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A game of hearts and minds

As a result of General Elections 2018, Imran Khan has become the 22nd Prime Minister of Pakistan. Following the polling verdicts, Khan appeared before the nation in his victory speech and then subsequently after his oath taking, addressed the nation as Prime Minister. It is writing on the wall that Pakistan is facing dire circumstances on many fronts but what these two speeches did, is altogether a unique factor and stratagem on its own. The road up ahead will not be overcome with mere words but words can set the path towards the right perspective. A perspective that yearns to build a nation, a will to improve and an invocation towards winning the hearts and minds of the people of this down-trodden nation. And when people strive with their hearts and minds in sync, there is nothing that is unachievable, a verdict from the pages of history.

From an analytical perspective, a parallel can be drawn between ex-President Barack Obama and Imran Khan. He too had the gift of winning hearts and minds through his words and oratory. Just as Khan has broken the age old hegemony of traditional family based politics like that of PML-N and PPP, Barack Obama broke the barrier of being the first Black President of the United States. The myth that White House belongs to a White Christian Male was no longer the case. Barack Obama became President because in his campaigns, he was able to give dreams. He spoke with his heart and his words gave a message of hope and resolve. People wanted to believe him. Even his adversaries openly admitted that he had a gift of making the masses say, “its possible”, even when they knew there was a bleak chance. Following his oath taking, Obama started with the minor issues and after strengthening his position with legislators, he moved onto the major points. He kept winning hearts and minds even after being elected. His “Obamacare” law was passed with overwhelming majority only because of his excellence in oratory and public speaking. His vision lead his followers and in his sub-ordinate civil servants to remarkable victories. No wonder, he was re-elected for a second term. He had the same impact abroad and global approval ratings for the United States, academic as well as diplomatic went up by more than sixty percent because of Barack Obama. The black man who had lived in poverty in Hawaii and Indonesia became the President of the most powerful country in the world, a dream come true that gave hope to millions.

Coming back to Khan, a stark parallel can be drawn. He is a man who has struggled all his life. Through sheer will power and dedication, he has excelled. He has been a hero to the youth of this country for decades in the field of cricket. Subsequently, he has been an icon for cancer patients and their families in the service he has provided in the form of Shaukat Khanum. Khan has been winning the trust and followership of millions in Pakistan and abroad through his conduct and success. During his struggle in the murky politics of Pakistan, Khan came out with the same zeal and fervor. He was met with a devious opposition from all sides. Once again, through some miracle, he has managed to overcome it. Now, he is taking on a whole new paradigm. Governance in Pakistan is complicated, multilateral and tricky. But Khan is on the right track. Similar to Obama, Khan has spoken from the heart and as Maulana Rumi said, “If spoken from the heart, will enter the heart”. In a complete contrast to earlier leadership, Khan pointed out the real problems with the country. His dedication and commitment were evident in his tone. He laid bare the facts that are concealed from the masses to keep them in the dark, so as to avoid a backlash or chaos. There was no fear in his voice. Unashamed in his admission of failures and the darkness that surrounds the country, he spoke with clarity. There was an aura of faith and promise. Following both his speeches, there was wild admiration for his natural style of speaking. More than that, the content of his words have been appreciated. He took time to mention macro debacles like the shortage of water to the taboo topics like child abuse in the country. He vowed to start his struggle to rectify the nation with his own office. Yet again, it is a strategy not just to govern but to win hearts and minds and give hope in the process.


There is a privileged relationship between a leader and his followers. The leader may demand more than what the follower has to offer, in some cases, even his life and property, but the follower demands only two aspects, one, honesty and two, the outcome of the followership to be beneficial to both. Khan is able to deliver on both levels. He exudes confidence and honesty, his conduct immaculate and his vision is as clear as light. This is a winning combination. Even in his speech the former captain of Pakistan cricket team called the nation, his “team”. Just as his cricket team, he gave the message of inclusion and involvement of everyone with a morsel of nationalism to come forward and help him win the match of Pakistan. He displayed his honesty through his own example and that is what a follower loves to see. Further, Khan vowed to bring back stolen money and initiate a drive of accountability and transparency. This strategy has the potential to attract a will to pay due taxes as well as signaling a fruitful financial plain to foreign investors and overseas Pakistanis. The tools to fix a country are all the same, it is how they are handled makes all the difference. As they say in diplomacy, “old dog, new tricks”.

Now, let us observe the enormous challenges before the newly formed government and how perspective and vision will play out in achieving them. First and foremost, it is the financial well being of the state. The financial liquidity is at its worse, debt is huge, exports are down, imports are at an all time high, taxes are falling short of targets, investment is dwindling, state expenditure is out of control and corruption is ubiquitous. Khan has decided to promote meritocracy, by far the most effective method to tackle any public matter. The PTI team has some prior experience from their five year rule in KPK province. Now, they will be testing the same strategies all over the country. Khan, with his policy of team building and inclusion, gave a policy of zero tolerance against corruption and talked about the whistle blower act to include the public in eradication of financial instability. He also appealed to pay due taxes and requested foreign investors to help him lift the country out of fiscal deficit. A lot remains to be done but just as a prelude, stock prices went up following the transmission from the Prime Minister.

Pakistan’s physical borders were secured when it became a nuclear power. Pakistan army is well endowed with the capabilities to defend against an adventure from any side of the border. The current century, now demands a distinct kind of warfare that is fought with dollars and exports. Pakistan remained lacking in this area due to inefficient leadership and security concerns like terrorism and flawed foreign policy. Terrorism has been sucking up human blood and inflicting huge financial losses. With comparative peace, now is the time to push on and make Pakistan the Asian Tiger once again. With the prospect of CPEC and OBOR and the jewel of the sub-continent, i. e Gwadar, Pakistan is on the right track. All it needs now is a leader like Khan to deliver with the hearts and minds working in sync towards a common goal, a strong and robust Pakistan.

(The writer is Chairman of Jinnah Rafi Foundation)

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