Pakistan’s New PM Imran Khan: Nothing Changes
PM Imran Khan, Pakistan’s twenty second Prime Minister sworn on August 18 2018 was not swept into office with a thumping political majority but a cobbled coalition of sorts. Hovering over PM Imran Khan emerging as Prime Minister was an unsavoury reputation that PM Imran Khan’s emergence as PM was scripted and facilitated by the new power duopoly of Pakistan Army-Supreme Court Judiciary.
Admittedly, PM Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party obtained the largest number of seats, though short of majority, but contextually this materialised after Pakistan Army’s intelligence agency and the Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court ensured that the established Pakistan national political parties were denied a level playing field. This coupled with the seemingly dubious actions of Pakistan’s Election Commission in offering technical glitches as excuse for delayed announcement of election results and allegations of rigging threw shadows on what many believed were a contrived victory.
Keeping the above aside, what emerges is that the Pakistani electorate was looking for a political change to displace the established political dynasties of the Sharifs and the Bhuttos.
The Pakistani people were deeply looking for some political leader who could promise a new and transformed Pakistan with a new political template as having been worn out and frustrated by the erstwhile political templates.
However, the crucial question that begs an answer is whether PM Imran Khan is the man who could transform Pakistan into a ‘Naya Pakistan’ as Imran Khan terms it? A purist democratic Pakistan can only emerges when a civilian Pakistani PM can shake off the stranglehold of the Pakistan Army over Pakistan’s governance and foreign policy. Is PM Imran Khan the messiah who can achieve this challenge? Unlikely it seems, as it is the Pakistan Army who has brought him into power.
PM Imran Khan with his relatively more youthful links, his larger than life glamourous reputed lifestyles abroad and his ‘Brand loyalty’ as Pakistan’s cricket team Captain that brought home the World Cricket Cup, made a big impact on the Pakistani public, especially the under-30voters.
PM Imran Khan’s dual advantages of emerging as the preferred choice of the Pakistan Army Generals for PM along with the PR advantages outlined above tipped the election results in favour of PM Imran Khan, though not fully, and hence the denial of a thumping political victory.
The above political factor will be in full play in Pakistan’s political dynamics throughout his tenure as Prime Minister—-full five years or a truncated one, if the factors outlined above start impacting.
The established fact on date is that despite all of the above the Prime Minister of Pakistan today is Imran Khan and that Pakistan’s ‘Deep State’ will operate in his favour and ensure his continuance as Pakistan’s PM till such time PM Imran Khan does not break ranks with the Establishment.
The above throws a crucial question that whether PM Imran Khan opts for completion of his full tenure of five years as Pakistan’s PM by faithfully pursuing the Pakistan Army’s political agenda or breaks ranks to fulfil his election pledges to transform Pakistan into a ‘Naya Pakistan’ that is a ‘New Pakistan’.
All available political indicators point in the direction of Pm Imran Khan not endangering his life-long ambition to be Prime Minister of Pakistan. Election pledges and their non-fulfilment can be rationalised and explained to the gullible Pakistani masses as that his hands are tied.
Therefore, NOTHING CHANGES with PM Imran Khan having assumed Prime Ministership of Pakistan and promising a brave new Pakistan.
With the above as a given, it is important to examine what will be the contours of Pakistan’s foreign policy thrusts and his domestic political agenda as PM Imran Khan attempts to navigate the choppy waters of Pakistan’s foreign policy challenges and a more challenging domestic political environment made more adversarial by the circumstances under which PM Imran Khan was ushered into office by the Pakistan Army.
Foreign policy is the least of the challenges that will be faced by PM Imran Khan as in this domain the Pakistan Army Generals brook no interference in their agenda of Pakistan’s diplomatic thrusts towards China, Russia, United States, Afghanistan and India. This also is inclusive of use of terrorism and proxy wars against India and Afghanistan as foreign policy leverage.
PM Imran Khan in his political life preceding becoming Prime Minister was always highly critical of the United States and its military involvement in Afghanistan. The only factor that could have prompted PM Imran Khan to reset Pakistan’s US-policy was to enlist Washington’s assistance for bailing out Pakistan from its economic mess with IMF bailouts. However, with China and Saudi Arabia pledging to provide billions of dollars to Pakistan in this direction, this would make PM Imran Khan less tempted to alter his anti-US image.
Further, this view synchronises with GHQ Rawalpindi’s animosity towards United States incrementally increasing with the cut-offs of US military aid, cutting-off Pak Army officers from courses in UDS military training institutions and US under President Trump adopting hard-line policies towards Pakistan.
