of law remain just that, and no process or procedure has been established to identify those people and to revisit their cases.
Khan needs to establish a Judicial Commission which can identify and examine claims of families whose loved ones are missing or who are being held for no apparent crime.
Khan has constantly referred to the state of Medina established by our Prophet (peace be upon him) as being his ultimate vision. At other times he confuses this for a modern European style welfare state, as well as with the vision of Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
It is not clear if this is just rhetoric, or whether he understands what that state was and how to get there. No Medina state has ever been introduced through a secular democracy.
If he is serious about this, he needs to appoint a council of wise Ulama and committed Islamic intellectuals who should map out how to transition Pakistani society and its institutions to the Madina model.
Khan has also set out plans to mainstream the Madrassahs in Pakistan into a state-funded Islamic educational system. This has been one of his least talked-about policies, but one if successfully implemented could develop into a free system of education for all.
He has also started to discuss plans for social housing for the poor. Other welfare reforms are not on the horizons.
So in the first 12 months of his administration, PM Khan has yet to show any major signs of progress and has had huge opposition from forces opposed to change. However, he has planted some of the seeds of change that he promised.
It remains to be seen if the powerful forces of the status quo will allow him to change the system.