What does it mean to ‘Reimagine’ Pakistan?

The ideas behind the platform are neither new nor radical. But they are still important

There is little reason to be surprised by how quickly the Pakistan Tehreek i Insaaf (PTI) has disintegrated. At the end of the day it took one firm push from the powers that be to corner Imran Khan, put the party’s top brass behind bars, and send its rank and file ducking for cover. 

What is surprising is that it took this long. Almost immediately after he was sent packing through a vote-of-no-confidence Imran Khan and his PTI positioned themselves as the anti-establishment party. Initially, the PTI managed to hold its own. Many politicians otherwise famous for party-hopping stuck around behind Imran for two reasons — The first being it was apparent he commanded popular support and PTI tickets would be a valuable commodity in any upcoming elections (something that became crystal clear in ensuing by-elections where the PTI swept the polls). The second was that a change was due in military leadership. 

Six months after this change of guard in the high-command, the regular culprits are fast deserting the party with the events of the 9th of May proving to be the final straw. The result is clear — even if elections take place any time soon the PTI will be severely hamstrung giving their political opponents an edge. However there is a bigger crisis that seems to have been forgotten in the ruckus of this political tsunami. 

The economy has almost entirely collapsed. Today, Pakistan once again stands dangerously close to default. Negotiations with the IMF have dragged on for months, the government is fighting a losing battle on the economic front and is governing with a sword hanging over its head because of the political uncertainty that continues to plague the country. April saw more of the punishing inflation characteristic in the last couple of years, with a record 36 percent rise year-on-year. The month’s increase was 2.4 percent, and the year-on-year inflation last month was 36 percent, marking the 11th month since last June that inflation was above 20 percent.

On top of this, doing business has become near impossible and every human development indicator points towards a country that desperately needs the reset button. Tough decisions need to be made and that requires level-headed governance with the guarantee of political will. 

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Who can provide that? The PTI, which would have easily been frontrunner for any election taking place in the country right now, is handicapped with its leadership either in jail or in flight and its rank and file terrorised by the force of the state. The PML-N, PPP, and other parties part of the PDM government are deeply unpopular. That leaves a political vacuum that needs to be filled. Space for a ‘fourth’ option so to speak. 

What form could this new political force take? Some might point towards the Reimagining Pakistan platform launched at the beginning of 2023 by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former finance minister Miftah Ismail, and former PPP senator Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar. 

On the surface the ‘Reimagining Pakistan’ platform is a series of seminars and talks meant to initiate a conversation about pressing economic and governance issues facing the country. Yet, this trifecta of political mavericks are doing more than a simple exercise in political consensus building. Miftah, Abbasi, Khokhar and the crowd of moderate, mainstream politicians that are riding the Reimagining Pakistan wave have come to represent a side of Pakistani politics that appeals to the educated, urban audience looking for stability and steady thinking. 

There have been rumours, of course, that the Reimagining Pakistan platform is an attempt to gain enough steam to launch a new political party — an enlightened ‘fourth’ option so to speak. In conversations with Profit, the leaders of the platform as well as senior politicians have not denied this possibility. Largely, however, it seems to be resistance to the status quo coming from within the traditional political elite. The question is, how far can they go without the support of their parties? And in the current political climate is the concept of consensus reaching for the stars?  

A ‘fourth’ option? — The disgruntled origins of Reimagining Pakistan 

In June 2022, Miftah Ismail was running the most important negotiation of his life. No business transaction in his career as a Seth or any budget he presented in his first tenure as finance minister held as much weight or significance as the hard-fought deal he was trying to strike with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The task that Miftah faced was gargantuan. Pakistan was close to default and negotiations with the IMF had been stalled because of the expensive fuel subsidy that the PTI government had put in place to keep the price of petrol at Rs 150 per litre.

By July, the negotiations bore fruit and the IMF released the pending tranche of money that Pakistan desperately needed to keep its economy running. It had been an up-hill battle but Miftah persevered and it seemed the storm had passed and the economy was under relatively safe stewardship.

