Imran’s naya Pakistan and the Madina dream

 

ZAHID SHAHAB AHMED

 

SOON after commencing his cricketing career in the 1970s for Pakistan – a cricket-crazy nation – Khan became a celebrity. The climax of his career was when he led Pakistan’s cricket team to victoryin the World Cup in 1992. Simultaneously, he carried out charitable work and established the Shaukat Khanum Cancer Hospital in Lahore. He entered politics after founding the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 1996. He won a National Assembly seat from his hometown, Mianwali, in 2002. After boycotting the 2008 elections, PTI emerged as the second-largest party in terms of votes in the 2013 elections and formed a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. To the surprise of many political analysts, PTI won enough seats to elect Khan as the country’s 22nd prime minister in August 2018. This was a priceless victory, after nearly 22 years in politics, in which his promises to his voters played an important factor.

Leading up to the 2018 general elections, Khan made bold promises to create a Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan) and a state based on the ideals of the first Muslim state (Riyasat-e-Madina). So, how was Pakistan going to be ‘new’ as per Khan’s vision? While comparing himself with erstwhile leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) [PML-N] and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Khan vowed that he would live a simple life without any luxuries.1 As is clear from the manifesto of his party, Khan promised that he would achieve the target of Naya Pakistan through a range of measures, including punishing corrupt leaders, fixing the crisis-ridden economy and promoting the rule of law and an Islamic welfare state.2 

Before presenting a scorecard on Khan’s government, it is important to highlight a couple of issues that created a legitimacy crisis for the PTI government. The first was PTI’s inclusion of several key members who were previously in other parties that Khan labelled as corrupt. These included prominent names like Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry, both of whom were part of the PPP. The second was the issue of the military’s influence in the 2018 general elections favouring Khan. While Khan repeatedly denied any such favours, it is no secret that his party has close connections to some generals in the Pakistan Army.

There is a long history of the Pakistan Army influencing domestic politics, and this was also reflected when the PTI and opposition parties jointly endorsed an amendment in the 1952 Army Act that ultimately allowed the controversial three-year extension in the tenure of General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Chief of Army Staff, in 2020.

Before discussing the austerity measures, it is important to explain certain concepts that are central to the PTI. As mentioned earlier, these included the creation of an Islamic welfare state based on the model of Riyasat-e-Madina. But what were those ideals in Khan’s view?3 He described what he meant by an Islamic welfare state, ‘The Holy Prophet (PBUH – Peace Be Upon Him) and Khulafa-e-Rashideen practically materialised this thought [welfare state] in the first Hijri century.’4 On 11 November 2019, he also sent the following message via Twitter: ‘The Holy Prophet (PBUH) founded the State of Madinah on modern principles of Rule of Law, Human Rights, Compassion, Meritocracy & the Pursuit of Knowledge as a sacred duty. If a state follows was these principles, it will rise.’5

Linked to the concept of the first Muslim state was Khan’s claim of simplicity like that of the first four caliphs. Soon after coming to power, he initiated several austerity measures and these included refusing to live in the luxurious Prime Minister’s House, auctioning luxury cars bought by previous governments and selling milk cows. The auction was held at the prime minister’s residence in Islamabad, and eight cows were sold for roughly US$ 19,000 (S$ 25,818).6

A key focus of this austerity drive was on the prime minister’s personal expenses, paid for by public funds, which the Khan government claims reduced significantly from PKR 218 million (S$ 1.62 million) to PKR 46 million (S$ 342,500).7 Khan remained consistent with his humble dressing as he continued to wear simple local attire (shalwar and kameez) even during his overseas trips.8 However, his simplicity claims were not free from criticism as the opposition questioned him about using a helicopter between his home and office and chartered flights during international travels.9 As soon as Khan was removed from office, the new government reported that Khan’s helicopter rides from the Prime Minister’s House to his residence in Islamabad cost taxpayers PKR 980 million (S$ 7.2 million) during the PTI government’s tenure.10

