Justice, humanity and self-reliance’, the slogan with which Imran Khan formed Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) into a political party in April 1996, encapsulates its governance measures today.
Anyone who has grown up during the 1980s and 1990s and who voted for him in the 2000s can vouch for one thing: Imran Khan is the only one they knew in Pakistan who fit the definition of a world-renowned celebrity.
From cricket to philanthropy to politics, The “Great” Khan, as many like to call him, established himself as a people’s leader. Kaptaan, as he is more fondly known nationwide, is a man who has set standards of dreaming big, managing failure and unmatched resilience – qualities he may have nurtured ever since his cricketing days.
The first ten years of its formation saw tough times from winning no electoral seat in 1997, gaining a single seat in the National Assembly in 2002, Imran Khan’s imprisonment under the Lawyer’s Movement, and resignation from his parliamentary seat in 2007 to boycotting the 2008 national elections.
It was not until 2011; the ‘third force’ gained momentum. It was famously quoted that Khan’s voters are finally out of school. The jalsas gathered unprecedented urban and semi-urban crowds – the tsunami was building.
After a strong campaign in the lead-up to the 2013 polls, PTI emerged as the second-largest party in terms of votes received and sat on the opposition benches with 32 seats in the National Assembly.
It formed a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Pakistan’s Northern province, after an alliance with Jamaat-i-Islami. This proved to be the right place for the party to show its vision. KP soon became prominent in the news for their eco-friendly policies and public healthcare programs.
Imran Khan and PTI spent the next four years protesting against the politics of power and the consequent electoral rigging and corruption by the then government, calling for accountability of politicians – a concept unheard of before.
One thing Imran Khan knows how to do better than anyone else is the ability to incite the right questions from the masses. Every street resonated with slogans of accountability and transparency. Questioning your government and demanding logical, documented answers became an expectation.
What happened next was a series of events leading to his undoubted victory in 2018. In 2014, Imran Khan took out a long march to the capital and held the longest ever sit-in against alleged rigging in the 2013 polls.
The sit-in continued for 126 days and was the longest display of non-violent, organized protest against the government. Infamous slogans and internet uprising of PTI followers further established PTI as the only contender against the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in Punjab.
PTI established itself in the minds of the people as a viable political party. In April of 2016, with a sudden stroke of fate, the Panama Papers were released. PTI’s persistent focus on corruption instantly connected with the people.
Imran Khan now double-downed on pressing the then Prime Minister, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, to come clean about his assets. The country was no longer deliberating on whether or not the claims are true but rather on how the ones in power will prove the claims otherwise.
The corrupt and their sympathizers were exposed in front of the nation. To seal the deal, PTI filed a petition in June 2016 with the Election Commission of Pakistan seeking disqualification of Sharif for allegedly concealing his assets. This was to be the beginning of the end for the then ruling party.
Imran Khan encouraged his voters to raise their voice against injustice and continued protesting. The July 25th General Elections marked the rise of Imran Khan’s PTI, where the party bagged an unprecedented 116 National Assembly seats. Khan, himself, won all five seats that he contested on.
The revolution had begun.
Soon after recruiting independents and appointing candidates to its reserved seats, the results started coming in with PTI in the lead. Much to his party’s joy and his hopeful believers, Imran Khan started to be referred to as the ‘PM in waiting’.
“I want to clarify why I entered politics,” said Khan in his speech, “Politics could not have given me anything. I wanted Pakistan to become the country that my leader Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had dreamed of.”
Khan’s struggle to get the young and middle class politically mobilized in Pakistan began very early in his career. Being an icon of leadership for young people since the historic victory of the 1992 Cricket World Cup and then as a role model activist through the establishment of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital, a world-class hospital providing free cancer treatment, Imran Khan’s vision was always to see a high-esteemed nation.
He worked diligently to gather the youth and spark in them a desire to uplift this country’s future. From Jaag Utho in 2010, a voter registration mass campaign, to Kamyab Jawan today, Khan’s priority remains to nurture young minds.
The October 30th, 2011 iconic jalsa at Minar-e-Pakistan was the turning point for the party and the year in which PTI became a phenomenon. The youth Khan had been investing in for decades showed up on this day in groups of tens of thousands.
Aerial view of The Greater Iqbal Park showed a sea of energetic Pakistanis pledging their allegiance to Imran Khan. Since that day, PTI went through an uphill battle to reach the 2018 elections where 220 Million Pakistanis beamed in pride as they listened to their Prime Minister’s maiden speech.
"22 years ago, I joined politics with the mission to make my country, that was made as an Islamic Welfare State envisioned by Allama Muhammad Iqbal."