China will be top priority for PM Imran Khan both as a necessity to offset US side-lining Pakistan in its South Asian policies and also since China
tops the priority in Pakistan Army calculus. More noticeably, China had opened lines of communication with Imran Khan during the election campaign itself and was fawning over him all along as their preferred choice of PM of Pakistan.
In relation to the CPEC, China needs strong support not only from the Pakistan Army but also politically from Imran Khan’s PTI prominence in Khyber Pakhtunwa
Russia is the new kid on the block in terms of entering Pakistan Army’s geopolitical calculus and would find strong endorsement from PM Imran Khan in relation to Russia furthering Pakistan’s interests in Afghanistan stimulated by Russia’s reverberative reactions against US military embedment in Afghanistan and India’s ‘soft power’ presence in Pakistan
PM Imran Khan has made opening outreaches to the Afghan President and vice versa. Personally, PM Imran Khan may have emotional preferences to ease violent turbulence in the Frontier Areas bordering Afghanistan but here he would be
constrained by Pakistan Army’s own preferences in which the safety and stability of Frontier Areas was never of any consequence for the militaryGenerals.
Pakistani PMs who wanted good relations with India and indulged in political reachout to India fell by the wayside as Pakistan Army never tolerated peace and reconciliation with India. Former PM Nawaz Sharif has been the most notable casualty. PM Imran Khan would be fully conscious of this reality and though while in his opening remarks stressed good relations with India but added the caveats of Kashmir and the Pakistan Army-perceived projections Kashmiri people’s sufferings.
One already sees in motion Pakistan’s attempts to exploit Pakistan-apologists in India lobbies to drum up support for dialogue with Pakistan. How much of this is real and genuine and how much of it is fake is not difficult to predict. Pakistan Army’s armoury of weapons against India of terrorism strikes, border clashes and inciting and financing turbulence in the Kashmir Valley will see no decrease even with PM Imran Khan assuming executive office in Pakistan.
PM Imran Khan has neither the political weight nor political experience to swing Pakistan’s India-policy towards peace and dialogue independent of the Pakistan Army. In the same vein, it can be forcefully asserted more for the ears of the large tribe of Pakistan-apologists in India that no Pakistan Army Chief can change the anti-Indian hostility of the Pakistan Army officer cadre whose psyche stills rankles with the loss of East Pakistan in 1971 and its emergence as the independent nation of Bangladesh. Such an Army Chief in Pakistan will be toppled by the Pak Army itself.
(Religion Cometh; the Anthem of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan)
The impact of organised religion on nations has historically been a sense of contrived significance, but in essence has neither refined society nor elevated power status. In the case of civilizational encounters, the vanquished looked backwards for spiritual succour while succumbing to the influences of the aggressor; in the process dogmas and rituals replaced inventiveness, as the spirit that propelled development calcified (Toynbee, 1957). This state is symptomatic of a society in the throes of derangement. A failed response to the challenges of plurality and vigour of competing belief systems is thus marked by religious masquerade and a despairing choice inspired by fundamental ideologies. In the past the Egyptiac world, Judaism and Christianity have succumbed to this fanatic impulse. Early Islam was spiritually tolerant of civilizations that it considered allied to as ‘People of the Book.’ It is no coincidence that this very period saw Islamic civilization flourish. Contemporary political Islamic movements are, however, marked by failed responses; the more radical, the more unforgiving towards the idea of plurality and renewal.
In the recently concluded elections to the Pakistan National Assembly the Tehreek-i-Labbaik (TLP) polled nearly two and a quarter million votes (Election Commission of Pakistan) making it the fifth largest political party in that country. While this may not have readily translated to seats in the National Assembly, what it stands for is “street power” of the radical Islam variety. Regaling the event their chief, Allama Khadim Husain Rizvi narrated a grisly electoral episode from Nawabshah, a district in Sindh. “We were singing our anthem Deen Aaya, when the Peoples Party (PPP) camp started playing their electioneering jingles; We asked them to stop because our hymn was in veneration of Allah, but their leader spurned our entreaty. Imagine Allah’s wrath, for that very night the PPP leader breathed his last. The next morning it was God’s will that all of the PPP followers switched their loyalty to the TLP!”
