Will a Sri Lankan “Imran Khan” ever be born? – Chances are .00001%

Imran Khan (IK), 67 years old Prime Minister of Pakistan, hails from an upper-middle-class Pashtun family in Lahore and is a graduate of Keble College, Oxford. He captained the national cricket team on the single occasion his country won the Cricket World Cup in 1992. Aged 39, IK took the winning last wicket. A philanthropist, he raised funds for two state of the art hospitals in Lahore and Peshawar. He also served as Chancellor of the University of Bradford from 2004 to 2014

Pakistan Threek-e-Insaf (PTI or Pakistan Movement for Justice) was founded by IK in April 1996. He led PTI to victory in the 2018 general election and was elected as Prime Minister on August 17, 2018.

As Prime Minister, IK undertook his first state visit to the US from July 21 to 23. He traveled three days on commercial flights to save taxpayer’s money. Meetings were held while on transit in Doha with CEO of Qatar Airways and the Ruler of Qatar. He attended over 15 meetings in America within two days and stayed at the Pakistan Embassy instead of a five-star hotel. He returned to Pakistan at 2 am and held a cabinet meeting at 10 am.

One of his many engagements while in the USA was a Q&A session organized by the US Institute of Peace (USIP), a non-partisan and independent federal institution promoting conflict resolution and prevention globally. The packed audience comprised policymakers, persons in and out of government and those who genuinely care for the US Pakistan relationship. IK’s responded to the last question, “what final message would you like to leave as a closing thought” thus.

“My message from my first trip as a Prime Minister to the US. I would like to have a relationship between the two countries of mutual trust. I would like to have a relationship between the two countries as equals of friendship. Not as it has been before that where Pakistan has been wanting aid from the US, and for aid, Pakistan is expected to do certain things. The reason why I am happy leaving the US this time is because we have a relationship not based on a mutual interest, which is peace in Afghanistan. Someone asked will you get these funds. I hate the idea that we will be asking for funds, not only from the US but from anyone because this aid has been one of the biggest curses for my country (applause from the audience). What it has done is, it has created the dependency syndrome. We have become……. You know when I went on my first trip to Saudi Arabia, I came back, what have you got from there as if I had gone there to beg for money and I think it is humiliating for a country. Countries rise because of self-respect and self-esteem. No countries rise by begging and borrowing for money. My relationship with the US would be, I would like a dignified relationship with the US where never again should we ever have this humiliating phase. I can tell you as a Pakistani, never did I feel more humiliated when Osama bin Laden was taken out of Pakistan by US troops. Never did I feel more humiliated because here was a country which was supposed to be an ally and our ally did not trust us. So, as a Pakistani, it was, for every Pakistani, it was humiliating. We never want to be in that same position again. We want to have a relationship of friendship. Doesn’t matter you know; one friend can be rich and the other not so rich. So, what, it is about a dignified relationship. That is what I hope to have with the US (applause from the audience).

Views expressed by IK of allies may be misplaced. Pakistan cannot claim ignorance of Al Qaeda leader and chief 9/11 planner Osama bin Laden living with his several wives and children close to a large military installation in Abbottabad for over five years. 2,977 lives were lost and over 6,000 injured in the US. Providing refuge to such a person was not in the spirit of friendship.

That said, in IK, Pakistan has a leader who has finally placed national interests before personal interests. He is equally fluent in his national and official language Urdu as in Pakistan’s second official language English.

IK released over 500 staff from the sprawling Prime Ministerial mansion and lives in his own house. He also returned 78 of the 80 vehicles including 33 bulletproof vehicles from the Prime Ministerial fleet to be publicly auctioned, retaining only two for his use. He travels in economy class using commercial airlines. His wife is a housewife and does not play a public role. His asset declaration and tax returns have been uploaded in the Federal Board of Revenue and Election Commission websites for public scrutiny.

Sri Lanka has not produced a leader with IK’s honesty, integrity, clarity of thought process, and eloquence in delivery for decades.

Vocabularies of Sri Lankan leaders does not contain such words as dependency syndrome, shame, begging for money, self-respect, self-esteem used by IK.

