by Asif Haroon Raja
Perception in Pakistan
There has always been a common talk in Pakistan that after the demise of Quaid-e-Azam MA Jinnah on Sept 11, 1948, all the political and military rulers who ruled Pakistan did nothing for Pakistan and only looted it.
This trend has now scaled new heights ever since populist leader Imran Khan (IK) was prematurely deposed from power through a vote of no confidence on April 9, 2022. Bashing of the two dynasties of Nawaz Sharif (NS) and Bhutto-Asif Ali Zardari which alternated power from 1988 onwards is done by the supporters of IK in order to glorify him, terming him as the only leader who has all the qualities of a good leader and equates him with a Messiah.
Perception is not based on truth
If it is true, then kindly look back at Pakistan in 1947 and compare it with Pakistan in 2022. Pakistan has made all-round impressive improvements. Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s ten years rule (Oct 1958-March 1969) is still regarded as the golden period of our history. The US made substantial contributions in improving the economic and military health of Pakistan.
Pakistan’s economic indicators till 1992 were much ahead of all the regional countries in spite of the three wars with India, the division of Pakistan in Dec 1971, followed by ruinous nationalization by ZA Bhutto, and the ten years of the Afghan war (1980-89).
Pakistan born under insalubrious conditions
No leader wanted to earn a bad name by doing nothing and enjoying life. I agree that they could have done much more but we must not ignore the hard realities that Pakistan was born under the most troublesome conditions and it became the most difficult and most dangerous country in the world due to the deep-rooted meddlesome roles of India, Afghanistan, and the US.
Our adversaries never wanted to see Pakistan prosperous from the time of its inception. America has been meddling in the affairs of Pakistan since 1954. Successive regimes had to contend with external threats, fifth columnists, snakes in the grass, internal rifts, and never-ending intrigues. The US put Pakistan under sanctions repeatedly and forced it to fight its wars without compensating it for the huge human and financial losses. As against $ 20 billion in aid, the bulk of which was the fee paid for the services rendered, Pakistan suffered 80,000 human casualties and incurred a financial loss of $ 150 billion.
Foreign abetted intrigues and mistakes made
Field Marshal Ayub Khan, Gen Ziaul Haq, and Gen Musharraf could make Pakistan an Asian economic tiger, but Ayub fell to the intrigues and politics of agitation of the foreign-backed Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and ZA Bhutto. Gen Zia was murdered in a mysterious air crash, and Gen Musharraf was ousted by the foreign-supported lawyers’ movement. NS helped by CPEC was also close to an economic takeoff in his 3rd term, but manipulated judicial activism disqualified and jailed him.
Every leader including IK committed mistakes. The level of mistakes varied. NS won a two-thirds majority two times (1997 and 2013), and became PM for the third time in 2013 which was exceptional. He too committed mistakes but he could have done much more had PTI not created hurdles in his way from 2013 to June 2018.
No political leader completed his or her five-year tenure. The shortest was three months of I.I. Chundrigarh in the 1950s. As such, was there anything exceptional if PTI couldn’t complete its tenure? In fact, it was the first time that a ruling party was shown the door through legal and constitutional methods. Otherwise, elected regimes were packed up through military coups, political agitation, and misuse of Article 58-2b of the Constitution by the presidents.
Selective accountability and reforms
The first accountability drive against corruption, named as PRADA, was launched by PM Liaqat in 1949. Then came EBDO in 1954. Thereafter, Ayub, Gen Yahya, ZA Bhutto, Gen Zia, Benazir, NS, Gen Musharraf, and IK undertook accountability drives against corruption and none could achieve any results since anti-corruption drives were selective and not based on sincerity. Under the guise of accountability, witch-hunting was done against the leaders of the ousted regime.
Corruption is otherwise an international phenomenon and is ingrained in the capitalist system. All governments in Pakistan were deposed on charges of corruption. Only the Islamic system under Shari’ah laws can remove the menace of corruption and other social vices and improve our moral turpitude and none else.