By September 2022 he was out of office. There were many challenges and obstacles in Miftah’s way during his brief but important time as the main man in Q-block. But the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune he was constantly ducking and weaving away from were not just from the opposition or the IMF – they were coming from home.

From the very beginning, Miftah was a man abandoned by his own party. In the first few days of the PDM government coming into power, Miftah made it clear that his plan was to cut the fuel subsidy and bring petrol up to its actual price for consumers. Despite this being a major sticking point in negotiations with the IMF, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif dragged his feet on the issue. And even while talks were reaching a critical juncture, there was a constant effort from one side of the PML-N that was promoting the replacement of Miftah Ismail by the now finance minister Ishaq Dar. The party’s supremo, Mian Nawaz Sharif, reportedly left a zoom meeting after Miftah raised the price of petrol products and Dar had been on a mission to see himself back in the finance minister’s chair from day one. 

And he was not the only one facing such treacherous waters in his own backyard. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Miftah’s friend and the man in whose cabinet he first served as finance minister, had similarly had  a falling out with the PML-N when Maryam Nawaz was appointed to the post of Senior Vice President of the party — an office that Abbasi formerly held. There was also Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar of the PPP, who had resigned as a senator in November over his ‘principled’ political stances that had gone against party policy. 

Together, these three joined forces and founded the Reimagining Pakistan platform. Reliably placed sources close to all three have confirmed that their aim was to very quickly announce the formation of a new political party that would carve out an 8-10 seat mandate for itself in any upcoming election. Their target was to be the ‘rational’ party that the urban, educated, moderate Pakistani could get behind. 

It seems, however, that at different points Mr Abbasi has gotten cold feet in taking the plunge and the moment may have passed given how volatile the political situation has become. The question is, what could a hypothetical political force such as this have to offer? The answer, perhaps, lies in the term ‘reimagining.’

What does it mean to Reimagine Pakistan? 

“Where did the name come from? Well it started with a simple conversation really. Mustafa and I were discussing how our governance and management structures need rethinking. How we have abandoned 99% of the population for the benefit of the 1% and that’s when Mustafa suggested our platform should be called ‘Reimagining Pakistan,” Miftah Ismail tells Profit

But what does it mean to reimagine? As a term it has been used ad nauseam. Thinkers, scholars, academics, public intellectuals, and talking heads have all attempted to ‘reimagine’ everything from the internet to the wheel. But it cannot simply be a matter of reverse engineering a problem and going back to square one. In its essence, to reimagine is to rebuild from the beginning on a new foundation. 

“What we are suggesting is radical change. Pakistan’s entire system of governance and economic management is broken. Its very foundations are weak and crumbling. That means making sure we make moves that we can realistically implement and cut down on our spending,” says Miftah Ismail. “Humay apne paer chadar dekh kar phelanay chahiay hain” he adds. 

But there is a problem with this narrative. There is nothing particularly radical about the interventions being discussed. In the short-term they suggest cutting down expenditure and in the long-run the suggestions include civil service reforms, implementation of local governments, stepping away from foreign aid, increasing exports, and increasing the reach of the tax net particularly by taxing agricultural and real estate land holdings. 

None of these are ideas that have not been suggested before. So what is there to reimagine in Pakistan? “I am very disappointed with the country’s political system which has failed to address public problems in the last seven decades,” said former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. “The nation has to choose between rotten thinking and changing the destiny of Pakistan. That is what we want to do with this forum. To pool our resources to get a conversation started.” 

The need to reimagine 

And that is essentially what this entire reimagining exercise comes down to. For the past 76 years Pakistan has been stuck in a rut. The architects of this state have failed to create a nation that is self-sufficient and just. So what has been the legacy of this country since 1947? 

