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Monday, 30 July 2018
Cricket star-turned-politician and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan speaks to members of the media after casting his vote at a polling station during the general election in Islamabad - REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Imran Khan’s victory can change South Asia
“That is my inspiration, that Pakistan should have that kind of humanitarian state, where we take responsibility for our weaker classes. The weak are dying of hunger. I will try my best - all of my policies will be made to raise our weaker classes, for our labourers ... for our poor farmers…” --Imran Khan
Imran Khan’s victory in the Pakistani elections is of enormous and positive significance for all of us in South Asia. His win is of course in keeping with the global trend of the triumph of populism over the political establishment and old political parties being eclipsed by relatively new ones or ‘third force’ parties. Imran is usually described as ‘populist’, while his party the PTI is classified as ‘centrist’ and his own personal views on issues of religion are defined as ‘liberal’. That is a welcome combination that we have yet to see in contemporary Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan politics and politicians as well as aspirant political leaders, from the Opposition and the Government, have much to learn from Imran Khan. If they want to know how to win given the global Zeitgeist, they must know which policies and profile to adopt and which are bound to fail. In this sense, Imran Khan provides an example for politicians throughout South Asia—an example of what wins elections and which kind of leader the people turn to in these troubled times.
While Imran Khan will be a first-time Prime Minister, and he was known to an earlier generation as a star of world cricket, he is in no sense a novice to politics and social issues. Holder of an honors degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford, Imran retired from cricket, put into practice his concern for the poor by starting a cancer hospital in which 70% of the patients were poor and treated for free. He went on to build a second and follow it up with a university, both of which gave weightage to the poor. After building the cancer hospital, Imran went on to form his political party the PTI in 1996, which has finally won “after 22 years of struggle” as Imran said. He was twice elected to Pakistan’s Parliament.
Difference in discourse
In a long televised address claiming victory, Imran rolled out his policies and made solemn promises to the Pakistani people. What struck me was the stark difference between his discourse and those of Sri Lankan politicians and political aspirants today.
His speech which was spontaneously delivered, with only a single sheet of paper on his table which he didn’t look at except before the speech began, had two components, national and international. As the BBC commented immediately after, the heavy emphasis was on Human Development and the social issues facing Pakistan; the poor and the weak and their upliftment through poverty alleviation, social welfare, health, education.
He went on to speak about the labourers and the farmers, “who cannot give proper food to their children”, the “children who are out of school…children who fall sick by drinking dirty water”, the unemployed, the disabled, the minorities, women and even the domestic workers “without rights”. He said he will not enact policies which primarily benefit a “small elite”. No country which has an island of the rich among a sea of poor, is a successful country, he stressed.
Here is a true progressive vision, unlike the various technocratic ‘visions’ trumpeted here. This was a social democratic program for a South Asian society. Pakistan has found a leader who cares for its people, putting the people first, starting with the poor, the needy and the neglected: “My effort will be that we try our best to raise these people up, that all of our policies be focused on human development. I want the whole country to think like this. No country can prosper when there is a small island of rich people and a sea of poor.”
“I am saying to you today, that for the first time, Pakistan’s policies won’t be for the few rich people, it will be for the poor, for our women, for our minorities, whose rights are not respected. My whole aim will be to protect our lower classes and to bring them up.”
How many political figures in South Asia or Sri Lanka speak, think or feel this way? Here the local ‘Clintonian’ neoliberals speak of global markets while the local ‘Trumpian’ neoconservatives speak of race and religion—but neither prioritize the people and their identifiable needs.
Imran quoted the Prophet Mohammed’s instructions for the running of Medina, instructions which founded the holy city’s administration upon social justice and welfare. He described it as the world’s first “humanitarian state” and said that this was his objective for Pakistan, to transform it into a “humanitarian state”. This slogan can and should resonate throughout South Asia. Imran Khan’s two main sources of intellectual inspiration are known to be the famous Pakistani poet Mohammed Iqbal (a Communist sympathiser) and the Iranian Islamic thinker Ali Shariati (a renowned progressive and inspirer of radical and left trends within Islam). Unlike many so-called Sri Lankan patriots, Imran does not think that his country, culture or civilisation is superior to the West, axiomatically, intrinsically and in every way. He does not defend discrimination or inequality in the name of a dominant culture, ethnicity or language. He tries to learn from the strengths of the West to rectify the weaknesses of Pakistan: “We will set an example of how the law is the same for everyone. If the West is ahead of us today, it is because their laws are not discriminatory…this will be our biggest guiding principle.”
Imran on China
Imran’s extensive references to China were quite different from those that are made in Sri Lanka, where they are a monumental misunderstanding of the Chinese experience and interpreted primarily as a path to rapid growth, through managerial and technological quick fixes and the rule of the professionals. There was none of this distortion in Imran Khan’s understanding of the lessons of China. In his very first sentence on the subject he said: “We want to learn from China how they brought 700 million people out of poverty ...” we must learn from China’s experience in poverty alleviation”. He went on to mention poverty in his references to India, saying that the alleviation of poverty must be the number one priority of any government in south Asia and it is in order to facilitate the achievement of this goal that we need cooperation within South Asia, especially cooperation between Pakistan and India.
