Imran led change for what?
Imran Khan has perhaps scored well in the first inning of the first test match of politics played at Minar-e-Pakistan last month. And for the urban middle class political pundits who are tired of corruption and bad governance it was an exhilarating moment. Educated but politically naive youth and many contemporary journalists have pinned their hopes on ‘Imran the harbinger of change.’
Change from what to what? This is the question. Imran Khan’s promises change in the culture of corruption and present policy against the Jihadi forces. He has been consciously avoiding to touch the basic issue that ails the Pakistani politics — the control of military establishment on the country’s foreign and national security policy. Another important issue is how to put the economy back on track. His party officials have some ideas. “Our committee on economy is working on a policy paper and would be presenting it to the people with the party manifesto,” PTI Karachi President Naeem-ul-Haq informed me. He has some ideas that need to be crystalised and approved by his party before sharing them with the public.
Before analysing why Imran Khan is vague on these important issues let’s focus on one of the most talked about issue in urban setting — corruption. Although corruption cannot be condoned in any society, at the same time its rise and fall shouldn’t be discussed without social, economic and political perspective.
First let’s briefly define ‘Corruption’ as it is perceived today by the economists and political analysts. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Politics “Corruption obtains when an official transfers a benefit to an individual who may or may not be entitled to the benefit, in exchange for an illegal payment (the bribe). By taking the bribe, the official breaks a legal binding he gave to his ‘principal’. It further says “a positive relation appears to exist between the extent of bribery and the ‘level of red tape….”
Two social scientists Donatella Della Porta and Yves Meny in their excellent book ‘Democracy and Corruption in Europe’ have said: “Corruption can be initially defined as clandestine exchange between two markets; the political and/or administrative market and the economic and social market.”
Corruption perhaps has been the oldest evil that has existed in the human society. The issue has come under the spotlight particularly after the end of the cold war. Before that the capitalist democracies were only critical of corruption in the socialist countries and would cover up their own follies. But once the fear that people might get attracted to an alternate socialist politico-economic system fell with the Berlin war, the western democracies became introspective about the ills within.
Corruption in developing and developed countries is not only an exclusive domain of the politicians and the government officials, as it appears from the roaring speeches of Imran Khan and the media in Pakistan. Multi-billion corruption scandals in the West have brought down famous banks and companies and the worst recession. In Pakistan the media industry is also well aware of the corrupt practices of their owners, advertising agencies and even multinational brand managers. The irony is that the same people sermon ad-nauseam about politicians’ and government officials’ corruption — forgetting that only the pious who have not sinned can cast the first stone. As Imran Khan has yet not ruled his party can claim that it has clean hands. But once the elections dynamics will take over him, and many who did not find place in PML (N) and PPP will jump on his bandwagon the ‘clean professionals’ and former Jamiat-e-Islami cadre is more likely to be sidelined in PTI.
Public interest about corruption in the developing countries like Pakistan has surged as the democratic institutions started functioning and the economic structure is being deregulated giving more space to the private sector. This transition has led to the collision between the market players and a new social class of politicians, who are seen by the people, acquiring wealth rapidly. The arrogance of this new class of politicians is irritating to the middle class of the country. When the government officials and corrupt politicians react to the voices raised against corruption they miss the point. They fail to recognise that with the democratic evolution ‘new social forces’ have also “risen which previously lacked social muscle to stand up.” These emerging social forces are led by the middle class journalists and backed by the rejuvenated judiciary. In the late eighties the media and judiciary of the developed countries like Italy, Spain, UK and France went through the same throes. And corruption in these societies, USA included, continues even today.
We should analyse who are the major actors in this ‘corruption drama’ at the national level and what gives them the chance to gather this rent from the society. What is the level of the financial loss to the country because of corruption is difficult to say. The figures floating in the media at present are not backed by any in-depth economic study. I think a bigger loss to the economy is committed by the delayed decisions on important development and commercial issues. Bitter sugar fiasco and reversal of Steel Mill privatisation are good examples.
