Victory of Imran Khan in Pakistan: Far Less Than Change of Guard
Pakistan underwent the second largest democratic transition of power in its tryst with a strange version of parliamentary democracy during the last seven decades of its pitiful existence. More than 3,000 candidates contested for 272 general seats of the National Assembly, the lower house of the national parliament, while nearly 8,000 candidates fought for 577 general seats of the four provincial assemblies – Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and Pakistan-occupied Balochistan. Pakistan Muslim League’s Nawaz Sharif faction or PML (N), the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or PTI led by former cricket skipper-turned politician Imran Khan and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari-led Pakistan People’s Party or PPP, participated in the polls as key players. Only Imran Khan’s PTI has emerged as a clear victor in this poll battle and the former skipper of the Pakistani cricket team is now going to be the skipper of the country in the global political stadium. The victory of PTI brought a new change in Pakistani politics, which was so far dominated by either the PML(N) or the PPP. While the PML(N) has become the runners-up, the PPP is rendered worthless in this election.
In states like Punjab, where PML(N) had a great fan following among the big feudal landlords and mafia kings, PTI made deep entrenchment and managed to tap a majority of the middle-class’ votes. In Sindh too, the PTI has fared well and the party is all set to form its first government with Imran Khan perched at the top. The elections were marred with allegations of blatant rigging done by the PTI in different parts of the country and a heinous terrorist attack in Quetta, where 35 voters were killed in a bomb blast. The PML(N) and the PPP have claimed, along with many regional players that the PTI has played foul riding on the barrel of the military establishment’s gun. The shadow of the most powerful nexus that rules the country on behalf of big foreign corporations and local feudal landlords- the Pakistani military and the secret service organisation – ISI, was clearly visible during the entire election drama and it was anticipated, seeing this unbridled support that the PTI and Imran Khan received from the establishment, that the PTI will sweep the election with a comfortable majority.
As an underdog in the previous electoral battles, Imran Khan’s PTI became a vote spoiler in the contest between the PML(N) and PPP. Since the Panama Paper leaks, Imran Khan became the favourite bait of the military establishment, the ISI and the CIA, which rules over these organisations. The extreme fascist Salafist and misogynist views of the PTI made them an eye candy for the US-funded Salafist fundamentalist organisations, who have used Imran Khan to advocate on behalf of their extremist organisations. With the Panama Paper leak, Nawaz Sharif had to face the wrath of the people and quit his position, handing over the charge to his brother and then fleeing from Pakistan to save himself from prosecution. When he was convicted in the anti-corruption case, he returned back as part of a power-sharing arrangement with the military establishment and was jailed. The opportunity was seized by the utmost fascist PTI, which turned the anti-corruption movement into a movement for self-aggrandizement and to formally establish a grotesque dictatorship on the people by doing away with the sham democracy.
Since 2014 the PTI tried to package itself as a populist party and appealed mostly to the urban middle-class and elites of Punjab, the traditional vote banks of PML(N) and PPP. Riding on the people’s discontent against the loadshedding era of the PPP rule and anti-incumbency mood over the utmost corrupt Nawaz Sharif regime, Imran Khan projected himself as the only alternative and non-corrupt alternative that Pakistan has in front of it. By weaning the professionals like doctors, engineers, IT professionals, etc. in Punjab behind itself by using the rhetoric against corruption and vouching for economic reform following the neo-liberal prescription that the Pakistani ruling classes have adopted since 1988, the PTI managed to carve its niche in the Pakistani politics with a vigour this time. The PTI rule is going to be the same repetition of making the handful rich at the cost of pushing many into destitution while retaining the extreme feudal and patriarchal character of the Pakistani society and government intact. PTI and Imran Khan would only strengthen the feudal-colonial exploitation to which the Pakistani people and the colonised nations like Balochs are subjected to since the inception of the state, while at the other hand the new regime will intensify jingoism and xenophobia using the services of the Salafist fundamentalists to keep the majority of the poor immersed in the darkness of religious extremism.
Despite promising a modern, corruption-free and developed Pakistan, what Imran Khan and his accomplices, mostly bigot men of Salafist camp would do is ensure the American stronghold in Pakistan is preserved, secure aids and grants from Washington under the guise of fighting Taliban and help the Pakistani Army to enjoy greater share of the budget allocation. The establishment which is not answerable to the people, despite living on their money, would now exert more control on the civilian administration than they did during the reign of Zardari or Sharif. Imran Khan’s personal charisma would be used to create a cult around which the idea of an aroused nationhood would be built by the ruling classes and their loyal military establishment, to ensure Pakistan has a fascist dictator powered by a violent mob on the street and online trolls on social media.
It’s not that Imran Khan is the best choice for the US-influenced lobby, rather the Chinese lobby, which is trying to bring Pakistan closure to the alternative power bloc led by Russia and China globally, is equally happy with Imran Khan. In his maiden address after winning the election, Imran Khan praised the authoritarian tyranny of the Chinese Communist Party for the development of China, which is walking nakedly on the path of capitalism since the last 42 years. It’s evident that the Imran Khan-led PTI government will play a key role in the development of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which is a part of China’s One Belt, One Road and Maritime Silk Route projects that aim to connect Northern Pakistan and Western China to the deep-sea port Gwadar in the Arabian Sea. China has invested more than $1.62 billion in developing the port and the city, along with its Gwadar Special Economic Zone. The Chinese interest in the occupied Baloch region was threatened by the over-reliance of the Pakistani Army and politics on the aid provided by the US and the CIA, as the latter allowed the Indian R&AW sponsored terrorism in Balochistan, which led to attacks on Chinese businesses.