The key elements of an Islamic welfare state include pro-poor policies and actions. Building on his charitable work and credibility, Khan continued with some important initiatives. These included shelter homes for the homeless, langars (communal free kitchens) and health cards for the marginalised segments. In 2019, Khan launched the Ehsaas-Saylani Langar scheme under the Poverty Alleviation and Social Safety Division to provide free food to the poor twice a day. This programme was a collaboration between the government and the Saylani Trust; and the plan was to open 112 soup kitchens (langars) in the first phase within the first year. While the target of phase one was not achieved, langars were opened in major metropolitans like Islamabad, where a langar fed around 600 to 800 people daily.11

Government officials and PTI leaders were often seen visiting these langars and eating alongside the poor. This programme was important because the 2021 Global Hunger Index ranked Pakistan at 92 out of 116 countries.12 In addition, there was the health card scheme, Sehat Sahulat Program13 for the needy, through which the government provided a maximum of PKR 1 million (S$ 7,600) per family annually, for all kinds of medical procedures, including cancer treatment and open-heart surgery.14 Further, the government opened 17 shelter homes and had a plan to double that number to provide accommodation for the homeless.15

While these are important initiatives, feeding Pakistan’s poor is a momentous task considering the sheer
scale of the need. During the PTI government
’s tenure income inflation was constantly increasing, making it challenging to address the needs of the marginalised in the country.16 This fact was demonstrated through the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics data showing an increase in the number of moderately to severely food-insecure households from 15.9 per 100 households in 2018-2019 to 16.4 in 2019-2020. As more people were pushed below the poverty line,17 the government needed to spread the web of its social services.18

The Riyasat-e-Madina was established because of the Constitution of Madina. It was believed to be written during 622-624 CE, where non-Muslims were guaranteed the same political and cultural rights as Muslims. On this front, Khan focused on interfaith harmony in Pakistan. He appointed Maulana Tahir Ashrafi as the Special Representative of the Prime Minister on Interfaith Harmony. Ashrafi regularly met with religious leaders of other faiths and sectarian groups and was even spotted praying inside a church in Pakistan.19

The PTI government was also lauded for its commitment to initiatives like the Kartarpur Corridor – an important religious site for Sikhs – which opened in 2019.20 While such gestures were important, much remained to be done to provide safety and security and equal rights to religious minorities who became extra vulnerable after the Taliban’s takeover in Afghanistan in August 2021.

During Khan’s term, violent religious extremism remained a major challenge and was witnessed through the murders of a Pakistani Christian and a Sri Lankan worker due to blasphemy accusations.21 In this regard, the National Action Plan (NAP) on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) and terrorism is an important policy document that needed further amendments to counter extremist narratives against sectarian and religious minorities. While the government produced the new 2021 NAP with emphasis on uniform CVE laws, regulating places of worship and countering extremism through madrassas and public and private schools,22 there was no mention of how extremist narratives would be countered.

A troublesome aspect of the PTI government was the way it tackled corruption. There were several corruption cases against opposition leaders, including Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N and Asif Zardari of the PPP. Khan made his intentions clear during the election campaign of 2018 when he said, ‘The self-proclaimed kings go abroad and buy palaces and expensive properties. They siphon funds from here and their kids sit abroad on billions in businesses.’23 He promised that he would bring back that looted money.24 Despite being convicted, Sharif was allowed to travel to London for medical treatment and since then has not returned.25 Hence the looted money never returned to Pakistan under the PTI government.

Overall, the PTI government was unable to handle this massive corruption challenge. Despite its claims that there was zero corruption under the PTI’s administration,26 a Trans-parency International report found Pakistan sliding from 16 spots to 140 out of 180 countries in its corruption perception survey.27 The report, however, made no mention of the PTI government being corrupt. Khan failed to fulfil his promise of ending corruption within 19 days of his government.28 

In the lead up to the 2018 general elections, Khan also made promises to address a variety of challenges, including poverty and corruption. While his government implemented various pro-poor initiatives, the task became more difficult with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and income inflation. As the country’s economy continued to deteriorate, Khan was left with no choice but to
ask for loans from other states and the International Monetary Fund. The poor economic situation and continuous income inflation pushed millions more below the poverty line, thereby increasing the demand for the government
’s schemes, such as langars, shelter homes and health cards.

