How to defeat Pakistan’s corrupt elite and return wealth to the people

The Pakistani opposition leader, Imran Khan, outlines his vision for change.

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My Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) – or Pakistan Movement for Justice – was always envisaged as more than merely a traditional political party. It is a movement to fight for a just and equal society based on the system that our Prophet laid down in the Medina Charter, which was the foundation of the model Islamic state. This is an egalitarian society based on the rule of law and economic justice – the first welfare state in the history of mankind. Unfortunately, as the philosopher Ibn Khaldun predicted, when the Muslims’ commitment to justice declined, so did their civilisation.

It is these principles of justice and egalitarianism that Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, envisaged for the country: this vision served as my inspiration for naya (new) Pakistan. For PTI, it is not just “politics”: it is a commitment to building a welfare state where the rule of law, meritocracy and transparency are guaranteed to all of our citizens. Pakistan is a country with abundant natural resources and wealth that have been stolen by a corrupt and predatory elite. We are committed to bringing this stolen wealth back to be used for the welfare of our people.

In 2013, my party was able to form a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. With a focus on revamping the provincial state machinery, PTI implemented police reforms based on meritocracy and professionalism without political interference. Today, the KP police force is a model for other provinces to emulate. We have put in place reforms in the civil justice system, including effective alternative dispute resolution mechanisms – allowing issues to be resolved without going to court.

While other provinces and the federal government chose to concentrate on mega-projects with mega-kickbacks, PTI’s vision for human development focused the KP government’s resources on health, education, female empowerment and the environment. To ensure that people take charge of their lives, we devolved power to the village level in the local government system.

My commitment to preserving and improving the environment became part of the KP government’s agenda: the success of the Billion Tree Tsunami, through which huge deforested areas have been reclaimed and new trees planted, is acknowledged globally. KP is the most active participant in the Bonn Challenge (the global effort to bring 350 million hectares of the world’s deforested land into restoration by 2030).

The multiplier effect of this great project has improved the lives of locals, including women, who have been given charge and paid salaries for maintaining the nurseries and overseeing plantation activity.

My commitment to quality education for all led me to establish Namal College in underdeveloped Mianwali, where the majority of students are educated for free and awarded degrees from the University of Bradford – proving they can excel equally with their peers in developed nations. The same commitment is embedded in KP’s education policy. KP is the only province that has consistently allocated more than 20 per cent of its budget to education, in line with Unesco’s recommendation.

I have seen how marginalised and dispossessed street children become victims of the sex trade, criminal gangs and drug peddlers. To rescue these children we established the Zamung Kor programme in KP, comprising school and housing, and enabling youngsters to realise their full potential in a supportive environment. We are also committed to integrating madrasa students into the provincial education system, upgrading these religious schools’ educational facilities and bringing them within the government’s oversight.

The provision of quality health care for all is a goal of mine that was first realised in the building of the world-class Shaukat Khanum cancer hospital in Lahore, where 70 per cent of patients get free care. In KP, it has been an arduous task breaking through the entrenched vested interests, but our persistence has enabled the structural reform of the public health system. Granting financial and administrative autonomy to specialised hospitals through a board of governors has been crucial. We have also introduced “health cards” so that those earning less than $2 a day can be treated for free.

In recognition of the central role of women in Pakistani society and their importance to our national development, we have provided mobile medical facilities, especially for female patients, in the outlying areas of KP. We built the first female cadet college in the country in Mardan, where the first batch of students graduated last month. And special helplines have been set up for women suffering abuse and violence.

The achievements in KP are merely a starting point for implementing our vision. Our priority is investment in human development through quality education and health care for all; poverty alleviation must be a goal linked to a progressive taxation regime.

I have always believed that women shape future generations and must be empowered economically and politically alongside men, including equality in jobs and pay. We are committed to ensuring that women can exercise their right to vote during elections; Islam gives women rights to inheritance, as does the law in Pakistan, but this is too often ignored or violated. We must ensure all citizens are informed of their rights under the constitution.

We are committed to extensive judicial reforms of the kind begun in KP – as I have seen how ordinary citizens tread an expensive and tortuous path as they seek justice.

The Pakistani state must be responsive to the people in an accountable and transparent manner, and the nation’s development must be on the basis of equality and inclusivity. Only then can Pakistan play a stabilising role in the region, resolving to seek peace with its neighbours through conflict resolution and co-operation. Our general election in July is critical for the future of my country. 

Imran Kahn leads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and serves as a member of the National Assembly.

This article first appeared in the 12 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Syria’s world war