Leaving aside the corruption at the lower level for the time being let’s discuss where each deal runs into million and billions. The major actors in Pakistan are the same culprits who scream from the pulpit that corruption is rampant – politicians, civil & military bureaucracy and the business tycoons. The latter is the biggest beneficiary of this system. As one businessman confessed the other day after giving me a lecture on rising corruption that if a business house pays Rs10 million in bribes, the gain acquired is at least ten times of this amount.
Much of the corruption that irritates the common man is when they have to pay bribe to get the legal work done at the lower level. This American functionalist say is for ‘lubricating the machinery that was jammed’ in the developing countries. They also appropriately named it as ‘wheels’ as opposed to ‘bribe’ because the person who lubricates these ‘wheels’ is just getting the file moved cutting the bureaucratic red tape.
In Pakistan at present however the corruption of the politicians is in focus much more than the lower level corruption which is irritating the common man. A seasoned professional manager had told me once that “when we vote for one candidate who has spent Rs20 million or more on his election campaign, we also stamp approval that he can recover his investment with interest.” Those of us who have the opportunity as journalists to visit the elected representatives’ homes or offices in the morning have seen a number of people sitting in the waiting room with applications. And almost 80% ask for illegal favours. These people do not suffer from middle class morality issues that corruption and nepotism are immoral.
The facts that majority of the 37 million votes cast went to these two parties show that voters did not care for all the corruption allegations which were drummed during the eight-year Musharraf rule. The people’s court gave its verdict in the elections. I am not saying that many who are mentioned in the NRO list were innocent; my contention is that the voters did not care. May be they choose the lesser devil, the one which is approachable.
There is no doubt that corruption is widespread in this country. But most of the people who complain about this in their drawing rooms or on TV have either not paid their taxes honestly or have bribed the people to get extra favours. It is a part of all capitalist economies; the difference is that of degrees.
Second major plank of Imran Khan’s politics is that the action against the militant Islamic groups by the military should be stopped immediately and peace talks should be initiated. Many analysts who have followed the Jihadi organizations and rise of religious extremism in Pakistan have explained that the terrorist activities by these outfits will not go away if the state would lay down arms, instead of the other way around. The whole issue is much more complex than Imran Khan tries to put it.
His contention is that terrorism in Pakistan will end once the US and its allies leave Afghanistan. But what he forgets is that it has existed even before 2011 as various Jihadi forces were nurtured by our establishment in Pakistan. Then there is the whole Al Qaeda inspired ideological basis of Jihadi organisations which aims at establishing an Islamic Caliphate on the pattern of Taliban’s government that was thrown out of Afghanistan by the US and the anti-Taliban forces in 2001. A trailer of this was seen in Swat where when Islamists were given a chance, they wanted not only to establish a parallel system based on their brand of Sharia, but expand it to the rest of Pakistan. People of Swat celebrated their liberation. The army has to still protect the people from Mullah Fazlullah who recently attacked a check post in Chitral to enter in the peaceful valley.
After the withdrawal of the US forces, Afghanistan is likely to drift into a worse turmoil, yes worse than what it is facing at present. The success of Taliban in Afghanistan would be dangerous for the Pakistani moderate society as it will give a boost to the Jihadis. At the same time there is danger of both Pakistan and India competing with each other in Afghanistan for influence. Imran’s policy of appeasing Taliban is thus going to disappoint the urban youth and the pop-band lovers. It is also contradictory to his recent statement that he will not allow Pakistan’s land to be used by the terrorists against any neighbours.
There are a number of other factors which are ignored in Imran’s narrative. Most probably it is the influence of the ex-Jamaat leaders and political workers who joined him when PTI was launched. That was before the middle class politically-uneducated urban youth and so-called political heavy-weights started pinning hope on him.
