In the Hot seat by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (August 17, 2018)


Imran Khan takes charge of Pakistan at a difficult moment in his country’s history. Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam

When Imran Ahmed Khan Niyazi’s Pakistani cricket team won the World Cup in 1992, the whole subcontinent, not just Pakistan, rejoiced in the victory. For the first time (and possibly for the last) cricket was a sport in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, not a test of national loyalty.

Imran Khan has been an exceptionally charismatic person in Delhi, Mumbai, Lahore, Karachi and London. The good-humored former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Siddhu’s remark is illustrative. He said he had been hearing that Imran Khan was like a Greek god. However, when he met Khan he knew that Khan was far more handsome than a Greek god and the Greek god analogy was an understatement.

But now that Imran Khan is the prime minister of a nuclear-armed Pakistan, it turns out that politics is not cricket. He is inheriting a weakened and highly indebted Pakistan, a country that is sure to default on its loan repayment, a failure that is going to dent its international standing.

Pakistan will need a hefty bailout of $ 12 billion, a sum that it cannot manage on its own. A critic of the United States, he has not endeared himself to the Trump administration. To Pakistan’s plea for IMF bailout, the US has said IMF loan to Pakistan for debt servicing cannot be justified. This is a grim financial situation for Imran Khan.

The country’s economic growth, too, has begun to lose steam. The foreign exchange reserves are dangerously low and the Pakistani rupee is constantly losing value. These are bad signs for a new prime minister who has no administrative experience whatsoever.

It is good for Pakistan that religious rabble-rousers have been reined in and Hafiz Saeed’s party has not won a single seat even as on this side of the border foulmouthed bigots of BJP-RSS are publicly abusing Muslims and organising lynchings virtually on a daily basis as the society, government and judiciary look the other way.

Today’s situation is closer to Mr Jinnah’s idea of Pakistan as a Muslim nation with equal legal, social and political rights for non-Muslims. In his first address in Pakistan’s national assembly on August 14, 1947, he observed, inter alia that non-Muslims of Pakistan would have the same rights as Muslim Pakistani citizens. There would be no Muslims and no Hindus, everybody would be Pakistani, except in a religious sense. That the state would be neutral. As his followers later explained, Pakistan was about Musalman, not Islam. The point was that its Constitution would be inspired by the high ideals of Islam regarding equality, fraternity and justice, and it would not be a semi-literate theocracy. The Quran would be an inspiration for the Constitution, not the Constitution itself, as in Saudi Arabia.

There have been too frequent references in the media of Imran Khan winning because of the military’s support. This is an exaggeration. The military did not go home-to-home, pistol in hand, ordering voters to vote Khan, or get shot. No such thing happened.

However, it is no secret that Nawaz Sharif used to (rightly) ignore the military’s importunate conduct. Sharif came to India to participate in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing in despite the military’s reported insistence that he should not come here. Sharif’s public declaration that the Mumbai attack was a handiwork of Pakistan’s rogue generals alienated him from the military completely.

For historical reasons Pakistani military’s shadow looms too large over the state, including judiciary. The investigations in Sharif family’s London properties and corruption cases against Sharif in Pakistan are also said to be partially inspired by the generals.

All this is likely to have the military–Imran Khan equation favourable for a while. However, Khan being a strong-willed and highly assertive person he is likely to come out of the military’s shadow sooner than later.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated him and had a brief, friendly chat. Even otherwise, they share a warm relationship. During his visit to India in 2016, Khan made it a point to go and see the PM at PMO for a brief chat.

There is a conjecture in India that if Khan made overtures to India the Pak military would back him, unlike Sharif. It has to be kept in mind that warm personal relations between Khan and Modi are one thing, but building good Indo-Pak ties on that is not easy, because they are surrounded by too many factors in their daily working life in their own countries and there are too many pulls and pressures to cope with before taking a friendly decision.

At present the noisy religious rabble rousers are silent, spurned by voters. In any case, they rarely had any voter support worth the mention in Pakistan’s history. But, tomorrow they may rally together and create trouble.

There are complications in India-Pakistan relationship that promote such trouble. The Pakistani Taliban often side with India while the Afghan Taliban are with Pakistan. Between them they are capable of immense trouble. Then there is India’s complaint that Pakistani infiltrators regularly sneak into Kashmir and inflict massive violence.

The Pakistanis complain that the insurgent violence in Balochistan is supported by India. India wants a quick disposal of Mumbai attack investigations in Pakistan, which demands a similar promptness in the Samjhauta Express blast case.

It is time for beginning confidence-building measures, expediting cases of international terrorism and shelve difficult issues indefinitely. In the meanwhile, focus should be on trade between the two countries, enhanced cultural exchange and avoidance of border clashes at all costs.

Imran Khan has the innate capability to pull the Pakistani chestnut out of the fire. With great dedication and effort he built a world-class cancer hospital in his mother’s name. Today, it is a chain of excellent cancer hospitals.

Soon after he launched his party, the 1997 elections came, in which his party did not win a single seat. His party today governs in the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province as well as the Centre. Although Nawaz Sharif’s party in Punjab and Bhutto’s party in Sind are still powerful, Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is likely to rule in Punjab (the most important state) and Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa.

India and Pakistan have too much to share and, in case of deficient foreign policy, too much to lose. The Indo-Pak relationship must be put on a better footing after 71 years of Partition. We must remember that we are siblings, after all.


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