Imran Khan , Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf - the Party of the Movement for Justice which he founded, is poised to become Prime Minister of Pakistan. He has done remarkably well in the National and Provincial elections. The PTI is the largest party by far in the National Assembly and though lacking an absolute majority it will be able to put together a coalition to govern the country. It has an majority in the Province of Kyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which it has governed the last five years, made a strong showing in Sindh which is still dominated by the Pakistan Peoples Party and within striking range of controlling Punjab, in which the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), the former ruling party of the now incarcerated Nawaz Sharif has marginally more seats. The PTI would be able form the Provincial government with a coalition taking in independents. Taking Punjab along, the most populous of Pakistan’s four provinces, with a 100 million population, is vital for effective governance and reform.
Before the elections there was an apprehension that a fragmented national assembly and fragile coalition would lead to instability. But now Imran Khan is well placed to initiate the ambitious and detailed reform agenda of the PTI’s electoral manifesto towards a ‘Naya’ or ‘new’ Pakistan; an agenda based on transforming governance, strengthening the Federation, inclusive economic growth, uplifting agriculture-building dams and conserving water, revolutionizing social services and ensuring Pakistan’s national security. Internally the reform agenda has at its heart turning Pakistan into a welfare state where the rule of law, meritocracy and transparency are guaranteed to all and a social welfare safety net is provided to the marginalized and the elderly. A just order where equal opportunity exists for all citizens in all fields – from health to education to security of life and property. Justice to ensure that women, minorities, the poor, the differently-abled, the dispossessed and disadvantaged are not exploited or discriminated against. With the legacy of misrule by a corrupt inept elite relegated to the dustbin of history it seeks to form a country able to stand on its own feet, not reliant on foreign aid.
Externally Pakistan’s core national interests are defined as territorial integrity & sovereignty; socio-economic development; the resolution of the Kashmir dispute; and protection of its citizens wherever they may happen to be. It’s for a ‘Naya’ Pakistan, confident in itself and at peace with its neighbours on the basis of mutual reciprocity, that seeks friendly relations with all states, including the USA on the basis of transparency, mutuality of interests and respect for sovereignty. A Pakistan premised on a strong strategic deterrence but which will seek conflict resolution; and that will not fight others’ wars or act as a surrogate for any power.
It is a multidimensional and integrated reform agenda. Implementation requires sequencing as there cannot be simultaneously movement on all fronts. Pragmatism is required to tackle the gap between objectives and ground realities like increasing expenditure on the social sectors and decreasing foreign aid, depends on enhanced revenues. This requires a long haul, reforming the bureaucracy through skills enhancement, motivation, accountability and freedom from political influence. Foreign assistance is declining and is now tilted towards the soft sectors, strengthening democracy, the rule of law, and the social sectors, mainly through NGOs. A filtering process should check that the donors’ agendas are in synch with those of Pakistan.
In his post-elections speech Imran Khan has been conciliatory, looking to the future rather than blaming for the past, ready to cooperate in response to allegations of poll rigging by opponents, and calling for better relations with neighboring India and Afghanistan and with the major powers including the USA. It’s early days but till the Indian elections nine months hence as an anti-Pakistan plank is part of the BJP electoral campaign, not much can be expected. Pakistan is already working on Afghan reconciliation but it all depends on the USA deciding its own Afghan policy, whether if it will move decisively towards supporting reconciliation rather than a kinetic approach to attrite the Taliban to force them to come to terms- a tactic which has not worked these last 15 years. America views its bilateral relations with Pakistan through the prism of Afghanistan and is reviewing its policy towards this region while China remains the cornerstone. There is a slow but upward curve in relations with Russia.
Though security issues have empowered the military apparatus, the previous government was criticized for ceding ground to the military on important foreign policy issues, not unexpectedly as for the major part it had no foreign minister. The PTI bolstered by strong electoral backing and a flock of competent potential Foreign Ministers is positioned to have a tighter control of foreign relations.
Imran’s main attribute as a sportsman, humanitarian and then politician has been consistent focus. But that intensity should not turn into rigidity. The PTI does not have the two thirds majority to push through constitutional amendments needed for some reforms on its agenda including making South Punjab a separate Province. That will require both caution and skillful maneuvering to put together coalitions on these issues. It should not fall prey to the temptation of encouraging a forward block of its main opposition the PML(N). That would lead to the same polarization, demonstrations, dharnas/sit-ins, and gridlock that the PTI used to erode the previous government. In suspected criminal and civil cases, investigative procedures linked to political opponents should be more thorough and arrests not made for public effect, fair play must be there and seen to be here. A humane approach should be the overarching hall mark, including towards political opponents, men and especially women, reflecting the Muslim tradition of chivalry.
Imran Khan has been given this opportunity by a broad cross section of all ages and walks of life because they felt that it was time for a change, that he should be given a chance. It is not coincidental that these days the most popular and uplifting song - of hope - is a poem of Pakistan’s famous poet and revolutionary, Faiz Ahmed Faiz- ‘Hum Dekhenge- We will see’, which begins , “We shall witness ,it is certain that we too will witness the promised day, When the mountains of tyranny blow away like cotton”.He has a tremendous responsibility to bring Pakistanis together to make it a stronger, more respected and equitable country.
The writer is a retired Pakistani diplomat.