TLP shot to prominence when it opposed the 2016 hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, convicted in 2011 of assassinating the Governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province. Born in 1966 in Attock Punjab, Rizvi a self-acclaimed Barelvi cleric, was in government in the department of religious affairs, the auqaf . He was soon removed for radical activism. A paraplegic, he became deeply involved in organising public support for harsher and more invasive blasphemy laws. In November 2017 his siege of Islamabad for this cause paralysed the Capital for over three weeks. The Government and its law enforcement agencies made an abortive attempt to curb the mayhem but only succeeded in spreading protests to all the major cities. It was the Army Chief’s personal intervention that defused the situation with the offer of unconditional capitulation of the State to more severe blasphemy laws, sacking of Federal minister for law Zahid Hamid and the release of all prisoners taken. The siege of Islamabad was lifted. Allama Khadim Husain Rizvi had arrived; it is reported with a “little” help from the army.
Karachi was a distant frontier for the TLP whose home grounds were the radical madrassas of South Punjab (Bhawalpur, Multan, Mianwali, Dera Ghazi Khan etc.) Their electoral gains in Karachi owed largely to pulpit intimidation, violence and menacing politics. The city, latterly dominated by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) represents Pakistan’s Urdu-speaking mohajir, immigrant community. The odious “mohajir” moniker was dropped from its name and replaced by the less unpalatable Muttahida (United). The MQM is known for its muscular methods in Karachi, it had in the past controlled the vote in the inner city and its immediate urban enclaves through a grid that organized the city’s underworld. Aided by the Army, the TLP broke up these networks. The mosque became the platform from where the message of redemption was hammered home, in a manner and scale, not seen since the call for jihad to fight the American invasion of Afghanistan. The argument now was that since people of Karachi had committed crime and violence for mortal reasons, atonement in the eyes of God was only possible if these same people took up Allah’s cause by volunteering their time and labour for the TLP. An irreverent ‘Anschluss’ between the deep state, piety and politics now paved the way for electoral success of the Army’s willing protégé, Imran and his Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf .Central to the strategy was infusing politics with ritual, a messianic propagation of the Barelvi belief system and of the TLP’s near-prophet-like-paraplegic-leader and his ‘mystical’ powers over followers. The irony is that of the two Sunni sects, the Barelvi was seen as the more reticent and less prone to militancy than the orthodox Salafist-driven Deobandis. Meanwhile, the legend of how deen has managed to purify and chasten non-believers flourishes despite being in mortal conflict with what makes for a democratic state. The question at the core is what makes Pakistan more susceptible to ideological blackmail from such extreme shades of the religious right?
Ideological blackmail is prevalent when a myth of Islam-in-danger becomes the testament. To fully appreciate this phenomenon one goes back in recent history to Partition. The disproportionate security apparatus that Pakistan inherited and the communal basis of award (33% of the military as opposed to 18% demography, 23% landmass and 18% of financial assets) fuelled the idea that communal hatred and perpetual hostility towards India was innate to the separation of the Muslim nation. Also, an army under the banner of Islam was an imperative to forge unity and guard both ideological and geographic frontiers of the fledgling State. That the concept not only gained salience but is also an abiding characteristic of the strategic culture that the Army has carefully nurtured is today the idea of Pakistan.
And in August 2018, when the Dutch politician, Geert Wilders comes along and announces that he would hold a Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest that was a thinly veiled attempt to attack and provoke one of Wilders’ favourite whipping-boys, Islam; the TLP seized the opportunity to once again show its strength. On cue, lakhs of TLP supporters made their way to Islamabad to demand Pakistan sever diplomatic ties with the Netherlands or face a repeat of the siege of the capital. Why did Wilders call off the contest? It could not have been for economic reasons since GDP of the Netherlands at $830 billion is almost threefold of Pakistan’s; while bi-lateral trade is less than $1.2b, nor could it be any influence that Islamabad wields for they have little of that (there was of course the threat of Jihadi violence). The probable cause for cancellation was perhaps the fragile situation in Afghanistan which James Mattis explained as “co-existence of violence and progress” against a backdrop of stability. President Ashraf Ghani was less cryptic when he offered an unconditional peace proposal to the Taliban; a ceasefire, recognition of the Taliban, elections afresh and a constitutional review. Any disruption of this process, in US perspective, may have provided space for exceptionable Chinese and Russian interference. So it could be that it was the US that reined-in Wilders. At any rate the cancellation served to enhance Khadim Rizvi’s notional power across continents and the reality that his ideas found resonance with leaders and elites in mainstream political parties. That this has happened raises the question how close to being an extremist state is Pakistan?
