YouGov Poll - 61% of respondents ranked Khan as their 1st choice, 77% as 1st or 2nd. - YouGov Poll
Can Imran Khan Save Pakistan? 'YES' say the People, 'NO' say the Cronies - Joel Faulkner Rogers, Director, YouGov@Cambridge
Pakistani elections were a genuine popularity contest, then you might
assume the country's next leader will be Imran Khan, the philanthropist
and former cricket star who has formed his own political party,
"Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf" (PTI).
In a recent opinion poll
conducted in Pakistan by the think-tank YouGov@Cambridge, respondents
were asked to choose the person they considered best suited to lead
Pakistan from a list of nineteen possible candidates.
As the figures show, Khan was the most popular by far:
61% of respondents ranked Khan as their first choice, with a total of
77% selecting him as either first or second preference.
comparison, the next most popular candidate, former President Pervez
Musharraf, was ranked first by only 12%, and either first or second by
a total of 23%.
• Below this, the Army Chief ,General Ashfaq
Parvez Kayani, was ranked first or second by 13%, while Asif Ali
Zardari, the current President of Pakistan and
the country's largest party (the Pakistan People's Party/ PPP) was
either first or second choice for a total of just 2%.
Khan finds the "outside edge"
This survey sample focused on urban rather than rural Pakistan, but Khan's lead in popularity is still simply striking.
man is not without his critics in Pakistan, and a favourite jibe of
Pakistan's political elite has long been that he's a celebrity outsider
riding on little more than sporting status. But these critics miss the
point: it is precisely Khan's status as an outsider to the various
fiefdoms of national power that has helped to underwrite his popularity.
word that other Pakistanis use repeatedly when they describe him to
this writer is "clean" - a rare adjective in any discussion of the
country's political class. Khan duly founded the PTI on a manifesto
that aspires to unravel the vested interests of every major hub and
club in the Pakistani establishment, from the army and civil service to
the industrial and agricultural elite.
Let us not get carried
away, however, with opinion-polls and liberal wish-lists, before we
remember the single largest obstacle in the way of budding young
parties like the PTI: this is not a democracy; it's Pakistan.
Pakistan's national caretaker: the Army
times, the politics of this country read less like a national history
and more like a lost script from the Godfather films. The national
stage has been dominated since Independence in 1947 by two
fundamentally undemocratic cliques: the Army and a small oligarchy of
feudal and industrial landlords. The power of both groups arises to no
small extent from the very circumstances of Pakistan's birth.
by the elegant rhetoric and downright stubbornness of its founding
father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the country was established on a platform
of two simple ideas: first of being Muslim and second of not being
India. Beyond these platitudes, however, there was little consensus on
a discourse of national identity to enfranchise a range of ethnic
groups with arguably little in common beyond the sharing of artificial
boundaries hastily drawn in Whitehall offices.
inherited various institutions of state directly from the British,
Pakistan's new leaders had to build many structures of governance from
a standing start. The precarious foundations of nationhood were further
jeopardized when Ali Jinnah died just over a year later. The
politicians who replaced him evidently lacked the same aptitude for
leadership and consensus, as the country entered nearly a decade of
uncertainty before establishing a constitution in 1956. When General
Ayyub Khan took charge two years later and declared martial law, large
sections of public opinion reacted with relief that order was being
established - an atmosphere not unlike initial domestic reactions to
Musharraf's bloodless coup some four decades later.
Army made early claim in the nation's history to a role it has
successfully perpetuated ever since as the ultimate and benevolent
caretaker of Pakistan, a country whose integrity has only remained
intact against the backdrop of historically weak, political
institutions precisely because of the army (or so it claims). The
parallel plank in this narrative, of course, is the ever-present threat
from India, equally entrenched in the national psyche via the race to
seize Kashmir and the bloody population movements that immediately
followed British partition, replete with estimates of a million in
total dead from both sides.
The Barons of Pakistan
the process of transition to independence left national wealth
concentrated largely among a handful of families, whose position only
grew stronger through alliances with undemocratic but business-friendly
leaders and federal bureaucrats. Pakistani economist Mahbub ul-Haq
famously remarked in the 1960s that 66% of the country's economy, 70%
of insurance and 80% of bank assets were controlled by twenty families,
which he later extended to twenty-two. A similar figure from the 1950s
claimed that two hundred and twenty-two people commanded two thirds of
the national credit facility.
Such a limited distribution of
wealth has translated into an entrenched grip on the National Assembly.
When electoral politics are not entirely substituted for direct
military rule, they are dominated by a tiny class of land and business
owners commanding an often inveterate devotion from economically
dependent, local communities.
This elite has come to occupy a
kind of feudal, baronial role as the dispensers of largesse and
livelihoods to an indentured population, who provide an often reliable
political base in return. It is not unusual for seats in the National
Assembly to function like family heirlooms, with the younger generation
commonly packed off for a Western education in preparation only for
their return to inevitable political inheritance. In this way, dynastic
bloodlines frequently provide greater assurance of political authority
in Pakistan than genuine ideas and ability.
The triumph of
patronage and lineage becomes self-reinforcing, as it propels
ineffective and corrupt politicians to the forefront of national
politics, thus enhancing the weakness and ineptness of state
institutions, which in turn further strengthens the reliance of
citizens on their local overlords to fill the gap in basic services,
such as law, order and dispute resolution. (It is not uncommon for
these estates to run their own private prisons with the acknowledgment
and cooperation of local police authorities.)
