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Opinion

August 5, 2018

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After the promise

A 30-second amateur clip from Saudi Arabia says a lot more about Imran Khan’s victory than what many professional videos circulating on social media these days have done.

The footage begins with a local roadside vendor shouting “Imran Khan, Imran Khan” to attract customers. This is followed by a Pakistani man saying that: “Imran Khan is not only a leader but a brand”.

The international media’s interest in Imran Khan makes us realise that we might have ignored something important while being caught up in acrimonious debates about the July 25 polls and horse-trading involved in making or breaking coalitions. If the Bhuttos and the Sharifs dominated the political landscape for decades, Imran is indeed the new brand of Pakistan. Like it or not, a great deal now revolves around this one man.

Thoughts also go to the other two most powerful men in the country, Qamar Javed Bajwa and Saqib Nisar, who along with Imran Khan constitute the triumvirate of authority. Yet, for now, Imran will be calling the shots.

In a dramatic redistribution of cards, his party has a unique opportunity of continuing to rule in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, leading the governments in Islamabad and Lahore, entering the coalition in Balochistan, and acting as the opposition in Sindh — a breathtaking prospect that remains unparalleled in our polity.

On second thought, the election result may not be to Imran’s satisfaction as his party has to look for coalition partners among the very groups he had ridiculed earlier. ‘Tabdeeli’ can only run so far on his new economical and environmentally-friendly fuel, and will often have to revert to fossil fuels, rendering it a hybrid model.

Imran’s moves since the election show that he is conscious of the enormity of the m antle bestowed on him and the PTI. His victory speech, which was made a day after the election, was a combination of poise and moderation, and was quite different from his fiery campaign speeches. Imran reiterated that he had joined politics to make Pakistan the country that Jinnah had envisioned, and pledged to refrain from political victimisation. He pleaded for unity to serve the cause of Pakistan, adding that he had forgotten all personal attacks made against him in the past. Imran said that his priorities will be to fight poverty and uplift the weakest sections of society, including minorities.

All that may sound too sweeping. But he went on to outline specific goals: upholding rule of law and better governance by restructuring state institutions, dealing with revenue collection, and ensuring accountability. Imran promised that the process of accountability would start from him and members of his team. His other area of focus will be to ensure better human resources development by improving education and vocational training.

Khan’s emphasis on simple living and closing palatial official residences has struck a sympathetic chord with people who are sick of the VIP culture and profligacy of the rulers at the state’s expense. These measures can save a great deal of public money and will hopefully quell the air of self-importance assumed by ministers and parliamentarians.

Imran and his finance advisers are mindful of Pakistan’s balance of payments crisis caused by huge spending, rising imports and declining exports, which collectively represent a recipe for disaster. The task of redressing the debt burden is perhaps the single major test of the incoming PTI government.

Imran devoted a large part of his speech to foreign relations. He mentioned issues concerning India, Afghanistan and the US, and made references to friendly ties with China, Saudi Arabia and Iran. He will soon be confronted with the objectives pursued by India and the US with regard to Pakistan. The idea of pursuing mutually beneficial relations with the US while maintaining a balance in relations means nothing to a superpower that is relentlessly pushing for ‘America first’. Washington’s policies are increasingly aimed at imposing its global supremacy rather than accommodating other partners.

Imran spoke at length about the need for better relations between Pakistan and India, promising to take two steps towards India if the latter takes one. He urged the leadership of both countries to come to the table and put an end to blame games. The probable PM-in-waiting took note of Kashmir as the core issue and the massive suffering of the people under Indian occupation. He emphasised the need for more trade to improve living standards in the Subcontinent.

Meanwhile, his reference to Afghanistan was brief and stressed that peace in Pakistan was linked with peace in Afghanistan. While offering to strive for peace in the war-torn country, Imran expressed the desire for open borders with Afghanistan. Afghan President Ghani also called Imran to congratulate and invite him to visit Kabul.

Imran’s foray into foreign affairs was statesmanlike. But he should know that the devil lies ahead and resides in the details of extremely complex relations with India, Afghanistan and the US. While the prime minister will act as the country’s diplomat-in-chief, he needs the assistance of a good foreign minister who will carry the national brief to world capitals and be the country’s spokesperson at regional and global forums.

Looking back at the past two decades, capable foreign ministers like Abdul Sattar, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Hina Rabbani Khar were given the task of engaging with top diplomats from our key partners. However, the PML-N suffered from the self-imposed handicap of slogging without a capable foreign minister. The PTI shouldn’t repeat this mistake as it assumes power in the coming days.

Email: [email protected]

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