What would be different if Imran Khan returned to power?

That’s definitely a big if. There is no guarantee that he will return to power by winning the next general election, however called. There is also the great unknown: “How will the powers that be accept his return? He confronted them head-on even before being deposed in April, calling them ‘neutral’ and adding, disparagingly, that only animals are neutral.

But given the massive rallies he calls week after week in every major city, and given the frequent interviews he gives on various TV stations, and given the vast social media network his bandmates have created, there’s better than a fifty-fifty chance that he’ll come back to power.

If he returns, he could well arrive with a large majority in the National Assembly. Millions of Pakistanis have bought his argument that an American plot overthrew him even though there is no evidence of a plot. Millions of people have also ignored the criticism he received around the world for visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin on the day Russia invaded Ukraine, having accepted his argument that he went there in Pakistan’s self-interest to buy oil and gas at a 30% discount.

Moreover, its themes of pursuing an independent foreign policy and purging corrupt and treacherous opponents domestically resonated with millions of Pakistanis.

If he returns to power, what will he do? Domestically, the nation is deeply polarized. Healing the deep divisions he has created with his caustic rhetoric will not be easy. It will be difficult to govern a divided country.

The United States remains Pakistan’s largest trading power, in addition to being the world’s largest economy and the country with the strongest military. His direct criticism of the United States has damaged his image with the Biden administration. Re-establishing ties with the United States will not be easy.

Will he keep the same cabinet? This seems quite likely, given the visibility that Asad Umar and Shah Mahmood Qureshi are getting in rallies. They are often seen standing next to him on the podium or the makeshift truck.

Given the massive rallies he calls week after week in every major city, and given the frequent interviews he gives on various TV stations, and given the vast social media network his cronies have created, he there’s a better than fifty-fifty chance that he’ll come back to power.

This cabinet has been unable to help him achieve the lofty goals he set for himself when he was sworn in in 2018. Expectations are even higher this time around. In the end, what matters most is the economy. The rest is just rhetoric.

During his tenure, he was unable to deliver on most of his promises and made U-Turn after U-Turn. To recap, he said he would bring home $200 billion in looted wealth on day one. He said he would not borrow from Arab states or the IMF. It would restore economic growth and the deficits in the fiscal account and the trade balance would disappear.

He failed to bring back the looted wealth and he borrowed from both the Arabs and the IMF. Economic growth was uneven and hesitant. Chronic trade and fiscal deficits have persisted, despite its claims that its exports have grown rapidly. The rupee lost value, which contributed to the growth of exports, but also to the growth of imports. As a result, Pakistan’s international debt has increased by 50%.

When releasing Pakistan’s first-ever national security policy, he outrageously claimed that the trade-off between military spending and economic spending was archaic and that Pakistan would be able to develop both. It’s impossible. As students learn in their introductory economics course, “there is no free lunch.”

If military spending is not made more transparent, it will be difficult to reduce it. If it is not reduced, the human and economic development of Pakistan will be hindered. The nation will not be able to live up to its potential.

But in his second term, will the army allow him to review and reduce military spending? This was not the case during his first term. Why would he do it in the second term?

The budget deficit will only disappear if tax revenues increase significantly. This requires broadening the tax base. Will farm income be taxed? Will the rich who don’t pay taxes be required to pay taxes? Imran Khan was unable to do so in his first term. The power of vested interests that have evaded the taxman for decades cannot be underestimated. Unless their power is reduced, Pakistan will continue to suffer from ‘elite capture’. Despite his pompous rhetoric and grandiose promises, Imran Khan will fail to convince the elite to relinquish his power.

What would he do to curb inflation? It’s a global problem. No nation can do much about it, and certainly not a nation that is as dependent on imports of just about everything as Pakistan.

What about his plans to root out corruption from the country’s body politic? Again, this makes for great election rhetoric but is impossible to execute. Corruption is not limited to the “dynastic” political parties that oppose him and are the favorite target of his demagoguery.

During his second term, will the army allow him to review and reduce military spending? This was not the case during his first term. Why would he do it in the second term?

Unfortunately, like in many developing countries, corruption has become a way of life in Pakistan. Yes, it is an Islamic Republic and corruption is a sin, both materially and spiritually. But no reason prevented its implementation at all levels of government.

The person taking the bribe or the person giving it – both consider it normal practice. Often there is a sign on the wall behind the desk of the official collecting the bribe, which quotes a verse of scripture in which King Solomon says to the visiting queen, “It is a gift of God “.

Pakistan’s problems are deeply embedded in the country’s DNA. They are structural in nature. That’s why they’ve been around for decades. There is no doubt that a day will come when someone will start to address them seriously and, with courage and determination, and a lot of luck, will start to eliminate them.

But that day is far in the future. We know Imran Khan’s abilities very well, based on his track record during his first term. He is not that person, although he is the object of much adulation.

Once back in power, the messianic veil will be lifted. Even his staunch supporters are likely to be disappointed. Disillusionment is likely to set in fairly quickly, perhaps even before the end of the first year.

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