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Imran Khan may bat for friendly ties with India, but he could be stumped by the army

International media has carried several stories of Imran Khan’s path to office being paved even before the polls and now election monitors and human rights groups have also echoed suggestions that local media was under pressure not to scrutinise the process, which is now being questioned.

analysis Updated: Jul 31, 2018 12:45 IST
Imran Khan, the accomplished all-rounder who led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup, blamed the Sharif triumph on match-fixing by the then military chief. He loved cricketing analogies, telling his supporters to look out for the ‘umpire’s raised finger’ (the new army chief’s) when he launched his unsuccessful sit-in to try and force Sharif from office. The umpire didn’t oblige. (AP)

Having set course for the Prime Minister House, Imran Khan lowered his voice at one point during a televised address — almost appearing hurt — to say he was troubled that over the past several days Indian TV channels were painting him as some sort of a “Bollywood villain”. This, he said, despite the fact he had many friends in India due to his cricketing ties. Not long afterwards, he also said that India and Pakistan need to improve their relations, benefit from trade opportunities, and address a common curse: poverty. There was one caveat: the peaceful resolution of the “core” issue of Kashmir first. Khan, the former iconic cricketer, who formed the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) in 1996 and struggled at times forlornly for over two decades before being declared the winner in this month’s general election, was speaking before embarking on the task of government formation.

As opposition parties, which lost the election, were protesting against Khan’s victory and attributing it to rigging that, they alleged, happened mostly during the counting of ballots and results tabulation, the PTI leader was making his first address to the nation. He looked prime ministerial. His tone was so measured that few were familiar with it, at least given his language and mannerism since he refused to accept the 2013 election results, which gave the Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) a huge win.

Khan, the accomplished all-rounder who led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 World Cup, blamed the Sharif triumph on match-fixing by the then military chief. He loved cricketing analogies, telling his supporters to look out for the ‘umpire’s raised finger’ (the new army chief’s) when he launched his unsuccessful sit-in to try and force Sharif from office. The umpire didn’t oblige.

When eventually the Panama Papers weakened Sharif and his troubles compounded after falling out with the military reportedly over differences about national security policy priorities, Khan’s petition to the Supreme Court to inquire how the PM’s family came to own undeclared properties in London’s expensive Mayfair district acquired greater significance.

It was this petition that resulted in the former PM’s disqualification from holding office last April followed by his and daughter Maryam Nawaz’s sentencing to prison terms by an Islamabad court earlier this month. The court tried both under the Supreme Court’s supervision.

The court verdict came as the father and daughter were in London at the bedside of the former PM’s critically ill wife Begum Kulsum Nawaz. Both were imprisoned as they returned to appeal their conviction. All through his anti-Nawaz campaign and Sharif’s trial, Imran kept saying to his supporters that the “wicket will fall” soon.

It did. In fact, it now seems the whole PML-N team has been bowled out and Khan is the man of the match, as the daily Nation’s banner headline declared the day after the election. However, from now on, Khan will have to play on a tricky wicket that he is unaccustomed to.

The international media has carried several stories of Khan’s path to office being facilitated even before the polls and now election monitors and human rights groups have also suggested that local media was under pressure not to scrutinise the process, which is now being questioned.

But it would be foolish to deny Khan’s popularity among a sizeable section of the country’s population that he has invigorated with his energetic anti-corruption campaign and his promise of a ‘naya’ Pakistan, which would be egalitarian and where meritocracy will prevail and not dynasties as in Sharif’s party.

Having promised to construct five million low-cost homes for the poor and provide 10 million jobs during his term in office, he will assume office carrying a heavy burden of expectation at a time when higher oil prices, a trade and current account deficit, dwindling forex reserves and a fast-depreciating currency will test his economic team’s skills and expertise.

He may want friendly relations with India and may be well-placed to start a dialogue, given that he will enjoy the military’s support, with the hardliners in Delhi, but may find himself cramped in the give-and-take that must happen in any negotiations.

Also, when he tries to implement his agenda in a Pakistan facing a resource crunch, there may be friction with provincial governments (to whom the bulk of the resources were devolved after a Constitutional amendment in 2010) and with State institutions that get a sizeable share of the Centre’s budget.

All eyes will be on his innings.

Abbas Nasir is a senior journalist and former editor of Dawn

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Jul 31, 2018 12:44 IST