Riding on the nationalist agenda and claims to transform Pakistan by defeating family-based nepotism in politics, former international cricket star Imran Khan is inching closer to becoming Pakistan’s 19th Prime Minister. Amidst claims of Pakistan Army rigging the elections and backing Khan’s candidacy, his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), on Thursday (July 26), was leading in 119 out of 272 nationally contested seats. Subsequently, 65-year-old Khan declared victory and delivered a speech reiterating his claims to make the country corruption-free and improve relations with India.
The formal election results are yet to be announced and it’s still to be seen whether or not Imran Khan will take charge of the PM office. There’s, however, a widespread apprehension over the possibilities of positive developments in Indo-Pak bilateral relations that are plagued by historic animosity and distrust.
“It is yet to be seen how Imran Khan becomes the PM as he’s still short of the numbers. Practically, what is going to happen is that an Army’s pick would form a minority government. This means that the new candidate would be more dependent on the establishment’s outlook towards India or any other country for that matter of fact. We can’t expect a dramatic change in Pakistan’s foreign policies,” said Stanly Johny, an international affairs expert and author of “ISIS Caliphate: From Syria To The Doorsteps Of India”.
Khan became the favourite of Pakistan’s establishment – army, judiciary and bureaucracy – when in 2013, he supported then army chief General Ashfaq Parve’s decision to block the US convoys taking crucial supplies to Afghanistan. Furthermore, Khan’s party’s slogan ‘Jo Modi ka yaar hai who gaddar hai (A friend of Narendra Modi is a traitor)’ earned him a strong backing from the Army. The establishment, in turn, strategically manoeuvered Khan’s campaign with the support of the media.
“Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari were warmer towards India and that’s not what Pakistan’s establishment wants. Flamboyant Imran Khan suited their taste and the kind of policies they want in the country. He was the perfect poster boy for the Pakistan Army and hence they backed him. With him as a PM, you can’t expect any drastic change in Pakistan’s approach towards India and Kashmir. He’ll follow everything the Army asks him to,” said R K Radhakrishnan a senior political journalist and winner of prestigious RedInk Journalism Awards 2017 in politics.
Imran Khan, in his nationally televised victory speech, asserted that he’s willing to talk to India over Kashmir and bring peace between the two nations that have been in conflict ever since their formation. However, while addressing the Kashmir issue he sent mixed signals. On one hand, he displayed his willingness to discuss Kashmir. While on the other, he reinstated Pakistan’s age-old tactic of making Kashmir an internationalized issue. Internationalization of the Kashmir issue has always been a bone of contention between India and Pakistan, with India being firm that it’s a bilateral issue and no third party should be involved.
“He has practically re-emphasized Pakistan’s historic stand towards Kashmir. This wouldn’t be welcoming news for India because India wants the issue to be settled through dialogue between the countries without any external involvement,” pointed out Stanly Johny.
According to senior journalists and experts in international relations, Imran Khan’s victory in the Pakistan elections is bad news for both India and Pakistan. Bad for Pakistan because Khan is Army’s proxy which is hoodwinking the country’s democracy through backdoors. And for India because Khan has openly lent weight to the fundamentalist outlook of Pakistan’s establishment.
“He’s bad news for both countries. His victory means that the Army’s grip over Pakistan’s political landscape is further getting tighter. Also, for India, it means that the age-old diplomacy of hostility and suspicion. Pakistan Army and the traditional and fundamentalist elites there don’t want to change equations with India. When then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee went to Pakistan, Kargil war followed. Nawaz Sharif faced the brunt of inviting Modi to Lahore. He’s now in Jail and there’s no visible revival of his party in the near future. Army micro-managed the elections and will continue to dictate country’s policies towards India,” said senior journalist and political analyst Zafar Agha.
Amidst all the apprehensions over the victory of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan in Pakistan’s elections, few claim that the Khan-Modi duo has the opportunity of orchestrating a new approach towards Indo-Pak bilateral relations.
“Conditions aren’t going to deteriorate from here onward. Ambani and Adani, who are allegedly very close aides of Modi government, are seeing great business opportunities in Pakistan and vice-versa. These trade lobbyists will do their best to encourage better relations at least in terms of trade. I am hoping within next six months both PMs would come together on one platform,” said Prakash Ray, a New Delhi-based senior journalist with expertise in Indo-Pak relations.
Commenting on the future course of Modi government in terms of Indo-Pak relations, Ray argued, “Both are showmen and personality-based politicians. Whether or not relations are going to get smoother, we’ll have to wait and watch. But, they’ll definitely be meeting at least in an international event. Modi has that demeanour. Although in domestic issues, his kind of politics calls for strong criticism, his projection in the international forum is impressive. He will never miss a good photo session at the least.”
However, rejecting any future possibilities of both Modi and Khan working towards better relations between the two nations, Radhakrishnan pointed out, “With less than six months left for the general elections, I don’t see Modi government trying to sort out things with Pakistan. In the Gujarat election, we saw how Pakistan rhetoric is important part of their politics. On the contrary, we can expect Pakistan related rhetoric to start making rounds very soon.”
It is yet to be seen how India and Pakistan proceed from here. However, Imran Khan’s rise to power re-asserts the global rise of neo-nationalism. There’s a mass acceptance of rhetoric leaders with nationalist agendas like Narendra Modi in India, Donald Trump in the US, Britain’s Nigel Farage, and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.