Imran’s Pakistan

Updated on: Dec 06, 2021

Pakistan’s next PM knows India well, but will the military allow him to improve ties?

A cloud will always hang over Pakistan’s 2018 general elections. Did Pakistan’s electorate, tired of the inefficiency and corruption of the Sharifs and the Bhuttos, exercise their franchise in favour of a fresher alternative in the form of Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)? Did Khan’s PTI win the largest number of seats fair and square, or was the umpire, in the form of Pakistan’s all-powerful military, playing for them? Predictably, other political parties have cried foul. But, with the Army behind him, it’s almost certain Khan will be Pakistan’s next prime minister and he will get a chance to deliver his promised ‘Naya Pakistan’. Any protests will be firmly squashed using tactics the Army has perfected. Khan, appearing on TV, talked about not moving into the prime minister’s house and not wasting taxpayers’ money and about trade with India. He also added, significantly, “I am the Pakistani who knows India the best and I understand the need for peace.”

Crucially, Khan appears to be on the way to winning enough seats to form a government by himself and won’t be held back by obstreperous allies. But he inherits a bleak economic scenario with only enough foreign exchange to last about two months. Also, last month the global anti-money laundering Financial Action Task Force (FATF) put Pakistan back on its watch-list for not doing enough to curb terrorist financing. In addition, President Trump’s tougher stance with Pakistan will make it difficult to raise funds from the IMF. The big bet, taken by the earlier government, that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor would kick-start the economy, will take much more time to evolve. In fact, China withheld funding for three road projects because of corruption reports. Even more crucially, there’s no telling yet what impact allowing organisations like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba to create political parties and fight elections will have in the long run.

Imran Khan is famously a strong-minded maverick and the Army’s not certain it can keep him on a tight leash. Though he says he knows India, he has made vitriolic anti-India statements in recent years and he has carefully avoided criticising the Pakistan Taliban. He’s also made a show of being a staunch Islamist, which is a far cry from his earlier playboy image. On the other hand, Khan has a greater depth of contacts across the spectrum in India which could help him attempt a rapprochement. But that assumes the Army will allow this. That seems unlikely since it is almost certain that the Army ousted Sharif because he believed it was imperative to make peace with India. On India’s part, we should attempt to maintain good relations with the civilian establishment because democratic India has a vital stake in a democratic Pakistan. But, we musn’t forget that in Pakistan the man with the gun has the last word.

Published on July 26, 2018
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