The Chinese influence on the Pakistani ruling classes increased since 2016, when the Gwadar Port was inaugurated and the US and India took negative stand regarding its operation and China’s stake in the Gwadar Special Economic Zone project, its involvement in the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project and the special status Beijing enjoys due to the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed between China and Pakistan. The contradiction between the US-lackey ruling class and the pro-China and pro-Russia section of the ruling class led to a new series of conflicts, wave of xenophobia and jingoism, which resulted into Imran Khan, the puppet of the pro-China and pro-Russia lobby of the Pakistani ruling class and its loyal military getting a chance to rule the country.
For the ruling classes and their loyal military establishment, Imran Khan became the choicest lackey who can secure the interests of the comprador capitalists and the dominant feudal landlords of Punjab and other provinces. Even the comprador collaborators of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are eager to support this military pawn for their own benefit. The strong support the PTI got in rigging the election and attacking the opponents of Khan, including the PML(N) and PPP supporters in their former strongholds with total impunity, showed that in real the election was merely a circus organised by the military establishment to have their own pawn get an official endorsement to rule the country of 210 million people. China was visibly happy, while the pro-Western and American lackey media, their lapdogs like the PPP and the PML(N), were found heaping accusations on the PTI and its ways of securing a thin-margin victory.
While Nawaz Sharif was the eye candy of the US-lackey administration since the days of Zia ul-Haque, the military dictator who formally established Salafist dictatorial rule in Pakistan, he fell from favour repeatedly due to his inability to execute the will of the military and the ISI-CIA nexus with vigour. Nawaz Sharif’s swindling and volatile loyalty towards China and the US were causes of his drastic fall from favour, along with the former military general Raheel Sharif. The Pakistani establishment and the US ruling classes were unhappy with him for his inability to execute their will in Pakistan, while China didn’t see him doing the necessary to halt the American interference in Gwadar and terrorism in Balochistan. Imran Khan simply filled the void and is now riding the same tiger, which ate his predecessors. Imran Khan’s pro-democracy rhetoric and Salafist inclination on several issues, including those related to women, makes the PTI a perfect tautological organisation that will blend irony with tragedy in Pakistan.
What significance does the victory of PTI has for the overwhelming masses of workers, peasants and toiled people of Pakistan who are suffering due to rising cost of living, unemployment, extreme exploitation of their labour by the ruling classes and deprivation from basic human rights? Actually, the working class and the peasantry have no benefit in the victory of any of these parliamentary parties like the PTI, the PML(N) or the PPP because they all keep them in a state of semi-pauperisation through their subscription to similar economic policies. The working class has seen the real wages falling in Pakistan in the last one decade and a handful of comprador capitalists and their feudal allies multiplying their wealth manifold.
With shrinking employment opportunities, lack of government spending on creating public services and rising inflation, the Pakistani poor have only a few options for subsistence before them. They can either work for the comprador capitalists, foreign corporations or feudal landlords for a meagre income or immigrate to the Gulf countries to do menial labour and send some of their savings back home. The poor women even lack those opportunities in a society that’s increasingly becoming anti-women in all aspects. The minority communities are thrown into the abyss of poverty and are subjected to communal violence at the whim of the bigots of the dominant Sunni community’s extremist section.
Be it any political party that represents the true essence of what Pakistan is – a bigoted state ruled by Muslim feudal landlords, comprador capitalists and the US-Chinese capital, no one will come to the rescue of the poor Pakistanis except for organising few Iftar parties during the Muslim holy month of Ramzan or few charity programmes organised for the self-aggrandizement of the leaders. For the poor of Pakistan and for its oppressed communities and colonised nations, there is no other option than taking up the route of a revolutionary change to purge the Pakistani society of the filth that’s represented by the ilk of Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif or Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. It’s only a new democratic revolution led by the working class of Pakistan, in alliance with the vast majority of the peasantry and rural proletariat that the country can defeat the menace of Salafist fundamentalism and the resultant growth of terrorism, which have roots in the very semi-feudal production relation that exist in the country.
Armed with the support of the Pakistani ruling class, the military establishment, CIA -ISI nexus, the Chinese corporations, Imran Khan and the PTI can rule the country with an iron fist for the few years to come, however, the utmost failure of the regime to deliver on its promises, except those of allowing corporations to plunder the resources and labour of Pakistan, will lead to a massive people’s discontent with it and then the military establishment will dump Imran Khan and search for a new proxy to rule the country on its behalf. The working class and the peasantry must not go deep in a slumber listening to the deceptive lullaby sung by a conniving conspirator who wants to drown Pakistan in the dark abyss of communalism, fanaticism, terrorism and reaction. The people must rise up, take the charge of their future in their own hands and fight until the end to seize power and change Pakistan into its opposite – a socialist, egalitarian and progressive nation.
Nabeel Anwer is a Delhi-based journalist who writes on issues related to the minority communities and marginalised people. His harsh criticism of the system got Facebook to censor him repeatedly.