– Imran Khan, Prime Minister, The Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Coming to Power
It was the first time Pakistanis were listening to a speech where the Prime Minister was educating them about financial and economic matters of national interest, from foreign debt to taxes and the burden exerted on the common man by the ruling parties that came before them.
He openly spoke of austerity measures and removing the gap between the public and those in power. It is also worth mentioning that the second half of the speech focused only on children and their development.
This speech began a series of communications where PM Imran Khan would focus on creating awareness on issues amongst the masses and bringing them all on the same page. Now it was time for Khan and his party to get to work.
In these 2.5 years, Pakistan has moved forward in multiple directions. In the first year itself, Pakistan’s global positioning and international alliances successfully put Pakistan forward as a strong and resilient nation.
On the governance side, where several cabinet shuffles have raised questions from the opposition, it has made one aspect clear – the purpose will not be compromised; the ‘right’ team formation requires experiments and results from performance evaluation.
Five shifts and 34 promises defined PTI’s 100-day agenda. The shifts were focused on the poor, changing government culture, strengthening the federation, re-building Pakistan’s international credibility and setting a direction for progress.
PTI focused specifically on the agriculture industry and put aside a subsidy of PKR 50 Billion in the first year. Khan announced a big incentive package that included a subsidy of PKR 30 Billion for the Naya Pakistan Housing Project to enable people to build their homes at an affordable cost and enable more people to own their own houses.
PM Imran Khan has ensured that the government has not cut the Annual Development Program but has reduced its non-development expenditure. Which again comes off as a decision of an empathetic leader.
Improving Foreign Policy
Packages offered by allies to be better positioned in front of the IMF were not well received at first. But, it has proven to be prudent. The important thing to note here is that Pakistan avoided near bankruptcy because of these economic reforms.
PM Imran Khan and the diplomacy of Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, has won on the international front, gaining economic-political benefits for Pakistan. Today, Pakistan has cordial relations with the US, the basis of which is not an alliance in war but facilitation of the Afghan peace talks, a stance PM Imran Khan has been firm on since the rise of terrorism in Pakistan.
In the first year alone, Pakistan was extending diplomatic efforts with China, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia, Iran and also Russia; PM Khan visited China thrice to increase Chinese investment in Pakistan and to reinvigorate the USD 60 Billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Qatar-Pakistan relations also saw an agreement in the fields of trade, investment, tourism and financial intelligence. Friendly visits between Turkey and Pakistan placed a strong emphasis on forming a strong economic relationship and combating Islamophobia, advancing shared goals of regional peace, security and stability.
Also, Pakistani prisoners were released from Saudi Arabia on the special request of PM Imran Khan near the start of his term. When the forced lockdown of Kashmir started on August 5th, 2019 (which is going on to date) and India showed its inhumanity by oppressing the people of Kashmir, PM Imran Khan took a powerful stance against this atrocity.
Dealing with the Pandemic
COVID-19 came as an unexpected turn globally, with the world having to shift to an alternate way of life within weeks. However, the onset of the global pandemic revealed strength in the PTI government, unlike any other.
As the death toll rose internationally, Pakistan quickly shifted to a smart lockdown strategy. PM Khan once again took to the national television to speak to his people in full confidence. The Ehsaas Program, led by Dr Sania Nishtar, which has been the largest, most effective and transparent safety net to be made in Pakistan’s history, began disbursing aid to the underprivileged.
This program is the epitome of empathy and equality that lies at the core of PM Imran Khan’s vision. Panahgahs (200 sites, 1500+ meals daily), Sehat Sahulat Program (10 Million provided with Insaf Cards) and many more fall under this umbrella.
During the pandemic, Ehsaas rolled out PKR 144 Billion to 12 Million families with full transparency. The program was enhanced to PKR 208 Billion despite the economic situation.
Pakistan’s prudent approach towards dealing with the pandemic despite facing resistance by the opposition was soon declared a model to follow by the United Nations and the World Health Organization.
In a short span of four months, Pakistan had large-scale production of sanitizers and PPEs. To add to this feat, Khan handed over the first batch of endogenously manufactured ventilators called “safe vent” to the NDMA.
As a result of the bold decision to implement Smart Lockdowns to control the pandemic’s spread, as opposed to a complete economic lockdown, the GDP only shrunk by 0.4 percent against national and international predictions of 1.5 percent.
Prime Minister’s Bold Initiatives
PM Imran Khan’s attention to passing landmark decisions against crimes that hurt society’s social fabric speaks multifolds of the pain he feels for his people. The Zainab Alert, Recovery and Response Bill, which set the minimum sentence of 10 years for atrocities against children and a maximum sentence of life imprisonment with a fine of PKR 1 Million, was approved, a step he says that should have been taken long ago.