It was common for the party in power to term the opponents as thieves, corrupt, and looters since it was the easiest way to malign them. None carried out in-house cleanliness or looked inwards for self-correction. The rulers assumed themselves as angels and the others as devils, whereas both camps were and are chips of the same block.
No one wanted to convert the sham democracy into true democracy by carrying out reforms of institutions and stuck to the British inherited Westminster democracy and judicial system and made no changes in Anglo Saxon laws. Without reforms, no headway can be made. Even now, IK is least interested in reforms, and his sole ambition is to regain power.
The myth about Imran Khan
The creation of Pakistan was a miracle and its survival for 75 years is also a miracle and a blessing of Allah. I am sure Allah will continue to protect Pakistan. So to say that IK is the lone savior would amount to transgression in divine matters.
As regards the opinion in a fashion that IK is superior to all other political leaders, I may agree to the extent of saying that among the current lot, he is more charismatic, magnetic, energetic, dashing, handsome, clean, and full of drive and initiative and is a crowd puller.
Are these qualities good enough to become a successful ruler? He suffers from egoism, arrogance, and superiority complex due to which he views all others as misfits and scums of the earth not worth shaking hands and talking with. He has little experience in governance, economics, diplomacy, international affairs, and security dynamics.
Had he remained in the parliament from 2002 to 2008, and become Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in 2013 or the opposition leader in the national assembly, he would have gained rich experience. But he believed in ruling through remote control like MQM’s Altaf Hussain. That’s why, when he became the PM in 2018, he was clueless and was guided like a baby by the Establishment, his foreign advisers, the turncoats within his party, and the crooked allies. They all failed him.
No reformation of PTI
IK has made no changes in his party and is still hooked with PML-Q with a shadowy past and troublemaker Sheikh Rashid. He has yet to spell out a new economic and reform plan as to how he intends to take the country out of the woods. Rhetoric is certainly not the remedy to our maladies. He is now once again making an assumption that he would fill Pakistan’s banks with the inflow of dollars from Pakistani expatriates.
If so, why couldn’t he do so when he was holding the fort for a little less than four years? The majority of the ex-pats are living from hand to mouth and are not only tending to their families living with them but also their parents in Pakistan. Moreover, whatever little money they might donate would not help to reduce corruption, or to make the corruption-ridden effete state institutions efficient.
Had PTI completed its full tenure, there were speculations that Pakistan might have defaulted since the IMF upon which he had made the economy wholly dependent, had stopped giving loans and friendly countries had also done the same. The US, China, and EU were unhappy.
So, what could he do without their support, when cash and foreign exchange reserves were depleting fast? GDP, which had dipped from 5.8 to zero % in 2019-20, bounced back in 2021, but it couldn’t be sustained due to the global oil and financial crisis. Oil and gas at a cheap price from Russia was a delusion since Pakistan didn’t have the infrastructure to put it to receive the gas. The great majority was of the opinion that IK and his team had ruined the economy.
His lack of performance gave heart to the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), a collection of 12 opposition parties, to depose him. IK’s US-tailored conspiracy theory helped him reinvigorate his declining popularity and distract the attention of the people from his failures, but the so-called conspiracy has gone for a six after his overt steps to mend fences with the US.
Shahbaz Sharif as an administrator
As compared to IK, Shahbaz Sharif is among the best administrators in the country. He performed very well even during the dark rule of Zardari. His competence has been acknowledged by other countries and he earned the reputation of being a go-getter and a speedster. Even Gen Musharraf wanted him on his team. He inherited a slumped economy with negative economic indicators, and no country including the IMF was prepared to extend loans.
He has managed to stave off default and opened the blocked avenues of financial support, and prospects are getting brighter, although the road is still bumpy. Had he not been lumped with 11 parties, his performance would have been better, and the PTI slogan of thieves, dacoits, and traitors would have soon melted. He has several pending court cases, which he thinks are politically motivated, but IK is now faced with a similar situation.
PTI has yet to taste accountability
The PPP and PML-N leaders went through prolonged periods of trial and tribulations while the PTI still has to taste this bitter medicine. So far, IK has not even been given a slap on the wrist.
