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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 17 November 2018

Contrary to his calling for a 'new Pakistan', Khan is more likely to be a conformist

The winner of Pakistan's election will have to be pragmatic to maintain a balance between his domestic constituency and the international community, writes Arshi Saleem Hashmi

A campaign poster of cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, who swept to victory in Wednesday's election. AFP Photo
A campaign poster of cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, who swept to victory in Wednesday's election. AFP Photo

Waving the party flag and chanting "nayya" (new) Pakistan, leaders and followers of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are obviously jubilant that they managed to make a dent in the decades-old rotten dynastic politics of bad governance and lack of accountability in the name of democracy.

PTI is set to form a new government after a rigorous five-year anti-Nawaz Sharif campaign but it is likely to face multiple challenges as a new ruling party. One of the most important factors is the transformation from politics of agitation to that of co-operation and collaboration. Imran Khan will have to deal with the political parties at least on some of the major issues that the nation confronts today, including economy, security and foreign policy.

In his first speech after being declared winner in the election, Khan did bring a reconciliatory tone to the fore. He appeared to be more interested in focusing on issues rather than opponents. He said that opposition parties should not be harassed or humiliated and there should be an end to political victimisation.

If this goes beyond his first speech, it would bring maturity and stability in the body politics of a country that has suffered decades of emotional mobilisation of people in the name of democracy, religion and ethnicity.

The olive branch offered to opponents by Khan would not be easily accepted as the recently held All Parties Conference (which included all major political parties, except PTI) rejected the election results and called for a vote recount. Even if nothing comes out of the opposition's call for a recount, the fact remains that Khan's PTI will face a very strong opposition in the parliament.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's brother Shehbaz, the current president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), stressed he was a pacifist but rejected the way votes were counted and called the elections unfair. These allegations stemmed from the delay in election results by the Election Commission Pakistan (ECP). The ECP position is that the delay was due to a fault in the electronic system that crashed and said it had to resort to a manual count of the vote.

Given the way politics works here, the major parties with significant seats – the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and PML-N – who came to power in the last two elections in 2008 and 2013 respectively, would not leave their seats in the parliament.

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The PPP emerged as the largest party in Sindh province and will retain supremacy there while the PML-N managed to secure the majority of seats in Punjab province and will most likely form a government there. So in all probability, only those leaders who completely lost in the election will continue to cast doubts on the election results.

With strong criticism of his credibility as an independent leader of the people, Khan will be under microscopic inspection on his major decisions. He is more likely to be careful in venturing into areas that have been a bone of contention between Nawaz Sharif's last government and the military. Contrary to his slogan "nayya Pakistan", he would be more interested in being a conformist.

Despite his colourful personal life in the past, Khan has gone through a transformation in the last 22 years since the inception of PTI. We have now a man with a conservative, traditionalist, eastern approach for a country that values such traits.

However, for the West and other countries working in a western, liberal, democratic framework, this is not a desirable combination. Khan will have to be pragmatic to maintain a balance between his domestic constituency and the international community. It is more likely that he will follow this duality of approach to remain relevant for international community.

A few positives that can come out of the new regime under PTI would include better governance, more accountability on corruption issues, major changes in policies for more jobs, better education and better management of water and electricity problems.

On the foreign policy front, PTI has already stated its future direction towards regional stability, more engagement with India for trade while Kashmir remains the core issue that should be resolved, according to the UN resolution.

Other issues facing Khan include continuity in the close partnership with China on projects including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), under the umbrella of the Belt and Road Initiative, balancing relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia and playing a role in the Middle East peace process.

On the US, PTI gives a clear message of a relationship between sovereign states, which according to Khan has unfortunately been a one-way relationship dictated by the US.

Khan has been consistent in demanding more engagement with the Afghan Taliban for sustainable peace and more collaboration with the unity government in Afghanistan. To deal with the complex regional and global security situation, PTI proposes a national security organisation for a detailed national security policy. The party has suggested that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would be strengthened by revamping its legal and institutional capabilities and the national security policy would focus on challenge of terrorism, ensuring implementation of the National Action Plan to deal with violent extremism, curriculum reforms and bringing theological institutions into the national mainstream.

On the economic front, PTI proposes a business-friendly country, tax reforms and the construction of five million homes. A council of business leaders is also mooted to improve Pakistan’s global business standing. A Pakistani wealth fund would be created to fund institutions such as Pakistan International Airlines, the Pakistan Steel Mills and power distribution companies to bring revolutionary changes.

Foreign and economic policy will remain the defining factor to evaluate the PTI success. The agenda is great for common people to feel good about the changes they might have helped bring about. The major challenge, however, will be to make these promises material.

A debt crisis, mainly due to bad management of the economy and corrupt practices as well as a surge in loans, is threatening. Pakistan’s nearly $300 billion economy, which just a few years ago got back on track for a short time, is gradually on its way to knocking on the door of the International Monetary Fund yet again.

Another major challenge is to work on Pakistan's credibility as a responsible state following international scrutiny of the financing of terror and to devise a policy to come off the grey list of terror financing watchlists to avoid international isolation.

It might be too much to expect Khan to drastically change the post-colonial political structure of a state with a weak democracy and a plethora of security and economic challenges. With his "new Pakistan" slogan, he has secured a political victory – but the fact remains that he is a reformist not a revolutionary.

Dr Arshi Saleem Hashmi is an Islamabad-based expert on peace and conflict in Pakistan