Imran Khan Benazir Bhutto

Muhammad Najm Akbar

October 21, 2018


Governance has been equally exceptional to their political experience before Imran Khan (IK) and late Benazir Bhutto (BB) became Prime Ministers, although little else is common in their lives. IK has lot to learn from what they share. 


Differences, first. BB faced Eighth-Amendment-empowered Presidencies, twice. The establishment imposed the first Eighth Amendment Presidency on her. The second time, she cherry-picked a trusted lieutenant as President. Both of them dismissed her governments (1988-1990 and 1993-1996).  IK does not have to worry about a hostile Presidency.  The party loyalist he selected to hold the office of the President does not have the powers that wrecked two governments of BB and one of Nawaz Sharif (1990-1993). BB’s Pakistan Peoples’ Party and Nawaz Sharif joined hands in 2010 to restore the powers originally granted under the constitution of 1973 to the office IK holds now. With friendly governments in three provinces and Sindh willing to abide by the constitution, he has more propitious environment to govern than BB ever had.


BB was persona non grata for the non-state armed groups and, to say the least, was also not the most favorite person for the state-funded armed forces. The non-state armed groups staged a deadly attack on her return to the country from yet another exile on October 18, 2007 and finally took her life on December 27, 2007. Within the state-funded armed forces, the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s decision of October 19, 2012 on a Constitutional Petition captured the antagonism BB had encountered from the proponents of the Eighth Amendment.  In this ongoing struggle between armed forces, armed groups and civilian or elected leaders, IK seems to have a higher rate of acceptability. Pragmatic realism demands a productive working equation between these pillars of power. IK appears to have their confidence. 


Internationally, BB had an unparalleled stature not only as the first woman Prime Minister in the world history but also as the most valiant standard bearer of the supremacy of the people of Pakistan in the civil-military relations. IK had cricket to play and funds to raise but on the international scene, he has yet to take his first steps. Foreign policy challenges he faces are as daunting as the socio-economic difficulties. 


Being a rookie to governance is remarkable in the lives of BB and IK. Constraints and empowerment of the office apart, IK is BB the moment he entered into his office. Though in different ways, both of them waged arduous political battles before they acquired power. Once in power, as two inexperienced visionaries, they are as much identical as they might have been as students at Oxford University. Both of them were leaders of resistance movements in their own manner but nothing in their political background prepared them to govern. BB had returned to Pakistan from her college campus in 1977 to witness a coup d’état against the government of her father, late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and then long years of combat. IK has been a persistent Jihadi against corruption who now has the responsibility to stop it and fulfill his promises. This is where he takes BB as his surname and becomes Imran Khan Benazir Bhutto, re-enacting BB’s first government.  


Governance is as difficult to learn as reaching out to millions of voters and winning their heart and soul. Resistance is nonetheless easier in terms of choices. You hold on to a dream and move ahead at the pace you can manage in the face of hurdles your opponents erect on your way to success. Governance needs a subtle and yet an evident and clearly established transition from the profile of resistance. There are transferable skills no doubt between the two phases but governance needs to mark a net departure from the ecology of resistance. Governance means taking actions within the confines of the constitution, law and relative parliamentary majority while mediating between competing demands on limited resources. It also means working with all the stakeholders and accommodating legitimate demands of people who had not voted for you and yet they constitute a sizable segment of the electorate as well as the legislature.  Within legislative and federating units’ preferences, governance requires alliances that might not allow solo flights. Ensuring what is possible, a ruling party has to explain to the electorate what might have to wait till they improve their parliamentary strength. 


As IK moves towards his first 100 days in office within about a month, he must show that the transition from resistance to governance has taken place. BB’s first President had written her letters over eighteen months spelling out instances of bad governance. The High Court had upheld the nexus between those letters and the President’s determination to exercise his powers under the Eighth Amendment to dissolve her government. History might disagree with him showing enhanced understanding of the obstacles in her way but perceptions matter in governance. IK is far less constrained in his powers than BB. He must have a better learning curve and do better than her.  

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Najm Akbar

I have remained focused on the interface of history and policymaking while pursuing graduate studies in history at Fresno State, developing on three years of my education at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (MA 1995, MALD 2011). While teaching Urdu between 2005-2018, or holding diplomatic assignments between 1981-2002, the intersection between these two processes has been the mainspring of my personal, professional and intellectual pursuits. This platform would continue that endeavor.

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