Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf may offer cleaner and more efficient politics, but Pakistan deserves more than that
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement of Justice) is the political party started by former cricketer, Imran Khan, in 1996. The party remained marginal to Pakistani politics until 2011, when in a series of rallies Khan apparently mobilised hundreds of thousands.
In particular, PTI has captured the imagination of middle-class youths in Pakistan, promising a revolution or “tsunami” implementing an “Islamic welfare state”. Reading through Khan’s political biography (titled, in Urdu, Me and My Pakistan) one can hardly doubt his personal sincerity and commitment to making Pakistan a better place.
This personal integrity is what makes Khan likeable to so many looking for a “clean” person to lead the country. Corruption is seen as the main problem in the country, and cleaning the house from the top will reduce it, thereby resulting in a better-run country.
We can only judge Imran Khan’s performance as a politician if and when his party forms government, and since everybody has had a turn, why not Imran Khan? But until then we can ask more about the concepts in play and how they relate to PTI’s programme: corruption, revolution and Islamic welfare state.
In many ways the complaint about corruption envisions the government as one large business. If you see the way a good, efficient CEO runs his company, you will see that the government too can be run in this way. End the politicisation of appointments in government enterprises and set up the rule of technocrats. Imran Khan, as a clean guy who has well-managed Shaukat Khanum hospital, can be the guy who runs Pakistan as a competent CEO. It is no surprise that PTI appeals to middle-class professionals and youth brought up in such business-oriented times.
But Arundhati Roy raises some important questions about the anti-corruption politics of India, which are equally relevant to Pakistan. Does a politics of anti-corruption actually aim to transform a deeply unjust system, or does it make it “cleaner and more efficient”? Where the “majority of the population is illegitimate in the ways in which they live and work,” can anti-corruption politics simply become another way of marginalising the poor? In sum:
“Can we understand or address the politics of caste and class, ethnicity, gender, religious chauvinism, the whole of our political history, the current process of environmental devastation—and the other myriad things that make India’s engine work, or not work—all through the narrow, brittle lens of corruption?”
The answer, of course, is no. And it would be a mistake to say that Imran Khan’s politics attribute to corruption all of these ills. Yet, it is unclear as to how, exactly, Khan or the PTI would explain these things. Inefficient management and inadequate policy implementation, perhaps. That is, a set of explanations that are not too far off from the mantra of corruption.
But where does a welfare state actually come from? Is it a result of efficient management and honest leadership? Quite the contrary. A quick glance at the history of welfare states in Europe and North America shows that corrupt and greedy rulers were faced with the combined threat of independently organised working class movements and the shadow of communist countries proclaiming equality. Working class movements fought existing structures of power, and for such things as the weekend, the eight-hour working day and universal education.
The PTI’s economic and governance programmes, however, completely sidestep the question of structures of power and mobilising society’s underclasses. Ideologically, they are not very far from the neoliberalism underpinning the IMF and World Bank, the international financial institutions that have gripped the developing world in cycles of poverty and despair for the majority, and unprecedented prosperity for a few.
The concept of devolution has been very popular in neoliberal “good governance” paradigms. The PTI, too, has a local governance plan that appears to be different. It begins by highlighting how rural elites were created by the British colonisers to serve their interests, and how they continue to dominate rural areas. Yet, there is actually no conception of what the rural elite is, and after the first couple of slides they all but disappear from the plan.
In the main, this plan is not all that dissimilar from the decentralisation plans of military governments that came before; though it does inflate what are basically marginal locational differences (placing “mauza” instead of “union councils” as administrative units).
The problem is that one can go down to the most local of levels, and the politics and political process of the village—the collection and distribution of revenues—would still be controlled by powerful rural elites. The rural elites derive their power, in the main, from their control over land (that structure that was set into stone by British and subsequent post-colonial governments). This is because the majority of the rural population depends on the land for its livelihood and subsistence, and so it is dependent upon the owners of the land.
Unless and until there are meaningful land reforms, there will not be any meaningful dispersion or democratisation of power. The rural elites will make use of their power to get elected to the village chairman position—as many of them got elected to union council Nazim position during military decentralisation—and lord it over as they have for the past sixty years and more, albeit in different ways. By “localising” or “decentralising” power and revenue, one simply legitimises putting power into the hands of these local rural elites, or their proxies (managers, etc.).
Similarly, PTI’s economic policy proposals are big on anti-corruption and vague assertions of what PTI will do (and not much on how it will do it), without addressing the basic structural problems of Pakistan’s political economy. Indeed, the proposals therein are not very different from the Government of Pakistan’s very neoliberal Framework for Economic Growth, with some differences of emphasis.
Forty-five per cent of Pakistan’s economically active population is currently engaged in agriculture. Yet, neither the PTI nor FEG have anything to say about structural inequality in agriculture and how it holds back the economy at large. Both are focused instead on modernising inputs and making markets more efficient.
The PTI’s economic plan completely ignores land reform. Land reform, if done in a judicious and supported manner, could not only reduce political inequality, but economic inequality. Mainly, by providing so many currently landless or land-poor families with livelihoods, and enabling tenants to reinvest surplus into agriculture rather than allowing landlords to fritter it away in consumption, it could create a greater domestic consumer market while increasing agricultural productivity. Simultaneous agricultural and non-agricultural industrialisation can provide a great many jobs and also products to fulfil the newly created demand—rather than importing everything down to cotton buds and pencils from China.
In sum, the PTI has little to offer that is actually revolutionary, or that could lead to the kind of economy that can sustain a welfare state (Islamic or otherwise). It represents, rather, neoliberal ideas with a dabbling of anti-Americanism. Perhaps the PTI will do it well, in a cleaner and more efficient manner. Yet, surely, the Pakistani masses deserve something truly revolutionary.
Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Imran_Khan.jpg
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