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Populism and talk of a welfare state will only get Khan so far and no more

Perhaps more troubling was what Mr Khan left unsaid. Though he spoke vaguely of austerity and plans to overcome Pakistan’s economic woes, there was no whiff of a concrete plan to overcome the balance of payments crisis or word on whether another bailout alone will get Pakistan out of the woods.

editorials Updated: Aug 20, 2018 18:36 IST
Hindustan Times
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan, speaks to the nation in his first televised address in Islamabad, Pakistan August 19, 2018(REUTERS)

Imran Khan’s first address to the nation after becoming Prime Minister was largely devoted to his vision of crafting a “Naya Pakistan”, a welfare state based on Islamic ideals and measures to tackle the corruption and poor governance that has affected so many of the nation’s 200 million people. He struck a chord with many in Pakistan when he displayed, side by side, images of the brains of a child benefiting from nourishing food and another afflicted by malnutrition. But there was a hefty dose of populism too, including his plans to give up the Prime Minister’s House with its 524 workers and 80 cars and instead live in a three-bedroom house with two workers after auctioning off all the excess vehicles. There was an appeal to national pride in the form of asking the people to pay more taxes so that Pakistan could be rid of its debt burden, which, by Mr Khan’s reckoning, is $95 billion. There were also the fanciful schemes that came up during Mr Khan’s election campaign and even before — like the plan to convert the Prime Minister’s House into a research university. It is another matter that Mr Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party couldn’t even deliver on its pledge to convert the chief minister’s official residence in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa into a library despite ruling that province for the past five years.

Perhaps more troubling was what Mr Khan left unsaid. Though he spoke vaguely of austerity and plans to overcome Pakistan’s economic woes, there was no sign of a concrete plan to overcome the balance of payments crisis or word on whether another bailout alone will get Pakistan out of the woods.

For Pakistan’s neighbours, more worrying was Mr Khan’s silence on his plans to tackle their concerns. At a time when Pakistan’s relationship with the US has nosedived, Mr Khan could have used his speech to outline plans to improve ties with his neighbours. This would have helped him make new friends in the neighbourhood, at a time when Pakistan needs more friends. Equally worrying was Mr Khan’s stance on terrorism and extremism — beyond a pledge to implement the National Action Plan (NAP) to ensure peace, there was virtual radio silence on the subject. The NAP, framed after the deadly attack on a school in Peshawar in 2014, clearly hasn’t delivered and there is a need to go back to the drawing board. Populism and talk of a Medina-like state will only get Mr Khan so far, the time has come for him to roll up his sleeves and deliver.

First Published: Aug 20, 2018 18:36 IST