With limited funds, it was highly unlikely that such services would reach out to all those who needed them. Nonetheless, such initiatives were central to Khan’s vision of an Islamic welfare state and his government’s plan was to expand these initiatives. These were done, albeit at a slow pace. However, these were not permanent solutions as millions needed equal opportunities to be able to earn a respectable living. That could only  be done through the creation of a conducive environment where industries throve, and foreign invest-ment grew – ultimately creating more job opportunities. With regards to violent extremism, the government revised the NAP but this plan needed regular appraisals to ensure that extremist narratives and hate crimes were constantly tackled.

In conclusion, Khan initiated several programmes to actualise his vision of Riyasat-e-Madina. However, these initiatives faced serious challenges. His pro-poor programmes needed  more resources, given that there was great need, particularly following the Covid-19 pandemic. The dilapidated state of the economy made it difficult for the PTI government to allocate necessary and much-needed resources towards such welfare schemes. Similarly, Khan needed to do more for interfaith harmony and protection of religious minorities, which were central to the Riyasat-e-Madina. Overall, Khan was nowhere near to achieving his Naya Pakistan by the time he left office in April 2022. Such a report card might affect the PTI’s ability to win another federal election in Pakistan.

 

 

Footnotes:

1. Adam Withnall, ‘Imran Khan Sheds Hundreds of Servants and Says Pakistan’s Elite Must Pay Tax as His First Cabinet is Sworn in’, Independent, 20 August 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/ imran-khan-pakistan-tax-rich-prime-minister-servants-cabinet-swearing-in-a8499591.html.

2. ‘The Road to Naya Pakistan: PTI Manifesto 2018’. https://pmo.gov.pk/documents/manifesto-pti.pdf, pp. 6-7.

3. ‘Imran Should Stop Politics on Riyasat-e-Madina’, Pakistan Observer, November 2019. https://pakobserver.net/imran-should-stop-politics-on-riyasat-e-madina-marriyum/

4. ‘PM Imran Reaffirms Resolve to Make Pakistan an Islamic Welfare State’, The Express Tribune, 10 November 2019. https://tribune.com.pk/story/2097041/1-eid-miladun-nabi-president-alvi-pm-imran-reiterate-efforts-establish-welfare-state

5. See https://twitter.com/imrankhanpti/status/1193540328382517251

6. ‘PM Imran Khan Sells Sharif’s Cows at a Premium’, Khaleej Times, 27 September 2018. https://www.khaleejtimes.com/article/pm-imran-sells-sharifs-cows-at-a-premium

7. ‘PM House, PMO Expenses Reduced to Rs 46m in PTI Govt’s Austerity Drive’, The Express Tribune, 8 March 2021. https://tribune.com.pk/story/2288090/pm-house-pmo-expenses-reduced-to-rs46m-in-pti-govts-austerity-drive

8. See https://images.dawn.com/news/1188527

9. Tahir Imran and Patrick Evans, ‘Imran Khan Mocked for Helicopter Home-to-Work Commute’, BBC, 30 August 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-45356096

10. Sanaullah Khan, ‘Govt Claims Rs 980m Spent on Imran Khan’s Back-and-Forth Air Travel from PM House to Bani Gala’, Dawn, 21 April 2022. https://www.dawn.com/news/1686115

11. ‘Ehsaas Langar’, Government of Pakistan. https://www.pass.gov.pk/userfiles1/files/Ehsaas%20 Langar%20English_2022.pdf

12. ‘Pakistan’, Global Hunger Index. https://www.globalhungerindex.org/pakistan.html