IK’s haste to hold early elections and to return to power is to prevent the present regime from showing progress, to stop the PTI-specific accountability, and to restart accountability against his opponents.
Just by naming someone a thief repeatedly doesn’t make a person a thief unless proven. IK couldn’t prove it and as such he has no right to cast aspersions on others. It is now his turn to be on the dock and face the music.
If IK is not involved in any of the crimes for which police reports are registered, he will come out of the ordeal stronger. So his priority should be to first clean his own slate particularly when he has been declared Clean and Honest.
He should be more worried about the victims of ongoing floods and the economy which is still in the woods rather than wasting his energies on political point scoring and holding public gatherings to further increase his popularity graph.
Witch-hunt cannot obliterate a political party
Gen Ziaul Haq wanted to bury the PPP but he couldn’t and Bhuttoism is still alive under the most censured Zardari. The people reduced it to a regional party in 2013. The MQM though factionalized is still existing minus Altaf. PML- N couldn’t be broken and is once again at the helm of affairs and NS is bracing to return to Pakistan. Religious and nationalist parties are thriving and their followings haven’t lessened. So is the case with the power of the Peers and Faqirs (fake saints) over their worshippers.
No political leader was hanged or sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of corruption. Corruption is flourishing, and no Mafia could be reined in. The sectarian and ethnic fires couldn’t be extinguished, nor the religious divides bridged, or the seeds of provincialism rooted out. The ones who can bridge these divides are themselves polarized and fully engrossed in power struggles. Terrorism has again reared its head.
Motivated castigation of army chiefs
All four military rulers as well as most army chiefs were castigated in one way or another and now it is the turn of Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. Bitten many times by the politicians, the military establishment is on the defensive and has no heart left for another military adventure, or another experiment, but is worried about the economic downslide.
As long as civil-military relations remain strained and social media remain active, the army’s senior leadership will be maligned. This time the trend has become nasty due to hybrid war and participation of the veterans and segment of serving officers in the social media’s smearing campaign of the incumbent govt and Gen Bajwa.
Popularity is not the lone winning factor
IK is certainly politically the most popular leader but presently the legal cum judicial dice are loaded against him and his party. He is walking on a tightrope and he needs to take each and every step forward with utmost care and discretion. There are several hawkish elements around him who are firing their guns of hate using his shoulder and pretending to be more loyal than the king. The spoilers are busy sprinkling oil to create chaos.
Popularity and big public gatherings would neither help in deposing the ruling regime nor would save him from the tightening grip of the hand of the law. Foreign funding cases, Toshakhana cases, sedition cases, terrorism cases, and contempt of court cases are a reality and all are menacing. The military is not prepared to change its stance of neutrality and is giving a helping hand to the incumbent regime to improve the economy.
Reconciliation is the best option
Under the changed circumstances, should the PTI not change its posture from wild accusations and confrontation with the state institutions to peaceful coexistence, reconciliation, and accommodation?
The former course is full of risks, while the latter course has a better chance of survival to fight the political battle a bit later after cooling down the high temperature. Those who play with fire often burn in it. Discretion is the best medicine to overcome difficult times.
An apology to the sentimentalists
Whatever I have stated doesn’t mean that I have some kind of malice against IK and his party, or have a soft corner for the current rulers. Being a historian, I have all along appraised the evolving situation dispassionately and objectively with no element of emotions. I express my regrets to those whose sentiments and emotional attachments with IK might have been hurt. He still has a greater chance to win the elections, and I pray that he makes amends in his second tenure.
Brig. General Asif Haroon Raja is on the board of advisors for Opinion Maker. He holds an MSc war studies degree. A second-generation officer, he fought the epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war,
He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt, and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is tri-lingual and speaks English, Pashto, and Punjabi fluently.
Currently, he is a defense analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defense, and political matters for numerous international/national publications. He is chairman at the Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, & Member CWC PESS & Veterans Think Tank
He is also the author of many books; ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, and Roots of 1971 Tragedy’. His latest book is ‘Tangled knot of Kashmir : Indo-Pakistan antagonism: vol. 1 and vol. 2″