The foreign policy component of Imran’s victory speech was of particular interest because it was departure from the views usually expressed in the subcontinent which happen to be US-centric or Indo-centric. Imran’s remarks were multi-sectoral, arguably even multi-tiered. His opening mention was of the relationship with China. He went to neighboring Afghanistan, saying that he hoped for an open border arrangement someday, such as that which prevails in Europe.
His next reference was to Iran, followed by Saudi Arabia and the Middle-East region. He then moved to the two trickiest of relationships, namely the USA and India. Imran Khan had been a longstanding opponent of the US drone war in the Af-Pak theatre. In his speech he said that Pakistan should not fight America’s wars. Obviously the relationship with the US was not his first priority and had been replaced by that with China and the ‘larger Middle East’ as it is known.
In the matter of the relationship with India, Imran Khan struck a fine balance. He reminded the audience that as a cricketer he had traveled the length and breadth of India, and therefore he was saddened by the fact that the Indian media seemed to depict him as a “Bollywood bad guy”.
He was unafraid to grasp the nettle of Kashmir, arguing that there could be no military solution to a problem with political roots. He concluded his foreign policy presentation by saying that India and Pakistan should move towards each other, pledging that if India were to take one step forward, then Pakistan under his leadership would take two steps forward toward friendship with India.
Imran Khan’s views on Afghanistan, Pakistan’s own Baluchistan Province, Kashmir and the relationship with India, have a common philosophical thread running through it. While he opened his televised victory address with a strong denunciation of terrorist suicide bomb attacks and it is an open secret that he has enjoyed the support of Pakistan’s influential military especially during this election, having long cultivated its support, it is also the case that he strongly believes that political and ethnic problems at the root of insurgencies cannot be solved by military action and that even deploying the army to face political unrest which enjoys mass support, is counterproductive anywhere and everywhere in the world.
South Asian politics had only one charismatic star in the firmament—Narendra Modi. Now it has two. Imran Khan has achieved in domestic politics that which he used to achieve on the cricket field. It is possible that he will go beyond the domestic arena and achieve for Pakistan in the global political arena that which he achieved for his country in the realm of Test cricket and by so doing he may contribute through his ideas and personality, substance and style, to South Asian politics as a whole, that which he did in the game of cricket, in his earlier avatar.
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Monday, 30 July 2018
Imran Khan after the victory
Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party, which swept the 25 July Pakistan National Assembly elections, brings to the office of Prime Minister the unusual dynamism and sense of purpose which marked his leadership of the Pakistan cricket team when it bagged the World Cup in 1992.
Occupying the Premiership for the first time in his two-decade-old political career, one marked by street level agitations, Imran brings to the office a fresh and questioning mind, not burdened by ‘administrative experience’, a mind attuned to change rather than continuity.
Like a good cricket captain, Imran has analysed the pitch and drawn a game plan which, if implemented, could fundamentally transform Pakistan, which is currently mired in rampant corruption, wasteful expenditure and lack of concern for the poor.
Imran’s approach to foreign policy appears to be fundamentally different from that of most of his predecessors. He plans to base his relations with key countries like the US and India on the basis of engagement and cooperation aimed at mutual gain and not on confrontation or bellicosity.
Wracked by Islamic terrorism and tension with neighbours India and Afghanistan, Pakistan needs peace to pursue its well-being. “No other country needs peace more than Pakistan,” Imran said in his maiden post-election TV address on Thursday.
Olive branch to India
In his extempore address, Imran held out an olive branch to arch rival India. Avoiding generalities and platitudes, he declared that he would pitch for enhanced trade with India on the grounds that trade promotes people-to-people contacts, which in turn will help remove misconceptions and prejudices which plague political relations.
Imran is clearly aware of the enormous potential of Indo-Pakistan bilateral trade. It now stands at $ 2.6 billion annually, but can grow to $ 19.8 billion. Some even say that it could go up to $ 40 billion if the obsession over security is removed from both the governments. Some analysts say that imports of India’s machinery, machine parts, electronic appliances and chemicals by Pakistan are keeping these sectors buoyant in India. Thus, India has much to gain by the enhancement of bilateral trade with Pakistan.
The bright spot is that both Indian and Pakistani traders are keen on trading with each other. Today, a great deal of the $ 2 billion worth of goods is route through third countries like the UAE. But, this is senseless because costs are raised and both countries are denied customs revenue.
On the seemingly intractable issue of Kashmir, too, Imran has constructive ideas. Kashmir remains the ‘core issue’ between Pakistan and India, he said. But, at the same time, he suggested to India a way to disentangle itself from the mess that it is in with the disputed State. He appealed to New Delhi to end the agony of the civilians in Kashmir, and suggested that the army not be used to quell agitations in urban areas. “Deployment of the army in urban areas invariably leads to violations of human rights,” Imran said. Asking India to settle the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan through dialogue, Imran made a sporting offer.