When it comes to Balochistan, the release of missing persons, the Voice of Baloch Missing Persons, has closed down its protest camp for the first time in a decade after receiving assurances from the Chief Minister of Balochistan.
Infrastructure projects have also started only recently there was the inauguration of the Zhob-Quetta road project. In November 2019, Pakistan opened the Kartarpur Corridor to facilitate the pilgrimage and religious tourism of the Sikh community residing in India.
Khan has ensured to keep it visa-free for pilgrims. The country list for e-visas and visas on arrival has also increased in these 2.5 years. What started as the Billion Tree Tsunami soon turned into a 10 Billion Tree Tsunami, which pushed Pakistan as an environmentally responsible nation in front of the world.
These projects have employed daily-wagers who lost their jobs during the pandemic and spread awareness through their volunteers, setting benchmarks all around. Education is another area that is seeing rapid reforms.
Bias between English and Urdu medium schools and madrassas and shifting to ‘one syllabus for all’ from March 2021 is an effort that is under process despite the pandemic. E-transfers of teachers based on merit and the launch of Teleschool during the lockdown both were a first for Pakistan.
Light at The End of The Tunnel
Financial support from friendly countries in the first year of government played a dual role. It safeguarded the economy from going bankrupt and placed Pakistan in a better position to negotiate with the IMF.
Institutional efforts and PM Imran Khan’s personal profile have improved the situation at various fronts – Pakistan ranks 108 on the Ease of Doing Business scale, a jump from 147 in 2018; its economic outlook was upgraded to “Stable” by Moody’s in August 2020; foreign remittances have registered a Year-on-Year growth of 24 percent to USD 2.26 Billion (February 2021), and the Federal Bureau of Revenue recorded a 6.5 percent growth (over the same period of last year) in tax collection during the first six months of the current financial year.
It is integral to note that the government inherited an expanding trade deficit and an annual Current Account Deficit of over USD 18 Billion. Overall, during the first eight months of the current financial year, the Current Account shows a surplus of USD 881 million compared to a deficit of USD 2.74 Billion in the corresponding period last year.
However, as the frequent changes in office bearers have implied, a shift is radical in strategy and policy implementation. A result, for example, has been the high inflation rate – the average inflation rate from July 2020 – January 2021 was 8.19 percent and food inflation at a rate as high as 13.79 percent in the year’s earlier period.
While indicators of inflation seem to show some improvement, it will be fair to say that “Inflation is PTI’s biggest opponent, not the opposition”; a common man needs relief and better quality of life which is the government’s responsibility to ensure.
Since April 25, 1996, Khan’s fight has been for the poor, underprivileged and the marginalized. These 2.5 years have paved the way for better opportunities both locally and globally.
The 26 years of Imran Khan’s political journey has shown what resilience, unwavering faith and power of determination can do – not just for one man, but for an entire nation! Pakistan has evolved in these 2.5 years under a display of transformational leadership displayed by Prime Minister Imran Khan.
His forward-looking stance on matters of national importance and a value-based decision-making approach has finally given the young people of this country a leader to look up to. What PTI has successfully achieved in this time is that it has instilled within Pakistan’s youth (whether their supporters or naysayers) the power to question the status quo.
Performance, merit and transparency are the only deciding factors to thrive in this government. The recent senate elections were a prime example of Khan’s grit and surety of his stance.
Dynastic politics and nepotism can no longer keep depriving Pakistanis of their basic rights. What Imran Khan, over these years, through PTI, is trying to do is to introduce fundamental structural changes to the way our political system works.
We could disagree with his methods, but it’ll be delusional to doubt his intent; It’s an uphill task and a continuous work in progress for an entire system to be cleansed off its inefficiencies.
Has Imran Khan had to make compromises to get to where he is; definitely – have all of his decisions been on point; not so much – does he believe in following the old rules of politics; not at all – Does he want to aim at winning the next election or improving the system; without doubt, the latter; Will he tire and give up on his efforts to build a better Pakistan; not in this lifetime.
Prime Minister Imran Khan showed Pakistan what it meant when Mohammad Ali Jinnah, founder of Pakistan, said,
“I do not believe in taking the right decision; I take a decision and make it right.”
The people of Pakistan voted for Imran Khan & PTI as they saw hope in them; if they are to be voted in again, it’ll depend entirely upon the tangible opportunities PTI manages to create for the masses.
The deciding factor in the next election shall be the 15 million new young voters who have the option to decide on their own. If the PTI manages to put together policies that give a boost to job creation & enablement of micro-entrepreneurs at a large scale, they’ll remain the number one choice for masses to vote in 2023.
The article was published in Global Village Space, 24th April 2021.