Imran Khan has been soft-peddling against the real rulers of Pakistan – the military establishment. Many commentators have alleged that he is being presented as an alternate of Nawaz Sharif’s PML. It is heart-breaking for the establishment to have a Punjabi leader Nawaz Sharif challenging its control on the realpolitik. Whether PTI’s rise is supported by the establishment or not, the Lahore performance of party shows that he would be an ‘MQM’ to PML (N) in urban Punjab, as MQM is to PPP in Sindh. When MQM was rising in mid 1980s the establishment wanted to use it to neutralise PPP and nationalist Sindhi forces. But MQM developed a mind of its own as it got power in urban Sindh. This is so typical of all such forces that are initially nurtured by the establishment. Jihadi outfits that have challenged the army are point in case.
Now I would like to share three anecdotes in their chronological order for the benefit of some friends who ask will Imran Khan bring a change. When asked whether they would be willing to support Imran’s Islamists stance as people who believe in liberal secular politics, generally their reply was that they would be able to bring him closer to their thinking. This reminded me that when Bhutto took-over PPP’s leadership from J. A. Rahim and Mubashar Hasan who were in the initial stage of making a left-of-the-center some leading landlords of Sindh and Punjab started joining him. A leading leftist student leader of Karachi told us that Bhutto is a good man and the leftists should support him to marginalize the feudal lords. But at the end of the day we saw that Bhutto marginalized the leftists founding members like J. A. Rahim, Mubashar Hasan and Meraj Mohammed Khan. By 1977 Bhutto had all the big landlords with him and he was out to appease religious parties. He declared Ahmadis a minority, Friday as the weekly holiday and banned liquor. And religious slogans were splashed at the Nishtar Park election meeting in replacing the leftist slogans of the 1970 rally. And by 1977 he became a hostage in the hands of the defeated and humiliated army which was resurrected by him and unleashed against his political opponents in Balochistan.
Cut and fast-forward to Musharraf period before the 2002 elections. A banker friend asked me to join him for a lunch at PC Karachi to meet Imran Khan. Elated Imran narrated in detail his exclusive lunch with President General Musharraf. He said that Musharraf has told him: “you and I can work together.” Imran had no reservations about Musharraf bringing a coup against an elected government, his Kargil adventure that humiliated the country and his pro-US policies. But Musharraf said the same thing to Chaudhry Shujaat and this time meant business.
Next a Sindhi ex-PPP leader, who is a nationalist at heart, invited me to meet Imran at his house where he had some Sindhi politicians also. This was a larger crowd. After listening to Imran’s view the Sindhi leaders, who are provincial assembly members also, asked a simple power politics question: Will the establishment support his party? Imran did not rule it out. However, recently when pressed by the CNN and PML allegations that he is the establishment’s man, Imran said that if elected to power he will dictate the policies and the military establishment would be kept out of politics. He thinks that high moral ground of an elected government can counter any interference by agencies in making policies. Is it that simple in a country where war economy has created a strong vested interest lobby?
A senior analyst who specializes on the military in Pakistan view is that the senior members of the establishment are divided between liberal nationalists who are pro-US as they want it’s financial and technically sophisticated weapons, the other group is of conservative nationalists which is inclined towards China as an alternate source and then there is a section that is fundamentalists and wants to break all ties with the US. This I think explains Imran’s stance on Afghanistan which is anti-US but he is favourably inclined towards China. The establishment it seems is preparing a political ally for post 2014 years when the US forces will withdraw from Afghanistan. The ally — who can also keep the fundamentalists happy.
But his politics and views will get diluted during the course of the next one year to the general elections. The dilution of his hard views against the corrupt politicians has already started as many PPP and PML (Q) disgruntled elements are being welcomed in his party. At the same time it is quite safe to forecast that all future civilian governments are going to be coalition governments – meaning a lot has to be given on the table while cobbling an alliance.
Imran’s PTI may change the balance of political power in Punjab but that he can bring any change in the power politics between the establishment and politicians who are elected in a democratic dispensation is a big question mark. As an Islamist party, he will also have to show whether he will follow the Justice Party of Turkey course or just another faction of Jamaat-e-Islami with pop music and digital media yuppies in his rallies as a point of difference. He says he is a follower of Allama Iqbal, but little does he realise that pan-Islamism of the poet is a thing of the past with no relevance to the present 21st century world. (firstname.lastname@example.org)