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Analysis, Politics

Why it may not be a smooth sail for Pakistan’s Imran Khan

The going may not be easy for Pakistan’s Prime Minister-designate Imran Khan – seen as the army’s “puppet” – and with questions over the fairness and transparency of the polling process.


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Cricketing legend turned politician Imran Khan is all set to take oath as Pakistan Prime Minister on August 11.

The July 25 election brought him to power but also left his party short of a clear parliamentary majority. Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won 115 of the 272 seats. It has since enough partners – from smaller parties and independents – to form a government. The party will formally nominate Khan as prime minister in a meeting today (August 26). The parliamentary committee is also expected to decide the names of federal cabinet members in the meeting to be chaired by Khan.

Naya (new) Pakistan

Khan formed PTI in 1996 to bat for his vision of “naya (new) Pakistan” in this cricket-crazy subcontinent. Khan, whose popularity peaked after the World Cup win for Pakistan in 1992, has since successfully employed cricketing jargon in his campaigns.

However, political observers attribute his current success to pre-polling orchestration and support from Pakistan’s supremely powerful military.

The going may not be easy for Khan – seen as the army’s “puppet” – with questions over the fairness and transparency of the polling process. Leaders of the country’s top political parties held a meeting on August 2 and have already announced to bring in their own prime minister and speaker.

The leaders of various political parties – including the two biggest Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of jailed former premier Nawaz Sharif’s and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of assassinated prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s now helmed by her son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari – attended the multi-party conference (MPC) and announced to approach Parliament to form the government with their chosen representatives.

PML-N’s senior leader Ahsan Iqbal said that opposition parties will field Nawaz’s brother Shehbaz Sharif, the three-time Punjab chief minister and current PML-N president, as their candidate against Khan. 

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Senator Sherry Rehman, said the opposition parties have formed a joint working committee to chalk out the future strategy to give a tough time to the next government, Dawn reported. The PPP leader also said the parties would jointly release a white paper within a few days and that a working committee had already been formed for this.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), too, has directed the Cabinet Division to form an inquiry committee to investigate the causes of alleged failure of the Result Transmission System (RTS) during July 25 general elections.

Journalist and Khan’s ex-wife (second wife) – Reham Khan – in a recently written memoir says the plot to put him in power by the army was hatched two or three years ago

She called Imran Khan an “ideal puppet” of the military establishment in Pakistan and that he had benefited from “rigged” elections.

Right after Khan’s win, Reham who has been in the news since the publication of her memoir, told the Hindu newspaper that Khan would carry out foreign policy, including with India, according to the wishes of the military if he becomes prime minister. In her controversial book, she portrayed the former cricketer as a libertarian, unstable and power-hungry politician.

Foreign Policy 

In his maiden speech after claiming victory, Khan vowed to tackle corruption that was eating Pakistan “like a cancer” and touched on promises to balance relations with the US that would be “beneficial” for both countries, Dawn reported.

Khan also said he was open to a sit-down with India to discuss the Kashmir issue. Pakistan has been facing pressure from the US and has been placed on the “grey list” of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body aimed at combating money laundering and terrorist financing.

The country’s army has increasingly sought to control Pakistan’s foreign policy, especially its relationships with India, Afghanistan, the US, Iran and the Gulf States – and Khan is expected to very much toe the line.

Khan was congratulated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his win. There were reports that Modi would be invited for the swearing-in ceremony – raising hopes for peace in the subcontinent and also a chance for the much-loved India-Pakistan matches.

However, Modi or Khan’s former cricketing friends from India Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Bollywood superstar Imran Khan – are not among the invitees anymore.

This was confirmed by PTI spokesperson Fawad Chaudhry. “The PTI chairman has directed to stage the oath-taking event with austerity,” said. “He will take his oath in a simple ceremony at Aiwan-e-Sadr (President House).”

“It has been decided that no foreign personalities will be invited to the ceremony – it will be a completely national event. Only a few close friends of Imran Khan will be invited,” he added, stated a report in Dawn.

India’s ties with Pakistan have been at a diplomatic low since the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, which Pakistan blamed on non-state actors, even though a bonafide Pakistani Ajmal Kasab was arrested and later hanged for carrying out the attacks along with others. India has long accused Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba of carrying out the attacks in Mumbai on 26 November, 2008, that left 166 people dead and many injured after 10 terrorists with backpacks, automatic weapons and grenades launched a three-day siege on India’s financial capital targeting multiple locations. 

“Militant organisations are active. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai? Explain it to me. Why can’t we complete the trial?” Dawn reported Sharif as saying.

In India, most critics are cynical about a change in Indo-Pak relations – mostly because of Khan’s changing persona to fulfil his ambition to be prime minister. With India’s general elections due in less than a year, it will be interesting to see how Khan tackles the crucial Indo-Pak relations.

The China factor remains significant – with much at stake in one of China’s largest overseas investments – the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Even though China refuses to label Pakistan’s Masood Azhar as a global terrorist much to India’s chagrin, it will have to work a way out given its changing relations with India post last year’s Doklam crisis, which saw India-China relations at its lowest.

How Khan’s relation with China pans out is important. The PTI was extremely critical of the CPEC, Khan even staged a sit-in against it a couple of years ago. However, he may have had a change of heart since – with China being the first country he chose to mention in his maiden speech after his election victory.

Most urgently what Khan will have to do is to bail out Pakistan’s economy. And for this, he will need China on its side. Its foreign exchange reserves have dwindled from US$17.5 billion in April to US$9.66 billion in June. Economic growth has slowed, the rupee has been devalued and Pakistan is seeking a US$12 billion bailout package from the International Monetary Fund.



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Lamat R Hasan
About the Author: Lamat is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

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