“If India takes one step forward, Pakistan will take two,” he said.
Sharif’s India policy lauded
An early indication of Imran’s interest in making peace with India came in an interview to Dawn newspaper early in July in which Imran praised former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for trying to make up with India through the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “Nawaz Sharif tried his best to mend relations with India. I will give him the credit. Nawaz Sharif tried everything, even personal gestures like calling Modi over to his house. No one got in his way. But, I think it is the policy of the Narendra Modi Government to try and isolate Pakistan. They have a very aggressive anti-Pakistan posture because Modi wants to blame Pakistan for all the barbarism they are doing in Kashmir. What can one do in the face of this attitude?” Imran asked in anguish. Imran wants the “blame game” indulged in by both India and Pakistan, to stop, and solutions to problems found through a genuine assessment of the underlying issues.
“India blames Pakistan for all the violence in Kashmir while we Pakistanis blame India for the violence in Balochistan. This blame game leads us nowhere, and must stop,” he said.
Learning from China
As a leader of a poor country, Imran openly acknowledges the need to learn from other countries which have pulled themselves out of poverty and backwardness. Referring to China in this context, Imran said that he would not only welcome investments from China, but also learn how that country had lifted 700 million people out of poverty in thirty years. “My Government will send a team to China to learn how they did it,” Imran said.
Pakistan has been having a very uneasy relationship with the US, with Pakistan accusing the US of using it for its geo-political purpose and throwing it out when the need is over. Imran now plans to engage the US to replace the present “one-sided relationship” by one which is “balanced” and in which the US is not the “only gainer”.
In regards to his plan for the people of Pakistan, Imran said that he would concentrate on improving the quality of life of all Pakistanis, especially the poor, workers, farmers, women and the minorities. He would encourage domestic and foreign investment to generate wealth and employment. He would revamp institutions to rid them of corruption and dysfunctions.
“The poor struggle hard but get little in return. We will see to it that they are enabled to make money and feed their children. As for the minorities, they have issues with some laws,” Imran said, apparently referring to the draconian Blasphemy Law which carries the death penalty even for minor offenses.
Since corruption in the public sphere has been his main political plank since 1996 and has been the main issue in this year’s elections, Imran promised to fight it in a unique way.
In his view, corruption thrives when institutions become “dysfunctional”. Realising that simply jailing the corrupt would not get rid of corruption, Imran committed himself to reforming institutions to make them function as they should.
And realising the importance of the leaders setting an example for the rest of the country, Imran said that he would not be using the tax payers’ money to lead a luxurious life. He said he would not let elected leaders to live off the peoples’ taxes. He would not stay in the palatial house allotted to the Prime Minister but move into a more modest house. Governors’ houses in the provinces will be turned into public institutions or hotels to make money which would be ploughed into people-oriented development schemes. Promising to set up an administration which will have the welfare of the poor as its main consideration, Imran said that social justice is the crying need of the hour given the dismal state of human development in the country. In 2017, Pakistan ranked 147th in the UNDP Human Development Index, which was 12 ranks lower than in 2000. Pakistan currently scores much lower on human development than Kenya, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia, Ghana, Zambia and many others with lower per capita income. Pakistan shows 42% lower health spending per capita, less public health spending by 1.6% of GDP and 27 more infant deaths per thousand than similar countries. It has 11% higher babies born with low birth weight, 19 excess child deaths per thousand, and 23% less share of population with access to sanitation. In literacy, Pakistan ranks 144 out of 160 countries with a rate of 56.7 %. Over 40% of Pakistani adults are illiterate, which is about 24% more than what is normal for a country of its income level. 25 million kids are not going to school, Imran said.
The macro-economic situation is worrying, Imran said, and mentioned the areas which need urgent attention. The Pakistani rupee had slipped from PKR 105 to a dollar to PKR 122 in 11 months. Devaluation reflects the depletion of foreign currency reserves. The current account deficit stands at over $ 14 billion against the full-year target of $ 8.9 billion. Pakistan may have to go for another IMF bailout.Unaccompanied by structural reforms, devaluation has only increased the import bill which has pushed inflation, raised the cost of credit, widened trade gap, slowed down growth and forced more external borrowings. The trade gap has widened to $ 33 billion, against the original full-year target of $ 25.7 billion. Foreign currency reserves have gone down on account of external debt servicing.
- sereneTop contributor
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Loads of positives.
We also would get the indirect benefit.
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Arjuna built the world tallest christmas tree, then talk about only cricket and how to build a good cricket team while Imran built his own party and talk about upgrading poor society , the whole country.
what a contrast from two cricket captains??
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- The AlchemistTop contributor
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- කිත්සිරි ද සිල්වාTop contributor
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The Alchemist wrote:https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/carcinogenic-kumar-thanks-but-no-thanks/