The Choice of a New Gen­er­a­tion

Pak­istan can­not af­ford an­other po­lit­i­cal ex­per­i­ment. Or Khan it?

Southasia - - Region - By Arsla Jawaid

When in 1987, Pepsi de­cided to launch this slo­gan in Pak­istan and use cricket su­per­star Im­ran Khan as its brand am­bas­sador, lit­tle did it know that some 24 odd years later, it would ring more true than ever.

At a time when an es­ti­mated 63% of Pak­istan falls un­der the age of 25, the new gen­er­a­tion, dis­il­lu­sioned with democ­racy and failed gov­er­nance, is swiftly drift­ing to the man who prom­ises change. De­spair has gripped a coun­try run by in­ept lead­ers and marked by ris­ing in­fla­tion, per­me­at­ing cor­rup­tion, dis­mal ed­u­ca­tional stan­dards and a se­ri­ous threat of ter­ror­ism. Not to men­tion, Pak­istan has been em­broiled in a war for the past decade: a war that has cost us dearly in terms of lives (a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate places it at 35,000) and fi­nances.

Many in Pak­istan of­ten ques­tion the in­dif­fer­ence of the govern­ment yet few re­al­ize that per­haps we, the av­er­age peo­ple, are meant to be the har­bin­gers of change. That Im­ran Khan was able to gather an im­pres­sive crowd of close to 100,000 peo­ple in La­hore – the main city in Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cally im­por­tant prov­ince - is no small feat. As peo­ple grow dis­en­chanted with the PPP and dis­tance them­selves from PML-N, PTI emerges as a pos­si­ble third op­tion.

But is Im­ran a man with a plan? Pak­istan to­day, more than ever, needs a leader who un­der­stands pol­i­tics and di­plo­macy and is also well-versed in mil­i­tary strat­egy. Propos­ing a dia- logue with the Pak­istani Tal­iban and de­mand­ing a stop to drone at­tacks is much eas­ier said than done, es­pe­cially in a coun­try where cor­rupt bu­reau­cratic prac­tices are the norm. In many ways, Khan sym­bol­izes a leader sin­cere about solv­ing daily griev­ances such as load-shed­ding, lack of ac­cess to health and ed­u­ca­tion, rights of mi­nori­ties and women; agen­das that

should ide­ally be un­der­taken by all po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Weed­ing out cor­rup­tion and en­forc­ing trans­parency have al­ways been at the heart of PTI’S agenda and it is be­fit­ting that Im­ran Khan, a politi­cian with a clean slate, ral­lies for the cause.

How­ever, crit­i­cal is­sues such as end­ing tar­get killings, bring­ing Balochis­tan into main­stream pol­i­tics, con­vinc­ing In­dia to with­draw troops from Kash­mir or end­ing drone at­tacks re­quires flex­ing some se­ri­ous diplo­matic mus­cle. Re­fus­ing to “ac­cept slav­ery of Amer­ica” and promis­ing to re­store the dig­nity of the peo­ple of Pak­istan makes for great rhetoric but ar­du­ous im­ple­men­ta­tion. Pak­istan’s next gen­er­a­tion needs an em­bold­ened and con­fi­dent leader who will staunchly de­fend his coun­try no mat­ter which su­per­power tries to dom­i­nate it. If he doesn’t have it now, like many be­fore him, he will learn. Adopt­ing a hard-line ap­proach, Khan has cer­tainly jolted some U.S pol­i­cy­mak­ers, in­clud­ing “Chaachi Clin­ton,” who now have a new force to reckon with.

It is true that PTI com­petes against old par­ties that have been tried and tested and have failed at the ex­pense of the Pak­istani state. How­ever, one rally doesn’t guar­an­tee suc­cess and much re­mains to be achieved be­fore PTI can start dent­ing the loyal vote­bank of PPP and PML-N. How­ever, given the national re­sponse and the in­ter­na­tional at­ten­tion that his move­ment has re­ceived, there is lit­tle doubt that PTI will de­velop a stronger di­rec­tion, se­ri­ous pol­icy pro­pos­als and per­haps work ex­ten­sively on its sec­ond tier rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

Ide­al­ism in the form of an am­bi­tious leader cer­tainly gal­va­nizes a crowd. How­ever, much like re­la­tion­ships based on fiery pas­sion find their end too quickly, the same can be said for ide­al­ism that finds it­self washed away when re­al­ity hits too hard. Im­ran Khan like Barack Obama, de­picts an un­cor­rupt, young, ide­al­is­tic and am­bi­tious politi­cian. Obama who also cam­paigned on the ro­man­tic slo­gans of ‘hope’ and ‘change’ saw the same rhetoric take a strong blow once he en­tered of­fice. Many also agree that strug­gles in Amer­ica pale in com­par­i­son to the hard­ships and ca­coph­ony of griev­ances con­sum­ing Pak­istan. Re­viv­ing a dwin­dling econ­omy, stamp­ing out anti-state ac­tors, ad­dress­ing daily griev­ances and restor­ing the peo­ple’s con­fi­dence is not an easy task. One won­ders if be­hind Khan’s ide­al­is­tic rhetoric lies a strong, op­ti­mistic leader with a se­ri­ous vi­sion or a young and naive phi­lan­thropist, still search­ing for di­rec­tion.

What­ever the case, Pak­istan Tehrik-e-in­saaf has jolted the peo­ple. The youth will be Im­ran Khan’s life­line and many feel, will be the de­cid­ing fac­tor in the 2013 elec­tions. The real test will, how­ever, hap­pen in the months to come. PTI will un­doubt­edly see nu­mer­ous elite and politi­cians join­ing its ranks. Whether Khan will fly solo or form a strong al­liance that won’t threaten the crux of his po­lit­i­cal ar­gu­ments, re­mains to be seen. In any event, what he has achieved by ral­ly­ing an apo­lit­i­cal so­ci­ety and con­vinc­ing peo­ple of hope is un­prece­dented. “Those in Rai­wind and Is­lam­abad should know that it is not a flood that is com­ing, but a tsunami.” Iqbal Park has not seen this kind of re­cep­tion in the past 25 years and in the eyes of some, Im­ran Khan has al­ready won. The writer is As­sis­tant Editor at Southa­sia Mag­a­zine. She holds a Bach­e­lors de­gree in In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, with a fo­cus on for­eign pol­icy and se­cu­rity stud­ies, from Bos­ton Univer­sity.

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