So far the Pakistani election results have gone by the script. There has been no surprise or any major ‘upset’ in the trend in Imran Khan’s emergence as leader of the single largest party in Parliament.
Now he may become the next prime minister of Pakistan. This is what was being predicted by poll surveys and majority of the Pakistani commentators. This is what is likely to happen in the next few hours.
The moot question, however, remain: what does Imran’s “Naya Pakistan” or the call for a new Pakistan mean?
Will it bring about any meaningful change in Pakistan or will it be more of the same for the way the country has been run in the past seven decades.
To answer that question it will be important to look at the formation and composition of the new Pakistani government. Imran Khan’s PTI despite being the single largest party in parliament may have to seek support from others in forming the government. Where that support comes from will, therefore, be an important factor to see how things pan out in Pakistan in the coming days.
Imran’s dependence on other parties or independent candidates for forming his government will reflect in many of the policies and programmes that he may have in the coming days for facing some of the major challenges in Pakistan.
Revival of the economy, job creation, development for all, the ever-rising wealth gap and more importantly the fight against corruption by the rich and powerful are some of the major challenges that the new government will face. None of them quick, easy, answers. But for the new Prime Minister there has to be some visible signs of change that his government brings about to keep large number of his supporters enthused and optimistic about his new regime.
Imran is widely believed to be the civilian face of the all-powerful army establishment of Pakistan. This is nothing new or unique in Pakistan. Almost all prime ministers who ruled the country in the past seven decades had been able to do so either with the direct or indirect support of the army generals. This could perhaps be the reason why none of them so far managed to complete his full-five year term. Though, whenever the military generals took over, they have managed to have long spells in running the country.
An important question from India’s point of view therefore, will be to ask whether Imran’s prime ministership will bring about any change in Indo-Pak relations?
Pakistan’s India policy has always been crafted by its army. The elected, civilian government, in Delhi’s reckoning, has only been a “glorified” post master, conveying the issues, while staying within the army-drawn red lines in dealing with India. Though this has not prevented Indian prime ministers from engaging with their Pakistani counterparts. But the question has never escaped policy planners in Delhi on how meaningful it is for India to engage with the civilian leadership while the army generals continue to pull the strings from behind.
A section in the Indian establishment strongly believe that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a former protégé of the Pakistani army, was ousted from power because he reached out to India in a manner that made the army generals uncomfortable.
Imran, when he assumes the prime minister’s chair, will be fully aware of this fact when he starts making any overtures towards India. But he too, may reach out to India as he knows this would allow him and Pakistan earn important brownie points among key world players. However, to what extent he is allowed to go in this direction by the Pakistani army establishment, will only be known in the coming days.
More importantly, one will also have to see how far the Indian leadership is willing to match those gestures from Pakistan, if and when, they come from the new government.
(The writer is Chief of Bureau, Outlook)