Pakistan has been hammering for a change in its power circles since decades. After a nearly 11 year long period of military dictatorship under the Zia regime, democracy in Pakistan has remained a game of musical chairs between two prominent political parties. With the exception of a brief interlude when General Musharraf assumed power, the country basically had no alternative to vote for, since no other party except the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party) and PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz) wielded a large membership base which could promise to take administrative control of the country. That changed, when PTI (Pakistan Tehreek -I- Insaaf) emerged as the third largest political party.
PTI’s leadership promised the change Pakistan was yearning for. It’s founder and chairman, Imran Khan, has remained the iconic cricket player of the country, under whom Pakistan won its only World Cup to record. The influence of his personality and leadership skills are proven. Then, he successfully established a health centre of international standards, which until today, provides free treatment to deserving patients. There, he proved himself to be corruption-free and honest. And finally, from a flamboyant play boy of yesteryears, he turned dramatically towards religion and transformed in a God fearing, practising Muslim man.
The magnetic appeal of Imran Khan was unavoidable. The youth, in particular, saw in him a promising leader, who could deliver a change, a Naya (new) Pakistan. Brushing aside the sceptical performance of his party in the northern province during the last term, the population emerged in masses to vote for Khan as their next leader. And amidst doubts and allegations of foul play, the PTI indeed was declared the ruling party.
People raised eyebrows when most cabinet members inducted came to be old players having performed earlier under different affiliations. They even shook heads in dismay when the representation of women amongst lawmakers was conspicuously low. But Naya Pakistan had to be given a chance.
Fulfilling the manifesto during elections, the new government immediately took to task and started a gruelling investigation against charges of corruption. It breathed a new life in NAB (National Accountability Bureau), which swiftly moved to prove allegations and subsequently nab the guilty. The new leaders shed anger and tears over the massive money looted and sent abroad from the country and vowed to bring the assets back. It pompously started an austerity drive, with the new prime minister declaring his inherited, majestic Prime Minister house to be converted into a university and other colonial era Governor Houses into museums. The new cabinet ministers were bluntly told not to expect the same lavishness in the form of perks and benefits as their predecessors had enjoyed. The culture of ‘begging bowl’ would be broken, no more IMF (International Monetary Fund) deals, it was announced. Country wide housing schemes and ‘millions’ of jobs were promised. The tsunami of change swayed Pakistan.
But then, when the country recovered from the hangover, the tsunami had ebbed, revealing a rocky debris of inflated costs and sagging economy. The PM house, only recently announced to be finally converted into a university, opened its doors to impress royal guests, like MBS, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. After a ridicule inviting sale of buffaloes and cattle to raise funds, luxury cars were imported for the new law makers. After an impressive jog to work on a Sunday along with his aides, the prime minster hopped to one friendly country after another, bringing back “billions of dollars” of aids and investments. The begging bowl, had now earned a new title, while the denouncement of foreign trips was forgotten unannounced. And after eight months of failure of battling a debt-ridden economy, a pocket-pinching IMF deal finally marked its entry on Naya Pakistan.
Still, the die-hard fans defended. The new leadership should be given a chance, they have inherited a battered economy and multitudes of issues. The task is not easy. But where was the vision of change, even they could not see. And the real task, which has been dedicatedly followed up, is also now under a debate. The accountability drive, which is dubbed by the critics as a vicious witch hunt, has different parameters for the ruling party, it seems.
With the arrests of former president Asif Ali Zardari of the PPP and Hamza Sharif of PML-N, with his uncle and the thrice former prime minister Nawaz Sharif already serving a sentence, Khan is set to fulfil his pledge. By far he has also been praised widely to have been able to pursue a ruthless campaign against the former leaders who were notoriously corrupt.
But the biggest question mark on PTI’s accountability drive emerged when the ruling party announced a candidate already criticised for his lack of diplomatic experience as well as charges of accountability, as an Ambassador-At-Large for foreign investment. The outgoing Nawaz government had appointed Ali Jahangir Siddiqui as an Ambassador of Pakistan to the United States. Siddiqui, who is the son of a Pakistani business tycoon and himself an investment banker, had no prior experience of foreign diplomacy. Even at that time, he faced allegations of corruption and was largely criticised by the opposition. The bulk of opposition had come from PTI.
Prior to the national elections last year, in a letter, the then PTI’s Information Secretary Fawad Chaudhry had said that Siddiqui’s appointment on the “world’s most important diplomatic post was an attempt to murder the national interest”. It had claimed that the former’s political allegiance and affiliation with Sharif family and business relations with PM Abbasi’s family played a role in the appointment. It also pointed out mega corruption cases against Ali Jahangir Siddiqui. The claims now seem to have vanished.
This seems to be the latest – if not the last nail in the coffin. It gives much credence to the arguments of the thumping opposition, which has one more up its sleeves – the brutal budget presented by the incumbent government for the next fiscal year. In the media, on the streets, the state is now being asked to be accountable for its own actions. The tsunami has clearly been awash.
Optimists still pin hopes. They push hard for patience. The country’s “moral fabric” may still loosely be intact, but is its power in the hands of a saviour? To answer, let democracy and NayaPakistan age a little.