How long will Imran Khan retain his popularity?
By Muhammad Abd al-Hameed
The present popularity of Imran Khan is less a case of hubb-i-Ali (حب علی) and more of bughz-i-Muawia (بغض معاویہ). The masses are fed up with not just P Party and N League but also all others. Imran Khan attracts them as the only viable alternative. If he somehow comes to power, he may retain his popularity only if he inspires the people with his mission and performance. Here lies the rub.
So far, the main agenda of Imran Khan is negative and practically unachievable. Let us see why and how.
Corruption Imran Khan can eliminate corruption only if he can change human nature. It prevails in every society and all that can be done is to reduce it, or at the most minimize it. The required systems are already in place in our country and only have to be implemented effectively. If getting a death certificate from the Lahore Cantonment Board is a breeze, without paying any bribe, why the same is not true under the civilian administration elsewhere in the city?
Imran Khan may control corruption by streamlining and simplifying procedures, minimizing discretionary powers of officials, and prompt and strict punishment for misuse of power. However, it will be a slow process and may require several terms in office to bring all three million government servants in line. Will he get that much time?
An example may explain the problem. Under Pervez Musharraf, Federal Board of Revenue streamlined procedures, replaced discretionary assessment with documentary evidence, introduced universal self-assessment and computerized processing. The increase in tax collection was four times more than under previous elected government. Some work was still to be done when dismantling of the system started immediately after the present government took over. The result was corruption of Rs 500 billion in FBR, according to former Finance Minister, Shaukat Tarin.
Assets Imran Khan wants politicians and others to declare their assets held abroad. Suppose they all do. What then? Will the payment of due taxes alone will launder the assets, no questions asked? Will he start inquiry into the legitimacy of assets? Who will do it? FIA? FBR? NAB? Will it be too difficult to bribe them to get a clean chit?
The basic question is what makes politicians and others to take their money abroad. It is insecurity. We have a tradition of vicious witch-hunting by rulers. Every government is keen to make life hell for its predecessors. It wants to confiscate all that they have (legitimate or not). In such a situation, who will not seek safe havens abroad, and even get nationality of hospitable countries?
If assets are brought back somehow, it will not benefit ordinary people. The money will be deposited in personal bank foreign currency accounts. That will be all. Shaukat Aziz started a campaign with great fanfare to recover bank loans. Whatever money was collected helped the banks, not the ordinary people.
It will take decades to establish a tradition that persons leaving power will not face witch-hunting. Until then, assets will continue to remain abroad, Imran Khan or no Imran Khan.
If Imran Khan succeeds in bringing back some assets and reducing corruption, it will still not make life much better for the ordinary citizens because major problems will not be solved.
“It’s the economy, stupid!” The biggest problem is economy. Imran Khan has not so far addressed it, when 15 years in politics should have been enough for preparation of a comprehensive plan. (His party seems to be working on it in earnest only now.) To be fair, he is not the only one; all other party leaders have been coming to power without any economic plan. Z A Bhutto alone had a plan, a disastrous one that that: massive nationalization. Obama deepened the economic and financial crisis in his country because he did not understand economy, even though it had been known years earlier: “It’s the economy, stupid!”
Imran has so far not even hinted at the measures he has in his mind for reviving and developing economy. Nobody expects him to give a plan in detail because that may come in the manifesto, if and when elections are announced. However, he can certainly give an outline.
Then there are other major problems for which Imran has only superficial and impractical solutions. Some examples:
Ø He talks of uniform syllabi for all schools but does not say that Urdu alone will be the medium of instruction. Probably he wants to retain English medium schools, a legacy of the colonial rule.
Ø He wants to abolish the patwari, without realizing what functions he performs. By suggesting a computer as his replacement, he could as well propose that a robot should replace the captain of a cricket team to win the World Cup.
Ø He proposes that the thanedar should be elected. Well, crooks and criminals would love it. They can easily get their man elected and then have a field day under his protection.
Running the country is not a job that you should learn while doing it. You will only disappoint the people if you ask them to wait until you find out solutions. The honeymoon for an elected leader does not last long. Opponents make life miserable while the masses, not getting immediate relief, start grumbling. If Imran Khan does not have well-conceived and practical plans ready before taking the oath of office and does not start their implementation on the very first day, his popularity will nose-dive very soon. His team should work out 100 major decisions so that he may announce a decision a day for the first 100 days. And more decisions should follow. That may retain his popularity. Otherwise, Imran will be horrified to find soon that a tsunami has started in the opposite direction!
محمّد عبد الحمید
مصنف، "غربت کیسے مٹ سکتی ہے" (کلاسک پبلشر، لاہور)