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Imran Khan’s Naya Pakistan already has the ‘purana’ Pakistan solidly embedded

Husain Haqqani

As Pakistanis welcome Imran Khan after his relative success in the disputed 25 July elections, Lebanese poet-philosopher Kahlil Gibran’s poem comes to mind. He wrote,

“Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with trumpeting,
and farewells him with hooting,
only to welcome another with trumpeting again.”

Khan has promised a ‘Naya Pakistan’ but he is already finding that this will not be an easy task.

To cobble together a majority in parliament, he is having to bargain with politicians from old Pakistan. In doing so, he is already compromising the principles some believe he espouses.

Independent members of the newly elected national assembly are being bought over with inducements as are members of the Punjab provincial assembly. In both houses, Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) is short of a majority. In Punjab, the PTI was not the single largest party but will still form the government.

Khan will also have as his cabinet members people he once called ‘daku’ (robber), including the Musharraf-era Punjab chief minister, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, against whom Khan had initiated a loan write-off complaint.

But compromise is an essential part of politics and Khan is just doing what is essential for success and survival in politics. The problem is that it is also the reason why the rhetoric about ‘Naya Pakistan’ will amount to little as it has on several earlier occasions.

The Pakistani establishment and its apologists want the world to believe that Khan’s triumph is the result of the rise of a younger generation of Pakistanis. These young nationalists have been brought up on propaganda about how corrupt civilian politicians have deprived Pakistan of its rightful place under the sun.

As a celebrity who built a cancer hospital in his mother’s memory, after winning the 1992 Cricket World Cup, Khan was the perfect messenger of Pakistani hyper-nationalism –charismatic and untainted by corruption. Of course, when one has never been in public office, one cannot be accused of misusing public funds.

Before one starts believing in the “Pakistan has fundamentally changed” line currently being bandied about, it is important to remember that the two previously dominant political parties, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) received 19 million votes between them, compared to the PTI’s 16 million votes.

The PTI’s votes included the large clan (Baradari) vote banks brought to the party through the establishment’s pre-election manoeuvrings and pressure. Thus, an element of ‘Purana’ Pakistan had already crept into Khan’s ‘Naya’ Pakistan even before he was forced by an inadequate number of parliamentary seats to start further wheeling and dealing.

Islamist parties, with more than five million votes, got little representation in parliament. But the sheer number of their voters means that they will continue to cast a shadow on Pakistani politics. Having no stake in parliamentary politics, their role from outside could be disruptive unless they are handled deftly.

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