13. See https://www.pmhealthprogram.gov.pk/

14. ‘Number of Hospitals to be Increased to 1000 Under Sehat Sahulat Program by March: CEO’, Daily Times, 16 January 2022. https://dailytimes.com.pk/869670/number-of-hospitals-to-be-increased-to-1000-under-sehat-sahulat-program-by-march-ceo/

15. Shabbir Hussain, ‘“Ehsaas” to Open 17 New Shelter Homes’, The Express Tribune, 19 July 2021. https://tribune.com.pk/story/2311345/ehsaas-to-open-17-new-shelter-homes

16. ‘Inflation, Pandemic Pushing People into Poverty in Pakistan’, WION, 10 August 2021. https://www.wionews.com/world/inflation-pandemic-pushing-people-into-poverty-in-pakistan-404665

17. ‘Poverty in Pakistan Up from 4.4% to 5.4%: World Bank’, WION, 22 June 2021. https://www.wionews. com/south-asia/poverty-in-pakistan-up-from-44-to-54-world-bank-393089

18. Shabbir Hussain, ‘“Ehsaas” to Open 17 New Shelter Homes’, op. cit.

19. Ahtesham Khan, ‘WATCH: Muslims Pray Inside Peshawar Church in Show of Solidarity’, The Express Tribune, 31 January 2022. https://tribune.com.pk/story/2341291/watch-muslims-pray-inside-peshawar-church-in-show-of-solidarity

20. Zahid Shahab Ahmed, ‘Reopening the Kartarpur Corridor: Tangible Benefits for Indo-Pak Ties’, ISAS Brief, Institute of South Asian Studies, 29 November 2021. https://www.isas.nus.edu.sg/papers/reopening-the-kartarpur-corridor-tangible-benefits-for-indo-pak-ties/

21. ‘Enraged Mob Kills Man Accused of Burning Koran in Remote Pakistani Village’, ABC News, 14 February 2022. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-14/man-accused-of-blasphemy-killed-by-mob-in-pakistan/100827244; Shah Meer Baloch and Hannah Ellis-Petersen, ‘Man Tortured and Killed in Pakistan Over “blasphemy”’, The Guardian, 22 December 2021. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/dec/03/pakistan-sri-lankan-man-priyantha-diyawadana-tortured-killed-alleged-blasphemy-sialkot

22. Asif Chaudhry, ‘New Anti-Extremism Policy to Keep Tabs on Law Enforcement Ranks’, Dawn, 22 January 2022. https://www.dawn.com/news/1670809

23. ‘PPP, PMLN Broke All Records of Corruption: Imran Khan’, The News, 16 July 2018. https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/342409-imran-says-he-educates-people-about-problems-inflicted-by-pml-n-ppp

24. Kashif Zafar and Owais Karni, ‘PPP, PML-N Looted Country by Turns: Imran Khan’, The Express Tribune, 12 July 2018 https://tribune.com.pk/story/1755687/1-ppp-pml-n-looted-country-turns-imran-khan

25. Ayaz Gul, ‘Pakistan’s Convicted ex-PM Flown to London for Medical Treatment’, Voice of America, 16 November 2019. https://www.voanews.com/a/south-central-asia_pakistans-convicted-ex-pm-flown-london-medical-treatment/6179666.html

26. ‘No Corruption Case Surfaced During PTI Govt: Farrukh’, Associate Press of Pakistan, 25 January 2022. https://www.app.com.pk/national/no-corruption-case-surfaced-during-pti-govt-farrukh/

27. Zulqernain Tahir, Syed Irfan Raza and Amin Ahmed, ‘Pakistan’s Transparency Ranking Worse Off Under PTI’, Dawn, 26 January 2022. https://www.dawn.com/news/1671455/pakistans-transparency-ranking-worse-off-under-pti

28. ‘PTI Will End Corruption in 19 Days, Terrorism in 90 Days: Imran Khan’, The Express Tribune, 26 February 2012. https://tribune.com.pk/story/342104/pti-will-end-corruption-in-19-days-terrorism-in-90-days-imran-khan