Sri Lanka is heading for Presidential, Provincial and Parliamentary elections even though it is still not clear in which order. Maithripala Sirisena (67), Ranil Wickremesinghe (70) and Mahinda Rajapaksa (73) are the leaders of the main political parties in the fray.

Voters who placed their trust in our politicians since 1970, including the three mentioned have been let down. They have all squandered their political capital and mandates.

Others in the fray are Sajith Premadasa (52), Karu Jayasuriya (78) and Gotabaya Rajapaksa (70). Premadasa is an untested quantity. If the recent ‘Aryawa Bharyawa’ episode is anything to go by, the country could be in serious trouble under a Premadasa Presidency. Jayasuriya has failed until today to discipline the marauding MPs who caused mayhem inside the Parliament in October 2018. It leaves serious doubts about his ability to govern the country. Gotabaya Rajapaksa proved himself as a highly efficient administrator as Secretary Defense. What is unknown is, will he be his own man or his elder brother’s shadow if installed to the Presidency.

Leaders being fallible are bound to have character flaws (no one is a Buddha, Christ, or Prophet Mohammad). That said, none of them have exhibited IK’s dedication and commitment to national interest over personal interest, honesty, integrity, and zest for hard work.

It is heartbreaking to note the promises being made by Presidential contenders. One has offered to work 24/7 for the people. Every politician promises nonexistent jobs to the unemployed, unaffordable pay hikes to the employed, unrealistic relief to pensioners, and many more. They then try to wriggle out of their promises once in office and end up making right some promises when threatened with massive industrial action or immediately before next elections. The recent 16,800 appointment letters to unemployed graduates to nonexistent government jobs, publicized with full-page advertisements in national dailies is one such example.

Not one of the contenders tell the voters how they plan to raise funds to make good their promises, once in office. Neither do voters ask. On the other hand, most would accept even a headache for free.

Not a single contender speaks the language of IK, and I do not mean the English language. Not one of them has uploaded their Assets and Tax Declarations in their official or private websites. Not one of them has stated Sri Lanka has begged and borrowed enough. The need to reduce foreign debt to a manageable level by drastically curtailing external borrowings is not part of their agenda. The need to cut our cloth to suit the purse is not in their equation.

Such a project would need tightening of belts by all. Voters would support a contender prepared to lead from the front and emulate many of IK’s policies and practices.

Not one of them has stated the need to regain our self-respect and self-esteem. Few if any of our current leaders even understand the meaning of such words. Therein lies the reason for the ignorance among younger generations, including millennials of such traits.

President JR Jayewardene, in a complete breach of protocol, accepted a luncheon invitation from the British High Commissioner. It was a BBQ lunch on a Sunday by the poolside. Our first lady suffered the indignity of being seated next to a total stranger and house guest of the High Commissioner. He was clad only in a pair of swimming trunks.

One time President, Head of State and C-in-C Mahinda Rajapaksa went scurrying to India House when summoned by the Indian High Commissioner, Ms Nirupama Rao. She wanted the President to meet with CWC leader Arumugam Thondaman. The latter was threatening to meet with LTTE Political Wing leader SP Thamilselvan and link up with LTTE. India wanted none of that. Thondaman’s main grouse was the replacement of his security contingent of army and air force personnel by two Police constables for the task of protecting him from the LTTE!

Sad but true, the paradigm of lacking in self-respect is by no means limited to our leaders and politicians. The malaise has affected our men in uniform as well (yes, our armed forces has its share of criminals as with armed forces the world over). UN peacekeeping assignments, foreign junkets, naval craft discarded by the likes of the US, China, India, to name a few have blinded them.

Two weeks ago, this writer wrote of the shameless act by the newly appointed Northern Forces Commander paying his respects to the Indian Consul General in Jaffna. Last week, the newly appointed US Defense Attaché, a lowly Lt. Colonel and his deputy paid a courtesy call on Chief of Defense Staff Ravindra Wijegunaratne, an Admiral. The so-called Deputy Defense Attaché in a dress is a non-uniformed staffer and titled DLO, possibly Defense Liaison Officer. Countries such as the US, UK, Russia, and China notoriously appoint intelligence operatives in the guise of Attachés, sometimes even Cultural and Agricultural!

As we move to elect leaders for the next five to six years, the leadership vacuum in the country and the need for a local Imran Khan is felt as never before.