Prime Minister Khan’s Priorities
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party became the single largest party in the National Assembly elections following the general elections held on July 25th. With this Khan is set to become the next Pakistani Prime Minister. Much like his heroics which saw him lead Pakistan to the famous 1992 victory in the cricket world cup, this victory is being heralded as a major breakthrough in Pakistan as he is viewed as an anti-corruption crusader. This piece will analyse three of Prime Minister Khan’s top priorities when he steps into office, namely, the economy, Pakistan’s relationship with India and her relationship with great powers such as the US and China.
The election results, announced 56 hours after the end of the election, showed the PTI securing 116 seats. Its two closest rivals have had long trysts at the helm of affairs in the country and viewed as overseeing large scale corruption. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) secured 64 seats and the Pakistan People’s Party led by the Bhutto-Zardari family secured 43 seats. Since none of the parties secured the 137 seats necessary to form the government, Khan will have to cobble together a coalition government which it is expected to do easily. Following 22 years in active politics, this will be Khan’s first time in political office. In addition to being considered an anti-corruption crusader, Khan is viewed as being the preferred choice of the Pakistan military, which was seen as having a significant hand in Khan’s victory, before and during the elections.
Bringing some semblance of normalcy to the Pakistan economy will be his top priority. Currently Pakistan faces a downgraded economic credibility rating, projected decline in GDP growth and the most-likely scenario of having to seek another bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), its 13th since 1980. In a televised public address, the prime minister in waiting signalled that his major priorities in fixing the economy would be to strengthen weak institutions which have led to the financial crises, create new avenues to curb corruption, and to appeal to non-Residential Pakistani’s to increase investment in the country.
Relations with India
Since their Independence in 1947, Pakistan and India have remained the number priority in each other’s foreign policy. In the same speech, Khan called for better economic and political relations with India saying “If India’s leadership is ready, we are ready to improve ties with India. If you step forward one step, we will take two steps forward.” However, India will see this with a certain amount of scepticism. There is a sense that irrespective of who holds the title, the body which governs foreign policy is the army. Perpetuating India as the external enemy is what to a certain degree justifies the army’s strength and budget. We can determine that the Pakistan army will not be too keen on striking a conciliatory tone with India based on its reaction to former Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff following his efforts of conciliation with India. He was side-lined as Prime Minister, removed for alleged corruption and is currently in jail. Further, the timing is complicated by the fact that India is poll-bound in 2019 which means that Prime Minister Modi will not want to be seen as cosying up to Pakistan which is viewed as India’s eternal enemy, especially by his base. Yet another reason why Afghanistan is expected to be a foreign policy priority until the end of the elections.
Relations with Great Powers
Few would have ever believed that US-Pakistan relations would be one day headed by a former cricketer and a former reality TV star. Yet here we are with two leaders from different corners of the world with more in common than not. Khan has in the past been severely critical of the US especially with drone strikes in the region. Similarly, Trump, relying on his America first slogan, has accused Pakistan of looting the US in terms of foreign aid and using the money to fund terrorists. While Pakistan might require US support to obtain the much-need IMF bailout, it also occupies significant strategic advantages as because of its position next to China and Afghanistan.
In light of continued fraught relations with the US, and in fear of friendlier relations between India and the US, Pakistan continues to move closer towards China which could potentially serve as the economic support which it needs. Additionally, the relationship becomes more important as the China-Pakistan Economic corridor (CPEC) nears closer to completion.
Irrespective of what the specific priority is, Khan will face a plethora of significant and interconnected concerns. How well he handles them could well define Pakistan’s trajectory for the next two decades.
Image Credit: CC by Imran Khan/ Wikimedia Commons.