Our Populist Prime Minister

Great statesmen are essential to establish sustainable order and peace. According to Henry Kissinger, great statesmen possess a charismatic personality, courage, and character. They preempt decisions, forge alliances for order, and devise policies that are judicious.

Historically, leaders like Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and the like have proven that great statesmen can change the course of history.

In contemporary times, leadership acumen, courage, and character have taken a backseat in electing statesmen. Thanks to the rapid spread of information, narrative maneuvering, and sentiment manipulation through online channels and social media, leaders elected today to have everything but great statesmanship.

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In the online world, consensus drives the narrative, and difference of opinion fails to create a buzz in the virtual world. Virality can be controlled, maneuvered, and enhanced by will. Pakistan has also not been an exception to this new phenomenon of populism.

Indian Neutrality during the Cold War and Lessons for Pakistan

Pakistan’s 2018 elections have an unprecedented significance. For the first time in its 70 years of history, the country witnessed a candidate from a new political party claiming victory.

However, Imran Khan’s rise cannot simply be viewed in isolation. The leader rose to power after mustering wide social media popularity as well as being also dubbed as “The Prime Minister of Pakistan on Facebook” since the start of his campaign. He used well-crafted populist rhetoric to grab attention.

From promising to hold the country’s political elite accountable to acclaiming his team and its preparedness at peeling away the layers of old Pakistan and presenting a ‘Naya’ Pakistan, Imran Khan did not let go of a single instance at deriding those whom he opposed. He led unending sit-ins, commanding his followers to go rogue and carry out onslaughts against the state.

In the three years of PTI rule, the leader’s major decisions have been populist. They were taken to achieve public consensus and approval despite their myopic scope and limited impact. He has used his populist vigilantism in foreign policy, financial administration, gender discrimination, bureaucracy conundrums, and making parliament dysfunctional.

In the foreign policy domain, his government has largely failed to be pragmatic and judicious. He used the parliament floor to declare the notorious Osama bin Laden a martyr, providing lots of ammunition to Pakistan’s adversaries at international forums.

Moreover, his foreign policy posture towards India has largely been equivocal. The recent thaw in the relations of both countries met a dead-end due to dissonance between his finance and foreign ministry. Nonetheless, this political activism is not only limited to foreign policy.

In terms of the economic struggle, the PM has been grappling with streamlining the economy since his very first day in the office. So far, as per the whims of the PTI leader, the incumbent Finance Minister is the fourth person to helm the country’s finance in the three-year PTI rule. His so-called ready serve finance team and advisors remained futile as the scope of responsibilities became evident.

Despite referring to his predecessors as ‘beggars’, another populist move exercised by him, Mr. Prime Minister had to take the begging bowl abroad to keep the economy afloat. He finally sought refuge in the IMF camp, having audaciously criticized this on his Twitter feed a few years ago.

Afghan Peace Process in June 2021 and Setting Future Expectations

The Prime Minister’s populist narrative and unilateral rhetoric have not been limited to finance or foreign affairs, they have been ubiquitous. Recently in an interview, he used victim-blaming to justify surging rape cases in the country. Women’s clothing, as per the Prime Minister of twenty-two million people, is the reason for rape in the country. Such an opinion from a nation’s leader will only raise eyebrows in the international arena and will add insult to the injury owing to the dismal situation of human rights and development in Pakistan.

Imran Khan’s promises of revamping bureaucracy in his ‘Naya Pakistan’ have remained an elusive dream. Going against the governance principles of keeping the bureaucracy politically neutral and tenure-wise secured, he has carried out consistent shuffling in the administration. From posting Inspector Generals of Police to transferring Chief Secretaries of provinces, he has used all the means to achieve coerced good governance, which is anything but good.

Governments can only achieve economic prosperity and internal stability through consensus. Maintaining parliamentary supremacy, ensuring tolerance against dissent, and prioritizing national interest over any personal difference is the key to achieve democratic dividends. These steps are needed to ensure mutual consensus over policy matters and policy continuity.

However, Imran Khan’s government has turned a deaf ear to parliament. They have made parliament a battleground, where trading of barbs and insults is the everyday norm. The Prime Minister himself largely remains absent from the floor. Even recently, in a top national security briefing on Afghanistan, he remained absent owing to his differences with the leader of the opposition.

Imran Khan is a populist leader. This is not because of his exclusive and traditional ways of running the government, instead, this is due to the fact that he has used the public sentiment and perception management to grab power.

His speeches and promises before the elections are anything but his performance afterward. He exploited the nation and maneuvered their narrative only to be victorious over his rivals. His three-year performance has been dismal. No devolution of power, no reforms in civil service, lack of economic growth, or pragmatic projects are all proof of his incompetence.

If this is the ‘Naya Pakistan’, Pakistanis are better off with the old version. We as a nation have been defrauded by an unprepared and incompetent cricketer. The US expunged its populist leader within 4 years, I wish Pakistanis would do the same.

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