Imran Khan: Challenges and Opportunities
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 02 Aug , 2018

It is nearly certain that Imran Khan will soon be sworn in as Pakistan’s nineteenth Prime Minister after the change of civilian government, twice successively through democratic process, took place there on 25 July 2018.Two civilian governments completing their tenure and being replaced democratically is a ‘First’ for Pakistan. For the democratic world, it is good news, no matter how serious the allegations about the fairness of the elections be. After all we are talking about Pakistan, generally identified with military dictatorships. What is even more important is the fact that a fairly good number of seats are reserved for women ( to be filled through proportional representation) , while we in India are still struggling with the passage of Women’s Reservation Billin Parliament.

First the stats: the voting percentage was just about 51 %; Hafiz Syed’s Allah-U-Akbar Party, formed because the political front of his militant organization, Lashkar-e-Taiba and its charity- based cover Jammat ud Dawa, the  Milli Muslim League, ( not registered by Pakistan Election Commission), drew a blank; Maulana Fazal Ur Rehman, head of Jamiat e Ulema e Islam and a very important leader of Majlis e Muttahida Ammal, a conglomeration of many religious parties, lost his own election; as did Nawaz Sharif’s brother, Shahbaaz Sharief, who had been ruling Punjab for a fairly long time. Other religious parties did no better. Tehrik e Labbaik, Pakistan, a Barelvi religious party, headed by cleric Khadim Hussein Rizvi, fielded 150 candidates but most did not cross the three-digit mark. Imran khan fought from five seats and won all five.

Pakistan’s power-structure has always been defined by three ‘As’—Allah, meaning the religious parties, America and Army. Whereas America’s role over the last decade has considerably declined, Army nevertheless remains Pakistan’s most important and powerful institution. What makes the Army even more powerful in the present context is the fact that nearly all religion=based parties are either Army’s creation or Aligned with the Army. Prior to the jus- concluded elections and during the campaigning, it had become clear that those very forces which had dethroned a popularly elected PM, Nawaz Sharief, and subsequently barred him from fighting the elections and putting him behind bars, had joined hands to promote Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrikh e Insaaf (PTI). Geo News anchor Talat Aziz said, “We were told to stay away from facts-the massive rallies of PML (N). The spineless media has obliged. The country is in the grip of Martial Law.” Dawn reported the disruption of its sales-network after it carried a long interview of Nawaz Sharif. It said, “these restrictions were deeply alarming and should concern all free thinking and democratic citizens of the country.”

The statement of the sitting High Court Judge of Islamabad High Court, Shauqat Aziz Siddique, which has been widely quoted by the media and whose video recording became viral, further damaged the fairness of the conduct of elections. Political scientist, Christine Fair says about Imran, “He is their puppet. He is where he is now because of the Army and ISI.” Without Army’s support, Imran would not have been able to overcome the big handicap of lacking an overarching presence of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party or even Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N).Reham, his recently separated wife too commented on Imran-Army connection. In a tell-all interview she said, inter alia, “Pakistan Army wanted a boot polisher and they got one.”

Imran, the flamboyant former world Cup-winning captain of Pakistan cricket team, who always led his team from the front, was among the most accomplished bowling all-rounders of the game, besides being a leader of immense cricketing merit. But we must not forget that part of his success was also due to the immensely talented players like Waqar Younis, Javed Miandad, Wasim Akram, Abdul Qadir and the young new entrant, Inzaman ul Haque, who were great players in their own right and contributed immensely to Imran’s success. However, Imran will soon realize that politics is anything but cricket. Whereas every Pakistani cricketer wanted Pakistan cricket team to win, in politics there are vested interests who may not share what Imran considers as Pakistan’s core interests. That is where the confrontation begins.

Imran’s political career, spanning just over the past two decades, has seen him turning from a liberal democrat into a conservative right-of-the centre politician, who joined hands with the religious extremists to overcome the handicap of entering politics at the national level without much grass-root experience. In 2014, he led a 126-days rally in company with Canadian-Pakistani cleric Tahir ul Qadri to bring down Nawaz Sharif Government on the issue of what he termed the rigged elections of 2013.His friendship with the former ISI Chief, Hamid Gul, who is considered to be the father of Taliban, is well known. He supported the blasphemy law that prescribes punishment of death for any one seen as insulting Islam or the Prophet Mohammad. His comments after the killing of 125 school-going children in Peshawar on 26 December 2014, too were controversial, to say the least. After 2013, having aligned himself with radical Islamic groups, how will Imran get out of their stranglehold or for that matter rid Pakistan of their influence and presence?

