Although Imran Khan does not spell out the manifold linkages that bind Pakistan’s corrupt rulers to the United States, he understands that Pakistan cannot move forward unless it ends its neocolonial ties to the United States. To this end, he sets himself several interrelated tasks. A Tehreek government will pull Pakistan out of America’s so-called war on terrorism; this means stopping the drone attacks on Pakistani territory, revoking all the territorial concessions General Musharraf made to the United States, and ending Pakistan’s war against its own people in Pakhtunkhwa. “Pakistan should disengage from this insane and immoral war,” writes Imran Khan (360). If this could be done, the chief factor that has been destabilizing Pakistan, pushing it to the edge of a civil war, will disappear. Pakistan’s military disengagement from the US will be followed by efforts to end Pakistan’s dependency on foreign loans to pay for government programs, much of which have been diverted to private coffers in the past.
Is all this doable? Despite the dire warnings of slanted commentators, should Pakistan withdraw from the US war against terror, it is extremely unlikely that it would face a war. At present, the US has no stomach for starting another war even as it and Israel threaten to start a war against Iran. The US will certainly stop payments of the blood money, but this should not hurt Pakistan since most of this money finds its way back where it came from. China too will oppose any US attacks against Pakistan, and will stand ready to tide Pakistan through its balance of payments difficulties.
Pakistan can gain economic independence – Imran Khan argues – by ending tax evasions; this alone will double the government’s revenues. Ending corruption at the highest levels of government, therefore, is the Tehreek’s signature policy goal. Imran Khan has sought to develop a culture opposed to corruption in his own party; the Tehreek requires the party’s office bearers to declare their assets and tax returns; it has set in motion steps to elect all office bearers to the party; it will deny the party’s ticket to anyone with a record of corruption; and, it has promised to make all elected and unelected officials accountable to an independent National Accountability Board. Ending corruption at the top – Imran Khan maintains – will banish corruption from lower levels of government. I am afraid this is a wish not a well-considered expectation. It will take a lot of hard work – a variety of administrative reforms – to push back against Pakistan’s rampant corruption.
Reforming the country’s education system is a fundamental goal of the Tehreek. The country’s three-tiered system – consisting of private English-medium schools, public schools using Urdu and local languages, and the madrasa system – is divisive. The English schools reproduce the class of brown sahibs and spread their pernicious culture to the growing middle classes; the poorly staffed and poorly equipped public schools deny the great majority of the country’s population a decent education; and the madrasas have become a welfare system for the poorest children. The plan is to replace this multi-tiered educational system, one that has perpetuated the colonial mindset, with a uniform system of education for everyone that will embrace mathematics, the natural and social sciences, and history while giving their proper place to the Pakistani languages, English, and the Islamic sciences.
Another important policy goal of the Tehreek is to create a system of local governance for Pakistan’s 50,000 villages. This will take local development funds out of the hands of politicians and put them in the hands of elected village councils, who will decide how this money is spent. They will also serve as the local government for the villages, with responsibility for maintaining municipal services, including a registry of births, deaths and marriages; and reviewing the work of local officials responsible for policing, health, irrigation, and education. In addition, like the panchayats of the pre-colonial era, the village councils will provide cheap and quick adjudication of local disputes.
Imran Khan has not articulated – at least in his book – an economic policy. Most likely, this omission is deliberate; he has had many occasions to set forth his economic policies but he has persisted in reiterating his position on a few signature issues, including corruption, lawlessness, and the betrayal of Pakistan’s , national interests by the rulers. As a result, we know very little about what policies he favors on infrastructure, industry, agriculture, urban labor, urban transportation, exports, energy, water, R&D, etc. This appears to suggest that he takes a rather Adam Smithian view of economic development. If you provide honest governance – I have heard him say this a few times – this will create the right incentives for all other matters to move in the right direction; the proverbial invisible hand will sort things out for the best. With their property rights secured, private individuals, pursuing their own interest, will generate savings, investments, innovation and, therefore, rapid economic growth. It is possible that Imran Khan has not had time to formulate policies in these areas; or he believes that the focus on a small number of core issues will best help to energize support for his party. In either case, it is this writer’s view that he should quickly remedy this neglect. For good governance alone will not energize Pakistan’s people to become active economic agents of change. In addition, from an electoral standpoint, he is more likely to expand his support base by articulating his position on issues that are vital to the interests of workers, peasants, ordinary citizens anxious for their health, and prospective investors in Pakistan’s economy.
