By Dr D.K. Giri
(Prof. International Politics, JMI)
Pakistan politics, volatile and dramatic as it continues to surprise the world. Results of the 2018 General elections pouring in, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, headed by the cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan is the largest single party and set to form the government. Imran, a political eccentric, without any experience of power or administration will be the 19th Prime Minister of coup-ridden politics of Pakistan. Notably, this is only the second time, in the 71 years political history of Pakistan, there will be a change of guard from one civilian government to another.
Most likely, there will be a spectacular shift in Pakistan domestic politics and foreign policy with Imran Khan at the helm of affairs. Although it has to be seen, how much leeway Pakistani Army allows him. Imran Khan is unpredictable. He formed his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), in 1996, on an anti-corruption and social justice plank. He was severely opposed to both the established parties, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PMLN) of Nawaz Sharif, and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) now led by Bilawal Bhutto, the young son of the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, mysteriously assassinated.
What is not usually seen is that Pakistan is a three-legged political creature, standing on Islam, and all that goes in the name of Islam-extremism, separatism, violence, etc, the Army, which has the stronghold over Pakistani politics, especially, security and foreign policy, that no prime minister could successfully resist, and the third leg-Kashmir, no prime minister could survive in Pakistani politics without raving and ranting on Kashmir’s “controversial accession” to India. No election in Pakistan could escape the embrace and influence of these three persistent factors.
Judged against the above backcloth, the elections held on 25th July are no exception. These were mired in convoluted controversies, terrorist violence, and Army’s political manoeuvre. The sitting Prime Minister Mia Nawaz Sharif, along with his daughter Mariam, the heir to the leadership of PMLN, was jailed for 10 years on graft-charges. Many judicial experts would say this was a harsh punishment non-commensurate with the alleged crime.
In fact, it is perceived that the Army conducted a ‘soft coup’ to remove Nawaz Sharif who was fighting hard against the Army interference in politics. The Army then propped up Imran Khan as the next leader of Pakistan politics. It supervised the entire elections — managing all the polling booths, and the counting process by deploying troops inside the counting centres. No wonder, in view of the massive Army presence, 3,76,000 troops were deployed for 106 million eligible voters, 8 lakh police and military for 85,000 polling booths, all political parties except Imran’s PTI are complaining of extensive rigging of the elections.
Independent, as well as European Union observers, echo the complaint of a ‘botched up’ and unfair election. The unprecedented unanimity among the parties on the rigging of the election does not augur well for Imran. The elections were marred and scarred by terrorist violence. In a suicide bombing in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, 31 people died and several were injured.
What was the state of elections? More than 300,000 candidates contested for 272 general seats of the National Assembly (Pakistan Parliament) while some 8000 candidates ran for 577 general seats for the four provincial assemblies — Punjab, Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. Unlike India, Pakistan elections were simultaneous for provinces as well as the centre. The three main parties were PMLN, PTI and PPP. While all eyes are on the Election Commission of Pakistan to announce the results officially, PTI is the largest party (so far 120 seats), followed by PMLN of Shebaz Sharif (in absence of Nawaz Sharif) 61 seats and PPP of Bilawal Bhutto 40. At the same time, there has been no satisfying explanation for the delay in declaring the verdict, although 90 per cent results had come in.
Imran Khan’s party is short of 19-odd seats to acquire a simple majority in order to form the government. It will manage to cobble up a coalition even at the behest of the ‘army.’ What will Pakistan look like under Imran Khan’s leadership? Will he be like Justin Trudeau of Canada, making a series of gaffes, or Emanuel Macron of France, unusual in his personal and political approach? Macron married his teacher, 25 years his senior, Imran married Jemima Goldsmith, 21 years younger than him and then a Pakistani journalist and recently married his spiritual healer, a mother of five. Imran Khan has emerged as a populist leader with some radical perspectives. How much he would be delivering in an army-dominated politics is to be watched to be believed.
Scanning his premature victory speech, one could discuss the intention of fresh initiatives. At home, he wants to build an ‘Islamic Welfare’ State, which sounds appealing but difficult as Pakistan is in throes of an economic crisis — a severe dearth of foreign currency resources. It is seeking a bailout by IMF. He will have to deliver some welfare measure as he has allured the young and old on the promise of jobs and development schemes. He wants to root out corruption, a welcome step but again complex. Will he be able to clean up? He talks of fighting poverty in South Asia instead of fighting against each other. A very valuable approach indeed!
His statement on India-Pakistan relation is a breath of fresh air. He talked of mending ties with India through dialogue but as usual, he mentions Pakistan, the major bone of contention on Indo-Pak bilateralism. What is his innovative approach to Kashmir? He said if India takes one step we will take two! But he might fall into Mao Tse Tung dictum “one step forward then two steps back”. He wants normal relations with the United States, Pakistan’s main benefactor, but does not want to leave China, their new benefactor.
To be sure, Imran Khan’s speech reflects good intentions but political naivete too. At any rate, India should welcome the change. Unlike the shrill of political competitors that it is a rigged election. This is an internal matter of Pakistan. New Delhi must welcome the new Prime Minister. He is unpredictable so we might expect some dramatic development in Pakistan foreign policy. Leaders who break mould can normalise Indo-Pak relations which is a desperate imperative for both the countries. So good luck, Imran Khan, the new captain of Pakistan’s ship!!!—INFA