Pakistan today is an undeniable reality and an inextricable part of the global world order. This longevity was not always guaranteed, and at least for the first decade the very existence of the world’s first independent Muslim state was doubtful. Yet, beyond this very obvious exercise in perseverance, there is little else to show for. Democracy has failed to take root, with military rulers exercising de facto and de jure rule for 32 years. More than half of the country was lost in 1971 with the independence of Bangladesh. Social turmoil, a bad relationship with debt, a boom-and-bust economy, and a tired political system have all been part of the package.

The successes have been few and far in between. Isolated moments of individual brilliance such as the 1992 cricket world cup or Nobel prize laureates such as Dr Abdus Salam and Malal Yousafzai have been a source of pride. There have also been notable political victories, such as the passing of the 1973 constitution and the 18th amendment to that constitution in 2008. The lows have been abysmal and regular. 

Pakistan’s Human Development Index value for 2021 is 0.544— which puts the country in the Low human development category—positioning it at 161 out of 191 countries and territories. Between 1990 and 2021, Pakistan’s HDI value changed from 0.400 to 0.544, a change of 36.0 percent. The great irony of this, of course, is the fact that this index on which Pakistan finds itself slipping fast was in fact developed by a Pakistani — Dr Mahbub ul Haq, who created HDI in 1990. The index was then used to measure the development of countries by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

On the Gender Development Index (GDI), which measures gender gaps in achievements in three basic dimensions of human development: health, education, and standard of living, Pakistan shows a massive gap. The 2021 female HDI value for Pakistan is 0.471 in contrast with 0.582 for males, resulting in a GDI value of 0.810, placing it into Group 5, making it part of an unenviable group of countries that includes Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Afghanistan. Meanwhile on the Gender Inequality Index, Pakistan ranks 135 out of 170 countries.

In 2021, the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index ranked Pakistan 130 out of 139 countries. Pakistan ranked second-last in South Asian countries behind the likes of  Nepal, Sri Lanka, India, and Bangladesh. Only Afghanistan was ranked lower. In particular, the report showed Pakistan doing badly in the areas of corruption, fundamental rights, order and security and regulatory enforcement.

On the economic front Pakistan faces a crisis the likes of which it has not seen before. The country has been hanging on by the skin of its teeth to avoid falling into the abyss of default. Most affected by this have been the most vulnerable segments of the population whose purchasing power continues to plummet. 

What are the interventions and could they make a difference? 

At a recent Reimaging Pakistan conference hosted by Government College University Lahore, Miftah Ismail made a surprising admission. He said that in the past 15 years, successive governments of the PPP, the PML-N and the PTI had all failed to fix the ills plaguing Pakistan despite making their best possible efforts. 

This in itself is rare in Pakistani politics. Democracy in Pakistan is stunted because it has never been allowed to bloom or take root. As a result, political parties in the country are not ideological. Largely speaking, Pakistan’s economic management has been left to right-of-centre bankers and economists that have failed to break the country’s dependence on foreign aid. Pakistan has been living beyond its means for decades leaving successive governments to go from one fire to another with little opportunity to implement necessary reform. Think of it this way: during the PTI’s recent tenure in office, Abdul Hafeez Sheikh and Shaukat Tarin both served as finance ministers to prime minister Imran Khan. Both men had also served in the same office under the PPP’s Gilani administration from 2008-13. 

Whether Pakistan needs social democracy or aggressive capitalist expansion is a debate the country is not ready for. And as Miftah Ismail explains, the first course of action is to address the rabid inequality and governance problems in the country. 

“Let’s take two examples. The first one is the issue of tax collection. No matter who has been in government they have failed to increase the tax net. We have suggested that instead of further burdening existing taxpayers, there need to be taxes levied on things such as real estate and agricultural land which is often unproductive,” says Miftah Ismail. 

“Even if you come into government with the right ideas, implementation is blocked by many hurdles. As finance minister you can walk into the office and be given a finance secretary that had only up until a few months ago been serving as health secretary. How can this person have any hope of serving in the finance ministry?” 

