Clifton Beach, Karachi. Photo: Mark Engeler
Hope Bearer Imran Khan Walks Into the Sidelines?
The longing of the people of Pakistan for a figure of light is all too understandable. Since the failure of the democratic experiment under Zulfiqar Bhutto more than 40 years ago, politics for the vast majority of the population has been a single disenfranchisement.
Each new government, civilian or military, began with crude promises and ended ignominiously, through corruption scandals, impeachment, or political violence. Of the announcements made by state founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, not a single one came true. Now Imran Khan spoils hope for a better future. However, he is far from a blank slate and instead looks back on a 25-year political career.
He made his own way through the institutions until he became prime minister in 2018. Some things in this period make us doubt if it is as different as all the failed processes. His honest intentions are beyond doubt, and his clean image is genuine – even if he can’t burgle every one of his followers. But whether that alone will be enough to get the derailed Pakistan train back on track was a matter of dispute from the start.
Imran Khan’s fame is untouchable – in sports. The one thing that all Pakistanis are undividedly proud of, without a stale aftertaste, is winning the 1992 World Cup in the national sport of cricket. Imran Khan, one of the best cricketers in the history of the sport, was the captain of this team. After the end of his sports career, he turned to philanthropic projects and caused a sensation through his marriage to Jemima Goldsmith.
The British billionaire’s daughter had been of Jewish faith before her conversion to Islam, which caused a stir in the country, although there are neither Jews nor anti-Semitism in Pakistan. When Khan founded the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice, PTI) party in 1996, of which he has been chairman without interruption ever since, and began his political career, he was initially roundly ridiculed and pitied by his rivals.
No regional base as a house power – Khan’s home province of Punjab was and remains the turf of the Sharif brother; too little connected to the elites because by then more in Europe and the U.S.; and rich, but nowhere near rich enough to really make an impact in elections. No new ideas, but that everything should be different and better.
Indeed, his piety has been questioned by some because of his wife. At the beginning, Khan descended almost to the level of a joke, despite his prestige as a national sports hero. Little helped by many ill-considered statements and demands, almost all of which he had to retract. A clear line was not discernible. It was classified under the meaningless label of "Populist", His conservatism has earned him the nickname of "Taliban Khan" a.
The slow rise
Khan’s rise is mainly the downfall of all competitors, in the end only he was left, with relatively white vest. The army has presumably finally abandoned the idea of ruling the country directly after the disastrous end of ara Musharraf (1999-2008), the fourth and so far last military ruler (though recent events in Myanmar show that some military institutions in Sudasia are unteachable).
However, it remains the final and decisive authority, even though this fact is not stated anywhere in the interception. The army and civilian politics have found a modus operandi that enables the army to assert its interests, which it sees as the interests of the state. Especially with Nawaz Sharif there were considerable problems, but these could be solved.
Next, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) declassified itself. Zulfiqar and Benazir Bhutto’s party came to power in 2008 with the post-Musharraf elections, under the formal leadership of the young Bilawal Bhutto, but in reality led by his universally despised (even within the PPP) father Asif Ali Zardari, who became the country’s president.
Although for the first time ever a party managed to survive the entire term from election to election, five years of PPP rule were marked by corruption and incompetence that still caused a stir even in Pakistan. Since then, the PPP has become only a regional party in Sindh. The army will have looked forward to the 2013 elections with unease. The PPP, with which they had cooperated well, was finished, the PTI too insignificant and its chief Khan too autocratic and independent.
Christmas decoration in Karachi. Photo: Mark Engeler
After the PPP disaster the brothers Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif were victorious, and these rich industrialists from Punjab were no friends of the military. Nawaz Sharif was indirectly removed from his post as prime minister by the army in 1993 and directly in 1999; he survived his second fall only thanks to the direct intervention of the Saudi royal family with General Musharraf.
Sharif had not forgotten this about the army as an institution, even though Musharraf himself was now living in exile, discredited. That the Sharif brothers were unhappy with the status quo and generally considered the military unfit to run the country was an open secret. They avoided direct confrontation, but they tried to slowly roll back the army’s influence.
The Panama Papers
In 1999, Nawaz Sharif’s attempt to normalize relations with India had become an embarrassment to him. The businessman knew how damaging and expensive the conflict over Kashmir was and what the mutual total boycott had for financial and political consequences, especially for his country. What was the increasing trade with China compared to all the things not traded with India?
In Pakistan, no one but the army benefited from this unnatural relationship. Sharif fell over the Panama (MossackFonseca) Papers. The army was not responsible for this scandal, but when it saw its opponent in distress, it ensured the coup de grâce. The commission of inquiry that recommended to the Supreme Court that Sharif be impeached (now for the third time) and banned from holding public office for the rest of his life was staffed by military intelligence officers in such a way that there was no doubt about the outcome.
Of course, there was no doubt about the guilt of Nawaz Sharif, or more precisely of his children. But something particularly reprehensible – in the context of the country – was not held against them. Embezzlement, misdeclaration of private assets, corruption, capital flight are commonplace even today. Sharif was not made an example of. It was not a new era of righteousness that began. But an old adversary of the army was finally (as far as it exists in Pakistan) removed from circulation together with the bulk of his clan.
Enmity between the Sharifs and Imran Khan
It is not clear why Imran Khan did not clash with any other rival as he did with the Sharifs. From 2011 at the latest, one can speak of a personal enmity that clearly went beyond political rivalry, even in Pakistan, where politics is played with the hardest of sticks. Of course Khan had to win Punjab, the Sharifs’ turf, to get to the top and detested their corruption, but that was just not their particular stigma, it affected the entire political class (and burocracy and army, every sector of the state and economy) with the exception of himself.
After the 2013 elections, Khan accused Nawaz Sharif of electoral fraud and tried to force Sharif to abdicate with a blockade of Islamabad lasting several months together with the flown-in preacher Tahir-ul Qaderi.
Shortly thereafter, the long wrangling over the Panama Papers began, during which Nawaz Sharif and his family were blobbed like no powerful family before them. Of course, Khan pushed this process with all his resources, not only to clear Nawaz out of the arena once and for all, but also to remove his relatives and their entire party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), PML-N.
The campaign was effective, and in the end the Sharifs and their party were completely discredited even among many of their loyal supporters. Before the 2018 elections, Khan was the last hope for many, and his legitimate clean image the key feature that distinguished him from all competitors.
The country longed for a new beginning, an unburdened leader. In the election, the third in a row to be held in a normal constitutional framework, Khan’s PTI won its biggest victory yet and became the strongest party. Together with her associates, she came to 176 votes out of 342 in the National Assembly.
On 17. August 2018 Imran Khan was sentenced to 22.Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan elected, PPP, PML(N) and army had to deal with it. Khan has come to terms with the army best of all – it is understood, she has her "legitimate" interests (state and security-related), its firm, unofficial place behind the scenes, and has virtually resigned itself to no longer governing directly.
The brief conflict with India in the spring of 2019, after all the most serious confrontation since 1971, brought Khan and the generals closer together.