Emergency, emergency, emergency. Everything is broken, disaster is upon us, itâs now or never, great haste is needed. But the pace of decisions itself â there are, in fact, none of positive substance so far â tells a different tale.
Ordinarily, that would be fine: politics is about selling the gaudy and settling for the average. Imranâs problem in this new version of an old experiment is that he is, in fact, different to what has come before. Imran is a populist with actual popular appeal.
The lazy comparison is between Imran in 2018 and the other chap in 1990. But the comparison only extends to being settled on to block an opponent deemed undesirable and unworthy to rule.
Imran has been running around doing his thing, his political thing, for so long that political Imran is older than the youngest semi-sentient Khanista. At 22, political Imran was eligible to vote four years ago.
That political Imran is a veteran is an advantage for Prime Minister Khan â initially. The rabid Khanista base is genuine and it insulates him from immediate political attack. Give him a chance, huh.But it will close in.
Look closely at what Imran has done so far: heâs laid out what he wants to do and heâs picked the people to do it. The latter everyone can already agree, they arenât the best people. Khanistas will argue that subordinates matter little when Imran is there.
Unlikely, but back to that in a bit.
Start with the first part: what Imran has said he wants to do. The speech on Sunday sent supporters into raptures and temporarily muted even the fiercest of opponents. Which makes sense: if it wasnât all quite new, Imranâs agenda is mildly reassuring after a wild and bruising run-in.
But listen to the speech again and then once more. It is surprisingly small bore. No, really. Small bore in a Pakistani political sense.
Think of it this way: no one was going to remember all the bits in a speech that had promises peppered all over it, but a week removed how many can you already remember? Telescope out to a month, year, two years and three â you can already see the highlights and enumeration fading away.
Khanistas will sneer, but it will become apparent in time.
Sure, all political speeches fade and what remain are some memories of how it felt and maybe what it went on to mean.
But what was the promise? Itâs a good promise all right and it hit some of the right religious notes for the centre right. But promise here is rooted in muscular nationalism too.
If you zoom out from the specific points and adjust for partial and uneven delivery â the Pakistan that Imran has promised is a vague version of an Indonesia, Malaysia or Thailand. Great countries to even aspire to be like over the medium-term, but not exactly thrilling politically.
Not for Pakistan.
And roar their approval as the Khanistas have, child malnutrition, public schools and public hospitals arenât exactly issues that move the PTIâs core. Urban success is measured in not using those public services â and that wonât change quickly.
But the agenda is now laid out. Small bore it is. What can and likely will change the agenda are unexpected events â and those are rarely of the good kind here.
The other consequential decision Imran has made are his picks for the Cabinet and in the provinces. He didnât really have a choice. Allies exist to extract their pound of flesh and that pound is always more than the number of seats they have.
When youâre 70 or 80 per cent of the way to the finish line, the maths suggests you need the allies more than the allies need you. Usually, hardly a problem to dwell over.
Politics is what politics is. But Imranâs problem is that heâs a populist with fierce anti-corruption rhetoric and heâs clambered to the top decrying his political opponents.
Anti-corruption rhetoric in Opposition becomes a headache for all who eventually attain high office but because of the people Imranâs picked and the enemies heâs long made, the space for Imran to manoeuvre is minimal.
The obvious options are to push hard on optics â simplicity in high office, pretending to trim waste and other such silliness â and keep pounding away at the enemies â it helps that Imran seems to genuinely detest the folk heâs railed against for decades. But that will only go so far.
A politically small-bore agenda that doesnât have true red meat for the base plus the carving up of red anti-corruption meat for the base blocked by a status quo heavy Cabinet and provincial picks â all well and good when politics is about selling the gaudy and settling for the average
Imranâs problem in this new version of an old experiment is that he is, in fact, different to what has come before. Imran is a populist with actual popular appeal.
But the dream heâs laid out is soft and squishy â a mostly social agenda for a hard nationalist politics. And the people Imran has picked will quite obviously dent his transformative, anti-corruption political rhetoric.
So, what does a populist do when his popular appeals start to slip? Probably nothing very good.
By arrangement with Dawn