There is a pretty clear direction that those behind Reimagining Pakistan have. These are the mainstream politicians that are tired of Pakistan’s political system. They have been in government and come to the conclusion that very little can actually be done in Pakistan. Tired of this, they are trying to create a space in which consensus can be developed over major issues that make governance and economic management difficult. “These are not original solutions we are proposing,” Miftah admits. But what we are doing is presenting and pushing our own ideas. That said, we are happy to hear other solutions and begin a dialogue.” 

The platform’s critics, however, are not amused. Former KP finance minister Taimur Khan Jhagra tells Profit that while there are some good points being made through Reimagining Pakistan, the platform is flawed because it is not truly apolitical. “I think they make some sensible points but the platform is not apolitical as they claim,” he says. “They have had chances to fix the issues they now speak on and they squandered them.” 

“Look at the issue of pensions for example. The noon government had a great opportunity to make a difference from 2013-18. They saw us reform how pensions are managed in KP and we openly suggested that they follow suit. So what was stopping them? They took no steps at all,” says Jhagra. “The answer is to shift to a funded pension scheme, to change the rules, and put an end to arbitrage. I’ve personally taken the criticism for this in KP because these are always initially unpopular decisions. Someone like Abbasi Sb has been in power since 1993. Meanwhile Miftah who is now bringing these issues up increases pensions and salaries when he came into office.”

“Besides you can talk about these issues all you want. The real problem is neither the military’s non-combatant budget nor what side pensions are getting costed on. The question we must ask ourselves is how to increase our resources. If we don’t do that, we don’t have enough money to spend. Why does nobody ask about diversity in resources? Why are they not talking about productivity in government? We have been trying to implement performance based salaries in KP already. Why has no one else tried to push for this?”

“The gentlemen that have been my colleagues seem to only be focused on the problems and are not providing sophisticated solutions to this. They conveniently change positions and maintain ties with their parties. If they really want to make this work, they must burn their bridges,” he concludes. 

That much is true. Out of the three leading lights of Reimagining Pakistan, only Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar seems to have severed ties with the PPP. Both Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Miftah Ismail continue to maintain their party membership. However, the peace that seems to exist between them and the PML-N is a tacit one. Miftah’s statements have regularly been thorny towards finance minister Ishaq Dar and Abbasi’s recent tirade about corruption in the free wheat distribution scheme both point towards serious fault lines. 

“There is nothing wrong in creating a new political party,” says Miftah Ismail when asked about the possible development. “However, that is not our intention with this platform at all. Abbasi sahab and I have both been offered ministries but we must admit that we are tired of how the governance structures of this country operate.”

The one-eyed King 

There is the old adage that in the country of the blind the one-eyed man is king. The Reimagining Pakistan platform is a flawed and incomplete concept. To be very fair to the men that are running it, they have neither claimed they have all the answers and nor have they made any political intentions known. 

What they have done is tried to start a conversation and provide necessary if old ideas for how to address Pakistan’s many ailments. Miftah Ismail, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and Mustafa Khokhar are all traditional politicians and bear the baggage that comes with this. They are all also well-intentioned and honourable. 

In the current political crisis that Pakistan faces, we will need every resource that we have which is why there may be room yet for the Abbasis, Miftahs, and Khokhars of Pakistani politics. Whether Reimagining Pakistan turns into a political party or not, it has become abundantly clear that a power vacuum is fast developing that needs to be filled. Given the state of the economy and the helplessness of the people of this country, one can only hope it is filled with competent people with lofty ideals rather than with generational politicians that go from King’s party to King’s party. [/restrict]

Abdullah Niazi
Abdullah Niazi
Abdullah Niazi is senior editor at Profit. He also covers agriculture and climate change. He can be reached at [email protected]


  1. The most important aspect is the executors. All have good ideas to take Pakistan out of this turmoil, but when it comes to execution their time runs out or they lack that vision to implement those ideas.


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