We cannot help looking somewhat askance when we are told that Imran Khan wants to make a “New Pakistan”. There is mystery in the term “New Pakistan” about what it actually means? In his first speech after he was sworn in, Prime Minister Imran Khan focussed on very disquieting current financial situation of his country. The narrative is superscripted by what stance IMF will adopt once Pakistan approaches it for a massive bank loan to retrieve its collapsing economy.
The US has made no bones of its unwillingness to oblige Pakistan if she approaches the IMF in which Washington has a big say. The reason given by the US official sources is that it has reports of Pakistan diverting parts of these funds to the support of anti-US and anti-Afghan government Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact Trump administration has been warning Pakistan that punitive measures could be taken against Pakistan’s failure to contain sources funding the Afghan Taliban war. Although Pakistan sticks to its classical prescription of denial, it has made little rather no impact on Trump administration.
In his first official speech after the oath taking ceremony, PM Imran Khan focussed on austerity measures as something urgently required to cut down State expenses. He spoke of lavish life style of top government functionaries, ministers and affluent segments of society and brought out the existing gap between their affluence and the stark poverty of the ordinary masses. He was cautious not to dole out any threats to the super-rich but remained content with citing the example of simple and pure life style of the holy Prophet of Islam. He went to the length of stating that austerity measures would begin from his person as he would live in a three-bedroom house and propose giving the existing Prime Ministerial palace for housing a university. Who among the poor and the toiling masses would not be happy with this statement? At the same time it undoubtedly will be irksome to the affluent.
But the question is deeper than what we may see at its surface. Austerity is not the cup of tea of a nation that believes in the supremacy of a particular faith it has adopted for centuries. Knowing that Pakistan has no history of observing austerity, he took shelter behind the example of the Holy Prophet’s life. We have very often heard Islamic scholars speaking of the Prophet’s austere and simple life yet the widening gap between the haves and have-nots in Pakistan kept on growing wider and wider. Therefore Imran Khan will have to look for the reasons why the precept of the Prophet has not found favour with the Pakistani nation’s super social class.
The point is that the standard for the model of life in Pakistan is set by the elite which are a triumvirate of feudal lords, Generals and the top echelons of bureaucracy. The triumvirate is closely linked by deep-set economic interests, kinship and matrimonial alliances. It has thrown an iron curtain around itself which is rather impenetrable. Imran Khan may have established working strategy with the Army and that has to remain restricted to civil administration but when it comes to touching on the privileges apportioned by the powerful to it, things could become sleazy and even provocative.
Of course, temporarily, the triumvirate may agree on austerity outlines because ultimately their skin is also getting scratched and, as such, the Amy may use its forks and tongs to impress upon the US to play soft on IMF loan to Pakistan. The American Secretary of State is visiting Pakistan on September 5 for some serious exchange of views with the newly formed government. The US is keen that the new government in Islamabad should use its weight to reduce the fighting in Afghanistan but the US may also mean to have a deal with Pakistan if she wants the US to relent on IMF issue. The tone and tenor of State Secretary’s speech is self-explanatory. We may recollect that initially the US did cast aspersions on the fairness of Pakistan elections and expressed some reservations. But it appears that Pakistan army has moved quickly to do some damage controlling exercise by way of allowing one-time munificence to the nascent civilian government in Islamabad. Washington has changed its narrative and is seizing the opportunity of being the first big power to congratulate Pakistan on having a new elected government and hoping to revive the old ties once again. There is a clear indication that Pakistan is responding to the American pressures in regard to Afghan situation.
Conspicuously, Imran Khan avoided touching on his government’s foreign policy in any specific manner. However, the State Department has been closely monitoring Pakistan’s attitude after its relations with Islamabad saw a downslide in the aftermath of Trump accusing Pakistan of “lies and fraud.” It has to be noted that in recent months Moscow has been warming up to Islamabad and cooling towards India with a rather unexpected hurry. More importantly, Moscow had been showing interests in assuring Pakistan of its naval security, and protection of its shores on the Indian Ocean, something about which doubts were expressed after Gwadar became functional.
Yet at the same time fast expanded influence of China among the Muslim countries in the littoral region and the Middle East is posing serious threat to the unchallenged position of the US of cold war days. PM Imran Khan has to play his cards deftly as convergence of benign pressure of great powers is in the process of restructuring Pakistan’s domestic and foreign policy.
Making a “New Pakistan” is the need of the hour because Pakistan is got bogged with chronic ideological apartheid. What will be the instruments and contours of making new Pakistan remain to be seen.