Imran faces huge challenges as he assumes the Prime Ministership of Pakistan; economic, foreign policy, internal political strife and terrorism. Pakistan has made no efforts over the last 70 years to free itself from its hyphenated relationship with India. Therefore, every political move is measured against what it would mean in relation to India. Even Shahbaz Sharif said during the recent electioneering,” Vote for PML (N) and we will develop Pakistan to such a degree that India will look towards us and call us their master.” Imran Khan’s vicious attacks on Nawaz Sharif essentially revolved around two issues; corruption and Nawaz trying to be friends with India. The actual slogan went something like this,” Jo Modi ka yaarhei, who mulk ka gaddarhei (One who is Modi’s friend, is a traitor of Pakistan); not to speak of other terrorist and religious parties whose hatred for India is the very basis of their existence. This obsession with India has been cleverly fostered and strengthened by its Army for whom projecting India as an existential threat has made them masters of Pakistan and its final arbiter.

For close to 48 years Pakistan Army ruled directly after grabbing power through coups and for rest of the time it kept the political dispensation on a tight leash through its notorious ISI. Today, Pakistan Army’s foot- print is visible in every facet of Pakistani life; water, power, education, health care, transportation, agriculture, and lately even judiciary, etc. etc. Having ruled directly for so long and indirectly for the remaining period, Pakistan Army is a nation in itself, the rest being only an appendage. It is often said about Pakistan, “Nations own Armies, Pakistani Army owns the nation.” It has very tactfully and cleverly exploited the political divide in the country by pitting one against the other, so that it (Pak Army) emerges as a sole arbiter and dispenses monkey justice. Pakistan spends seven times more on its Army than on primary education. It is the world’s 25th largest economy in Purchasing Power Parity and 42nd largest in nominal terms. Yet it fields the world’s 6th largest Army.

Economic challenges primarily revolve around the weakening of the Pakistani rupee, which resulted in the increased inflation to four years high at 7.1 % last month. Heavy Chinese investment for the creation of CPEC infrastructure contributed to the escalation of the current account deficit. With Washington freezing the 1.3 billion $ aid package, Pakistan will have to immediately negotiate a fresh loan from IMF. However, this will come with sever conditions, further compelling Pakistan to devalue its currency, withdraw subsidies, introduce tax reforms, privatize loss -making public-sector entities, etc. Even IMF were to sanction a loan, America is unlikely to let that happen easily; after all, anti-Americanism was one of the poll-planks of PTI’s campaign. A London-based Macroeconomic Agency, Capital Economics, has forecast a decline in Pakistan’s GDP growth from 5.8 % this year to 3 % in the next two years. All these issues are bound to prove unpopular in the short run.

Falling short of the majority mark by a score of seats, Imran will be compelled to seek support from disparate political entities, further limiting his maneuvering space. As far as Army is concerned, it is now pay-back time for Imran. He will be allowed to build Naya Pakistan by the Army as long as the later continues to exercise veto on crucial foreign policy and security matters, viz., relations with India (particularly, its meddling in Kashmir), America and Afghanistan.

Imran understood very well that without the support of the all-powerful Army and aligning with the radical religious parties, he is unlikely to break the monopoly that PML (N) and PPP enjoyed on the power structures of Pakistan. Therefore, he did exactly that; kept his rhetoric in line with the thinking and policies of Army and the radical Islamists. But now, after reaching the pinnacle of his political power, he will soon realize the dangers inherent in such alignment. Temperamentally, Imran is not suited to receiving a diktat from any one; Army too is not used to playing second fiddle in matters which it considers its core concerns. Religious parties and radical elements are Army’s creation, to be used as it likes. Under the circumstances, confrontation is bound to take place sooner or later.

As cricket captain, Imran could change bowlers, fiddle with the batting order, make field placements as he thought fit, but in politics, it is not so simple. Those very umpires who decided the outcome of the recent elections, which pitch forked Imran to the Prime Ministerial chair, will now decide on crucial issues, because they continue to be the umpires.

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