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Pakistanis think Imran Khan will be next PM, but why?

As things stand, the might of the establishment – the military, the judiciary and the bureaucracy – seems to be behind Imran Khan.

world Updated: Jul 16, 2018 23:30 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
Imtiaz Ahmad
Hindustan Times, Islamabad
Imran Khan,Pakistan,Pakistan general elections
Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, gestures while addressing his supporters during a campaign meeting ahead of general elections in Karachi.(Reuters File)

Most Pakistanis, when asked, seem to believe their next prime minister will be cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan. While this excites some, others are disillusioned by the thought.

Irrespective of what people think, Khan’s prospects in the July 25 elections seem to be the brightest ever in his political career. “His party may not win a landslide victory but what we are seeing is a coalition government headed by Imran Khan,” says journalist Rafat Saeed.

Others insist that while Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party may win enough seats to lead a coalition, his candidature as premier won’t be acceptable to all quarters. “He is unpredictable and strong-headed. In the past, such candidates have not gone down well with the military establishment,” says an observer.

As things stand, the might of the establishment – the military, the judiciary and the bureaucracy – seems to be behind Khan. Even the Taliban and other terror groups appear to have given their silent approval. They have stayed away from bombing rallies held by Khan’s party.

In contrast, as was also seen in the 2013 elections, left of center parties such as the Awami National Party and the Pakistan People’s Party have stopped rallies for fear of attacks. Only last week, the Taliban targeted an ANP rally in Peshawar and the party is still trying to recover from the death of a senior leader.

Some refer to Khan as “Taliban Khan”, given his perceived soft corner for the militants. In the past, his name was proposed by the Taliban as a guarantor when the groups wanted to start peace talks. It is a shadow he has been unable to shake off.

Most major politicians – Nawaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Asfandyar Wali Khan and Altaf Hussain – have criticised the support the military appears to have given to Khan’s party. Several “electables” from different parties were forced to join the PTI by the intelligence set-up. Others who didn’t want to switch sides were disqualified by the Election Commission, allege politicians.

“It is clear that Imran Khan is being given a walk-over,” says former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani. “But I am curious how long this honeymoon will last.”

Under fire is the interim government which many have accused of being partisan. In Punjab, government officials helped PTI workers in putting up party banners. In other instances, the movement of politicians was restricted while Khan is being given a free hand.

Bilawal has been stopped at several places, including at Lahore airport, where his flight wasn’t allowed to take off for Peshawar. In his ancestral town of Mianwali, Khan’s plane not only landed at the air force base but he was accorded full protocol. “This is unheard of for other politicians,” says an observer.

So far, it has been smooth sailing for Khan. Allegations by his former wife Reham Khan in her book have not hurt him politically despite their explosive nature. Talk of drug abuse and other activities that are unacceptable in Pakistani society has not dented his support base.

But questions are being asked about his devotion to his present wife, a spiritual figure who has been advising him not only on political strategy but also actions meant to earn favour from God. This has included alighting from an airplane barefoot in Saudi Arabia when performing Haj to visiting different ‘pirs’ and bowing at certain shrines, which has upset his Deobandi supporters.

The odds are in favour of Khan, say political pundits. Some joke he has already had his sherwani stitched for his swearing-in. The bigger worry, say others, is his strategy if he comes to power. Already seen as a puppet of the military, his time as prime minister will be one of political turmoil, say some.

First Published: Jul 16, 2018 19:37 IST