By N S Venkataraman
Few were surprised when Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party emerged as the single largest party in the general election in Pakistan. While his critics say that his victory was due to the support he received from the Pakistan army, discerning observers would view such remarks as uncharitable and unfair.
What weighed in favour of Khan is the fact that most people in Pakistan have become tired of the “tested politicians” and the army generals. There is no doubt that most of Pakistan’s “tested political leaders” have indulged in corrupt practices while they were in power.
Over the past few decades, heads of state or government in Pakistan, once out of power, would flee the country and go somewhere else where they have property and money, fearing arrest in Pakistan. Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, Pervez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif are among those leaders who have resorted to this practice.
So a majority of Pakistanis have taken a calculated risk to vote an untested person to power, hoping he would provide good governance.
Immediately after sensing victory and even before the official announcement of election results, Khan rushed to address the people and assure them that he would take Pakistan to glory. He listed Pakistan’s problems and said he would sort them out without providing a clear road map. His rushing to the media to speak to the nation even before the announcement of official results indicates a level of immaturity and awkward eagerness to establish his credentials.
The path before Khan is not a bed of roses and he must be aware of it. His foremost problem is the very bad shape of Pakistan economy, leaving him with no alternative other than going to the International Monetary Fund for a massive loan. It remains to be seen whether he gets it and what conditions the IMF would impose.
The other big issue is that Pakistan is so entangled with China, having allowed Beijing to make huge investments in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor Project, that Islamabad is now facing the threat of falling into a deepening debt trap. How Khan will face the pressure from China remains to be seen.
Also, the firm grip that extremists and militant groups have on Pakistan is something even an experienced political leader will find difficult to tackle.
The Pakistan army will certainly be closely monitoring Khan’s performance and doubt remains whether he can assert himself in case the army generals disapprove of his policies. In the past, several prime ministers in Pakistan have paid a heavy price when they chose to disregard the army’s command.
Finally, the Kashmir issue will challenge Khan’s leadership capability. He should have the wisdom to understand that Pakistan cannot remain obsessed with Kashmir issue and hatred against India, if it wants to forge ahead.
There are many other issues, like the ongoing civil war in neighbouring Afghanistan, unrest in Baluchistan and, of course, the unpredictable US President Donald Trump, which will make the balancing act for Pakistan’s Prime Minister a very challenging exercise.
The former cricketer who led Pakistan to World Cup victory has the charisma. But, soon, Khan will realize that reputation and past glory will fade away all too quickly if he takes too many false steps as Prime Minister.
Today, the people and friends of Pakistan wish him well and want him to succeed. He can rise to the occasion only if his administration works well, stays above corruption and charts a functional course on relations with India and its other neighbours.
(The author is with Nandini, Voice of the Deprived. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)