At one point on late Saturday night, it seemed as if all the pillars of the Pakistani state were on course for a catastrophic collision. Calamity seemed ready to strike at the highest levels of the state. Even with his ouster a near certainty, the country’s Prime Minister Imran Khan seemed more than willing to turn a simple parliamentary procedure into a farce by forcing the heads of the judiciary and military, along with the entire legislature, to play along to the “last ball” of his tiresome ruse.

He was forced to finally let go just as the clock was about to run out on the day, allowing the opposition to finally have its say. And thus, in the early hours of Constitution Day, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government fell not with a bang, but a whimper in the dead of the night.

When it emerged as the single largest party in the 2018 elections, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf had promised to be a breath of fresh air. Though political engineering and a faulty results transmission system had diminished the legitimacy of its victory, the country had been generally willing to give it a chance. However, the party almost immediately found itself falling short of its lofty ideals.

Due to its failure to secure a simple majority, it shook hands with non-democratic forces to make a claim on the federal government. If the party’s leaders had believed that the compromise could be compensated by their achievements in office, they were soon to be let down by their inexperience. Within a year, the prime minister was scrambling to reshuffle his cabinet.

Corrosive politics

What was unfortunate was that instead of introspecting and compensating for its shortcomings, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chose to go after the Opposition instead. The strategy put off many who were expecting it to deliver real change.

Meanwhile, it became increasingly reliant on the establishment for “guidance” in key decision-making areas. This ultimately proved fatal for it when the establishment decided they would no longer be providing any crutches for the government to stand on.

Though inexperience ultimately became its undoing, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf did also record some commendable achievements. Successful handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, the multifaceted Ehsaas programme and a new public health insurance scheme made a positive difference in many citizens’ lives. Many will remember the former Prime Minister for it. Therefore, even if Khan’s time in government is up, it would be unwise to write him off.

He has always been a ferocious challenger when in the Opposition – a fighter who doggedly pursues his goals. His unrelenting zeal and sense of divine mission make him a formidable force in Pakistan’s politics. One hopes, however, that his next avatar will have evolved from the vitriolic demagogue he has become. It is important for a true leader to unite the nation, not poison it with divisive narratives and corrosive politics. He would do well to recognise this.

This article first appeared in Dawn.