Certainly, better governance will be a hugely positive thing for Pakistan; it can start to reverse the ruination produced by decades of rampant corruption. But good governance alone will not lift Pakistan out of poverty nor will it produce economic miracles. Objectively considered, no one will contest the British claim that they instituted ‘good governance’ in India once the rule of the East India Company was replaced by representatives of the Crown. Nevertheless, the evidence is also clear that during their long stay in India the British produced a great deal of economic misery; unfettered British imports destroyed India’s manufactures; British capital displaced indigenous capital from the most vital areas of the economy; their destruction of indigenous educational institutions produced mass illiteracy; and they pauperized the Indians. Good governance alone will not produce economic development if that governance is not used to encourage the growth of indigenous capital, institutions, technology, education and skills. Good governance must also be used to correct past social inequities and the new ones that a capitalist system is certain to produce. If good governance is used only in support of markets and capital, it will very quickly be overthrown by the inequities produced by the capitalist system. Let us not forget that Western democracies – especially in the United States and Britain – are now mostly hollow institutions; they are tolerated by corporate leaders only because they can game these systems to perpetuate their wealth and power.
Notwithstanding the surge in his popularity in the cities, what are the chances that the Tehreek, if given the chance, will be able to form the country’s next government?
If Pakistan had a presidential system of government, it is more than likely that Imran Khan would sweep the polls; the rivals that any party might place against him would look like cretins. Under Pakistan’s parliamentary system, however, he faces an uphill task. In this decentralized system, where elections have to be won in several hundred local constituencies, the Tehreek candidates will have to fight against the power of corrupt local incumbents who will use their traditional authority, their money, dirty tricks, thugs, and help from their foreign masters to defeat a challenge that threatens to end their plundering binge. Winning a majority of these local contests cannot be easy.
On his path to power, Imran Khan will have to face a showdown with several factions of Pakistan’s corrupt elites. Many top generals, bureaucrats, politicians, media barons, loan-defaulting mill-owners, journalists, television anchors, and leaders of civil society have become entangled with American interests: they have cultivated ties with various US agencies; they or their close relatives hold green cards; they or their relatives work for subsidiaries of Western corporations; they have advised or worked for Western think tanks; their NGOs have thrived on foreign funding; and they have become rich and are hungry for more. Perhaps, the corrupt elites may concede victory to the Tehreek, since they may soon engineer a return to power; but it appears more likely that they will fight back, since this will end even if temporarily the bonanza they have enjoyed since 2001.
If it appears that the Tehreek is going to win the next elections scheduled for 2013, will these elections be held or, if they are allowed to proceed, will they not be rigged to ensure the Tehreek’s defeat? Alternatively, the political parties in power may try to increase the chaos in Pakistan’s cities, and thus pave the way for a military takeover that may end Imran Khan’s political career. More simply, the CIA or some segment of the corrupt elites, or the two working together, may assassinate Imran Khan. Can Imran Khan forestall these subterfuges? None of these options are certainties, but not to anticipate them and have contingent plans to deal with them would be reckless.
The power of the corrupt elites will be hardest to dislodge in Pakistan’s rural hinterlands that are still dominated largely by traditional power barons: the landlords, dynasties of so-called pirs, and tribal chiefs. Despite his tremendous charisma and notwithstanding his populist rhetoric, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto chose the easy route to electoral victory by co-opting the traditional rural power barons. This compromise brought an easy victory but, bending to the power of these barons, Bhutto proceeded to marginalize the left block in his party. At the same time, he implemented his farcical ‘socialist’ agenda of destroying Pakistan’s nascent capitalist class; he seized and handed over their industries, banks and even schools to the stalwarts in his party. Imran Khan too is aware of the handicap he faces in a parliamentary system; and – on a smaller scale so far – he too has opened leadership positions in his party to the old power barons. This compromise is certain to alienate the old workers in his party, but it also carries the more serious risk of alienating the young voters who have pinned their hopes for change on the Tehreek’s commitment to establish a just order in Pakistan. The propagandists of the old order are already hammering home this point. It does not inspire confidence when the Tehreek takes a strong stand against drone strikes but appoints a former foreign minister – who supported these strikes during his tenure – as the vice-chairman of his party.