I first took note of Imran Khan in this blog back in 2010, when he spearheaded a nationwide effort to address the crisis of massive flooding covering one-fifth of Pakistan. The following year The Guardian took note of his criticism of longstanding graft and corruption in Pakistan's politics.
That populist approach has culminated in his successful election to lead the country; he is expected to easily form a coalition government and become Prime Minister. The video above is a 24-minute worthwhile longwatch that incorporates three regional journalists from Islamabad and Lahore. They make note of the breadth of his appeal, winning districts from the Khyber to Punjab, as well as he major cities. Perhaps because of his cricketing fame, he is hugely popular (with the people and the politicians) in neighboring India - a major advantage in securing regional peace. And this morning the India Times headline reads "Chinese media goes gaga over Imran Khan..." after his party Tweeted in Mandarin about improving ties with China.
He has a complicated task ahead, having inherited a government that for generations has been corrupt and has wasted the country's resources. He has to deal with military generals who have exercised immense control of national policies in the past. His country shares national borders with India, China, Afghanistan, and Iran. He will want to continue modernizing his country, with a major focus on the welfare of the common people rather than the military.
Pakistan matters because, with its youthful population of more than 200 million (66% are under 30), it is a country of vast potential handicapped by endemic poverty, illiteracy and inequality. It is also, not coincidentally, a battleground pitting anti-western Islamists, schooled in international jihad in Saudi-funded madrassas, against the secular, anglophone elite. It is central to the “war on terror”. Its stability and security, or lack of it, has a potentially global impact.
For the British, Pakistan exercises an abiding fascination, rooted in the Raj’s disastrous part in its bloody 1947 birth and in continuing, close ethnic and cultural ties. For the Americans, self-anointed heirs to empire, Pakistan plays the dual role of indispensable ally and duplicitous villain in their endless Afghan drama. For many in India, Islamabad is the nuclear-armed bogeyman next door. For expansionist China, Pakistan is a key link in its grandiose Belt and Road trading franchise, reliant on Beijing’s loans, investment and goodwill...
Pakistan’s generals are accustomed to exercising sole control of foreign and security policy. Challenging them can be a career or even life-ending experience. So if Khan, for example, wants to break with the US, befriend India, or talk to terrorists, he had better watch his back. Whatever the popular storyline says about democracy redux, the hidden hand on the new prime minister’s shoulder is real. It will be hard to shake off.And these thoughts from the New York Times yesterday:
Pakistan has reached a turning point that could possibly alter its dysfunctional trajectory... Mr. Khan brings something new: more star power and mystique than any recent Pakistani leader and perhaps a better chance to change the country’s narrative... “Relatively few Pakistani leaders have won over the West... But Khan is familiar with operating in the international world. He already has strong name recognition. He doesn’t need to be introduced.”
Oxford-educated and once married to a wealthy British woman, Mr. Khan is clearly comfortable in the highest circles of Western power brokers. He was close friends with Princess Diana. (Shortly before she died, Mr. Khan has said, he was trying to help her find a new husband.)Still, the old Mr. Khan is not necessarily the new Mr. Khan. In recent years, he has undergone a complex metamorphosis, distancing himself from his days as a star athlete and ladies’ man. He now expresses sympathy for the Taliban and for Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, which include the death penalty, positions that play well domestically...Take his views on religion. He has said that he wants to reform the madrasa system in which countless young Pakistani boys have been brainwashed in Quranic schools to fight for extremist groups. At the same time, Mr. Khan has supported Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and teamed up with hard-line religious groups that a few years ago rioted in Islamabad, the capital...To Western governments, Mr. Khan’s idiosyncrasies may not even matter that much. Analysts say there are only two issues the West really cares about in Pakistan: militant groups and nuclear arms. Mr. Khan will not have much say in either. The military and intelligence establishment handles both.
The biggest issue that Mr. Khan will control is the economy. This is where he could shine as a leader or quickly be subsumed. Pakistan is facing a balance of payments crisis, its currency has rapidly devalued, its debt is soaring.Economists say the steps the next prime minister must take are obvious but painful. The national budget (including the military’s) needs to be cut, Pakistanis must pay more for energy, old state-run businesses need to be privatized and taxes — many more taxes — need to be collected.
TYWKIWDBI wishes Imran Khan success in this enormous task. We will continue to follow events and blog them every now and then.