Pakistan ‘s charismatic world-cup-winning captain Imran Khan is set to become country’s new prime minister after his party Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) emerged as the single largest party in the recently concluded general election. In his first television appearance after the elections, he reiterated his pledge to help the poor, weed out corruption, and build healthy and mutually beneficial relationship with neighbors and the US. From 22 yards of cricket pitch to 22 years of struggle in politics, Imran Khan has emerged as victorious in the end. Will he be able to deliver on his promises – only coming days will tell but at the moment he certainly seems to be the best bet for Pakistanis, and people in the region.
Pakistan is facing troubles on many fronts. The economic situation of the country is in bad shape. The value of Pakistani rupee has plunged to new lows. The country is under huge debt; imports in country are three times higher than the exports. Pakistan was also placed in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) gray list recently. Due to all these issues, the country is on way to financial bankruptcy. Pakistan is facing tensions with its eastern as well as western neighbors. Internally major opposition political parties particularly PML (N) and PPP would want to see him failing on all his pledges. They have leveled allegations of widespread rigging in the elections. The country’s election commission though has insisted that elections were transparent. To the credit of Imran, he has also offered to investigate the allegation of rigging and fraud in elections. Apart from the Pakistan Election Commission, the foreign poll observers have also not reported any grave misconduct in the elections. EU election observation mission stated, “Candidates with large political appeal and financial means often dominated the campaign”. But these observations are something what whole of the sub-continent grapples with, and are not Pakistan specific only. Overall Imran’s PTI success in general elections seems genuine and authentic by all regional standards.
Imran Khan has tasted success in the cricketing field. He has tasted success in his personal life and with his social endeavors. Despite all odds he has set up Pakistan’s first cancer hospital where poor people are treated free of cost. He has been able to set up a university where again poor people get free education. But the real test of his leadership skills are yet to be tested on larger scale and in the capacity of Pak premier in the face of huge challenges both internal as well as external. His adversaries have already initiated debates – that it is one thing to lead 11 players on a cricketing field and other to lead 20 million people of Pakistan on the path of prosperity is totally a different ball game.
What he promised to the people of Pakistan and the region is no less than promising the moon. But as Imran himself puts it, ‘he is an idealist rather than a realist’. Pulling Pakistan out of economic chaos and culture of violence will be the most important task of his life, and if he succeeded in this, he will go down the history as one who not only lived his dream but realized the dream of millions of people of Pakistan and the region.
On the economic front, Imran Khan has already hinted at measures he would take to lift the country out of economic mess. He has talked about copying Chinese model for poverty alleviation. China has been able to pull out huge chunk of its population from the abysmal poverty. Imran has pledged to lead by example. He has pledged to spend the money that was until now wasted on maintaining the rich life style of few political elite on poor and underprivileged sections of society. Considering his track record and corruption free life, there should be little doubt about his intentions and measures he takes in this regard.
Imran Khan’s major challenge is how well he would be able to conduct the foreign policy of Pakistan. As he mentioned in his first televised address after elections he wants to build good and healthy relations with all of Pakistan’s neighbors and the US. This is something, which is easier said than done. The two most challenging tasks Imran will have, as Pak PM is how he deals with the US vis-à-vis Afghanistan and India vis-à-vis Kashmir. Imran has been against the US policy in Afghanistan from the word go. He has been very vocal in opposing US’s confrontational policy in Afghanistan and has favored talks with Taliban. How he plays his cards in dealing with Afghan issue and if he succeeds in getting President Trump on his side will prove a watershed moment for the entire region. But again this will also depend on how the other party plays its cards. At the moment, on front also he seems to be at the right track.
Imran Khan’s another challenge would be to mend ties with India. As he himself confessed, the ties with India are hostage to resolution of Kashmir issue. Considering the Indian and Pakistani positions on Kashmir, it will be unrealistic to hope for any forward movement on Kashmir between the two neighbors. After hearing him mentioning Kashmir in his speech after election, he has already raised hopes that some deliberations on Kashmir might be in the offing in coming days. Until that happens, the lasting peace in the region will remain hostage to Kashmir issue. Here lies the actual litmus test for the champion.