And as we ponder the question of how-close-indeed; comes Deen and the news that the Pakistan Supreme
Court has sacked Atif Mian, a Princeton economist from the PM’s Economic Advisory Council for being an Ahmadi and in quick succession lifted the international ban on the terror proscribed Hafeez Sayeed’s outfit the Jamaat ud Dawa.
By Vice Admiral (retd) Vijay Shankar
Moving into the realm of Pakistan’s domestic politics, it is possible that the Pakistan Army may offer him some leg-space for experimenting with his own political preferences or attempting to implement some of his election pledges. Pakistan’s domestic politics has always been a minefield for any Pakistani Prime Minister with a witch’s brew of unbridgeable egotist differences between political parties, Pakistan Army’s constant interference in domestic politics and the political prominence given to hard-line Islamist groups nurtured by Pakistan Army’s ISI.
Pakistan’s two major national parties, the PML-N and the PPP are not well-disposed towards PM Imran Khan as both feel cheated by Imran Khan’s collusion with Pakistan Army generals to emerge as the Pakistani Prime Minister. Both these Parties with sizeable followings in Pakistan with little differentials with the new ruling PTI can be expected to offer strong opposition both inside the National Assembly and in public protests on the streets to make things politically difficult for PM Imran Khan. As a political novice PM of Pakistan PM Imran Khan after his elections as PM has made no placatory moves towards these two national parties.
On the contrary, PM Imran Khan soon after his swearing-in as PM made strong populist and strident calls that those who looted Pakistan with their corruption would be hunted down. This implies that in the garb of his anti-corruption drive election pledges he would be targeting the PML-N and the PPP. This would also make him popular with the Generals but will result in political costs. Besides generating widespread political turbulence this would distract the new PM from more pressing tasks like the economy.
With the Cabinet still not announced there will be political dissatisfaction within the PTI of not sharing the rewards of political office especially the last minute ‘electables’ that PM Imran Khan inducted after pirating them from other major parties.
Of all the domestic political challenges that PM Imran Khan immediately faces is that of putting Pakistan’s terminally-ill economy back on the rails. China and Saudi Arabia cannot match the munificence with which the United States strategic patronage which bank-rolled Pakistan’s ailing economy.
There is also no reason as to why the Pakistan Army can be expected to cut down its lion’s share of the deficit Pakistan Budget to make things economically easier for PM Imran Khan. Considerable share of Pakistan Army’s budget is devoted to financing of Pakistan Army’s terrorism and proxy war in India and Afghanistan. There will be no cut-downs here and nor is PM Imran Khan in a position to enforce them.
Finally, coming down to the sizing up of the personality and preferences of Imran Khan both as a person and how these traits will manifest itself in P Imran Khan’s functioning as PM of Pakistan. PM Imran Khan lately in an attempt to rectify his dented image of being the collusive actor with the Pakistan Army in the just concluded General Elections has been citing his political struggle of 22 years in which he opposed the Pakistan Army. Partly true, but then it also emerges that after 20yaers he realised that the reality was that he could ever become PM and fulfil his life-long dream, without the collusion of the Pakistan Army. That became evident when in 2014 he organised the month long siege of Islamabad against Former PM Nawaz Sharif at the behest of then Pak Army Chief General Raheel Sharif.
This throws in bold relief PM Imran Khan’s ‘opportunistic streak’ where he can be expected to temporise with any party for personal gains. This is the general trait of virtually every politician in South Asia but then it will not inspire confidence that he can lead Pakistan towards the horizon of ‘Naya Pakistan’. Therefore nothing changes in Pakistan.
Pakistan’s governance is not a cricket pitch where aggression and fast bowling would bring political wickets down. Pakistani politics is a minefield strewn with all sorts of political mines and Pakistan Army would not be at his side all along to hold his hand and certainly not if he attempts to stray off the chosen course laid down by the Pakistan Army. It will take him months if not years to gain political maturity to govern Pakistan. Presently, he also lacks the political gravitas and confidence as was evident during his swearing-in ceremony where he fumbled five times in repetition of the oath-lines articulated by the Pakistani President in Pakistan’s national language—Urdu. The political disconnect is obvious.
So what emerges as the Final Conclusion? The overall conclusion is that NOTHING CHANGES in Pakistan with coming into power of PM Imran Khan. Political leaders imbued with the spirit of transforming their nations and giving a new direction do not do so on the shoulders of collusion with the reigning Establishment, as PM Imran Khan has done. They challenge the existing political templates. n
By Dr. Subhash Kapila