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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2678

Challenges Faced by Imran Khan: widening chasm between vision and reality

Hemantha Abeywardena writes from London…

Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, created quite a stir this week by firing his Finance Minister in a hastily arranged reshuffle. In the same reshuffle, the information minister, who used to rubbish such a development hours before it actually took place, saw his elevation to head the ministry of science and technology – much to his pleasant surprise, of course.

A day later, Mr Khan, addressing the Pashtun tribesmen in a rally, said that he would remove ‘ministers of no use’.

It’s clear that Mr Khan is deeply frustrated with the progress that his government is making and the direction it is taking the country as a whole. Firing whom he brands as ministers of no use, however, is easier said than done in a parliament democracy, because the very people whom he refer to are elected, regardless of their competence – or lack of it.

The sacking of Asad Umar, the former finance minister and the former CEO of Engro Corporation, coincides with his discussion with the IMF for a major bailout, a few days before – the outcome of which is not clear yet. While deepening the mystery, Mr Khan announced that he would go to China on a four-day state visit.

The discussions centred on the bailout package with the IMF for Pakistan have been going on for months with no trace of light at the end of the tunnel.

The blurry indicators, meanwhile, point to a undeniable fact: the IMF does not function the way it used to do anymore; the new occupiers of the White House seem to be keeping a watchful eye over the way the institution acts, when it comes to lending.

The senior officials of the State Department have been on record by insisting that the IMF, the lender of the last resort, cannot be approached just to settle loans taken from another nation, letting the rest of the world read between the lines in order to guess what that nation could be.

In this context, the sacking of the finance minister, his discussions with the IMF days before the dismissal, and Mr Khan’s hastily arranged state visit to China have spontaneously become catalysts for a worrying geo-political development in the South East Asia.

In his heyday, along with millions of fans across the cricketing world, I used to admire Cricketer Imran Khan, the elegant all-rounder on the cricket pitch, who effortlessly brought in thrill, suspension and quality to the Gentleman’s Game throughout 80s.

He brought his illustrious career to an end on a high note, guiding the team that he led to win the World Cup – the ultimate goal of a national team; the phenomenon, quite rightly, turned the player into a national icon, firmly woven into the national fabric of Pakistan.

With a rare combination of skill-set on the field, powerful charisma and the education at Oxford University in England, Cricketer Imran Khan left an indelible mark in the collective, global cricketing psyche.

The formula for success in the field of cricket may have prompted Mr Khan to extend the ambition beyond sports that eventually turned him to Prime Minister Khan.

During the first stages in the new game – with his multiple failures in the realm of politics - Mr Khan travelled far and wide the country, got first- hand experience of the plight of common people, especially in the under-developed tribal areas and had a clear vision about what to do in order to turn things around.

He clearly saw the importance of education, universal health care and the creation of jobs to pull people out of abject poverty, which in turn breeds extremism in rural Pakistan.

Unfortunately, he deliberately avoided the subject of explosive growth of population in Pakistan, perhaps, in order to avoid a direct clash with hard-line religious parties, whose blessings were important for him to reach his ultimate political goal – the premiership.

Many critics of Mr Khan picked on this by saying how even Bangladesh tackled the same issue with reasonable success.

During the first few months in power, Mr Khan kept on harping on the ills of the previous administrations led by Nawaz Sharif and Bhutto clan. Unfortunately, during these crucial months, on his watch, the economy went from bad to worse with plummeting rupee against dollar, sharp falls in the stock market and dwindling tax revenues.

In fairness to Mr Khan, we must say that he took steps to boost the arrival of dollars into the economy: visa on arrival was made available for the citizens of multiple countries; campaigns were launched with bloggers to attract tourists to enjoy the famous hospitality of Pakistani people; the message was sent that there was no more terrorism in Pakistan.

Unfortunately, the team around Mr Khan could not take his ideas beyond the stage of aspiration, much to his frustration. His frustration must have boiled over in the last few days that in turn led to the reshuffle – and the stark warning over further dismissals.

There are lessons to be learnt from Mr Khan’s troubles for one of Pakistan’s trusted allies in the region too – Sri Lanka – especially, when the next presidential election is in the offing.

There is an urgent need of picking a competent team who could translate the vision of the next leader into reality.
In India, Mr Modi was lucky as he had some competent ministers to make significant progress on a few fronts: the transport minister, the railway minister and foreign minister made an enormous contribution to the success of Modi government – while leading from the front.

In this context, the aspiring presidential candidate of Sri Lanka cannot ignore the enviable task of picking the right team, because at present, people of all walks of life sense a whiff of despair when they focus on certain individuals, who aspire to be in that team – thanks to the accident of selection.

- Asian Tribune -

Challenges Faced by Imran Khan: widening chasm between vision and reality
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