Likely the boldest
example of dynastic Pakistan in recent years came with the
assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who
bequeathed the leadership of her party, the PPP, to her husband, Asif
Ali Zardari, through her will. He subsequently recalled their son,
Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, from undergraduate studies at Oxford to share
the position. In this way did a 20-year old university student assume
chairmanship of Pakistan's largest political party.
disconnect between political mobility and public opinion in these
events is underscored by the same YouGov/Cambridge survey quoted above,
in which not a single respondent ranked Bilawal as their first choice
to lead Pakistan. On the contrary, just 1% ranked him in their top
three choices at all, with 97% leaving him unranked. It was telling of
the same gap between official title and genuine role when Bilawal told
this writer he was unable speak on behalf of the PPP or its policies,
despite being its chairman.
The army and the wealthy elite have
therefore combined to impose lasting limits on political and social
change in Pakistan. This also means that regardless of sky-high
popularity ratings, independent candidates like Imran Khan face a
mixture of cultural and systemic obstacles to winning seats in
The importance of tax and land reform
would be mistaken, however, to discount Khan's potential influence on
the national debate in the build-up to Pakistan's next election, as
scheduled for 2013.
The "Lawyers' Movement" of street protests
that grew in response to Musharraf's sacking of the country's Chief
Justice, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, in 2007, has injected a lingering
atmosphere of optimism among Pakistanis that systemic change is
actually possible. The PTI might lack the parliamentary sway of
established power-blocs like the Bhutto and Sharif families, or the
bureaucratic muscle of Army chiefs. But as its chairman, Khan has
projected a bold and simple argument for how to begin leading Pakistan
out of its current crisis, which finds increasing traction in the
popular atmosphere that now grows beyond the military and parliamentary
confines of patronage-politics.
As Khan explained to this
writer, there is little in Pakistan that can be changed until we wean
the country off its addiction to two vices: corruption and tax-evasion.
The national mountain of other challenges can only be met if these two
hobgoblins are confronted first and foremost, whether it's separatism
and religious intolerance or a debt-trapped economy and stagnation in
YouGov/Cambridge survey results certainly
support this emphasis, showing that Pakistani respondents ranked
"eliminating corruption" a clear first out of eight possible options
for what they thought the main priorities of the Pakistani government
Principal among his proposals to achieve this, Khan
emphasises the need to continue strengthening the new post-Musharraf
Judiciary, and to create some new kind of "Accountability Bureau",
which is represented by figures of respected national status who are
independent from the membership of party or army blocs. (Previous
versions of this role have been appointed by the ruling party, making
them little more than tools to victimise the opposition.)
Khan's thesis, a new campaign against corruption must go hand in glove
with genuine efforts to build a legitimate tax system. In a population
of some 180 million, fewer than 2% of Pakistanis pay income tax.
Successive generations of the country's ruling elite have refused to
subject major economic sectors to a workable, federal tax. With more
than half of the population employed in agriculture alone, for
instance, the benefits of such reforms are self-evident.
efforts to reduce the wide disparity of income also imply some kind of
land reform, which could involve proposals such as a limit on family
holdings and the redistribution of excess land to the landless and
small-holders, in return for some form of compensation.
The effects of tax evasion
consequences of Pakistan's corruption-riddled tax system are at once
serious, numerous and obvious - both for Pakistanis and the wider world:
-The yawning rich-poor gap is filled and exploited by extremists.
poverty and lacking essential services swell the ranks of organised
groups like the Haqqani network and other powerful non-state actors
beyond the reach of Islamabad.
-Inadequate investment in education
has boosted the growth of independent madrasses and Islamic seminaries
that provide a petri-dish for new recruits to radical organisations
like al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed.
federal dispensation has exacerbated long-standing grievances in
regions like Baluchistan, where local resources are habitually
exploited with little financial return or involvement in
decision-making for local populations.
-The deficit in national
income has been alleviated by a stream of financial aid that has
stifled domestic development and consumption.
-The centrality of
privilege and entitlement in the democratic process has served to
hollow out Pakistan 's civil institutions and helped to justify
continued intrusion into civilian life from the Army, leaving it with a
de facto veto over much of foreign and security policy, as well as key
Khan and fellow travelers within Pakistan are
now supported by a chorus of international voices, including U.S.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the European Union Foreign Policy
Chief Baroness Catherine Ashton, and officials from the International
Monetary Fund, who reiterate that reforms to expand the tax base will
likely proceed meaningful change in most other areas of Pakistani life.
Saving Pakistan: horticulture not architecture
is why, if Pakistan should ever escape the current darkness, it will
happen more through the horticulture of organic change and less via the
architecture of incentivised aid, trade and lending from Washington and
the international community, which largely only perpetuates the status
quo as it funnels through the channels of established fiefdoms.
the importance of Imran Khan lies not simply in the detail of how many
seats he'll win at the next election; it also lies in what he
represents in the wake of the Lawyers' Movement, as the most
recognisable figurehead for a new-found sense of Pakistani confidence
about the power of social crowds to challenge an undemocratic status
To this extent, as Khan himself notes, the Pakistani public
square is not entirely immune to the (equally precarious) atmosphere of
change emerging in other parts of the Islamic world.
was undertaken May 4-5, 2011. The survey was carried out online and is
broadly representative of the online population in Pakistan. Total
sample size was 1,039 Pakistani residents.)http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/joel-faulkner-rogers/can-imran-khan-save-pakistan_b_905587.html
JOEL FAULKNER ROGERS