Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-the Party (PTI), or the Movement for Justice, which he founded, is poised to become the next prime minister of Pakistan. He has done remarkably well in the just-concluded 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 a majority in the Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which it has governed for the last five years. PTI has made a strong showing in Sindh, which is still dominated by Pakistan Peoples Party. And it is within striking distance of controlling Punjab, where Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — the former ruling party of the now incarcerated ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif — has marginally more seats. The PTI will be able to form the provincial government there with a coalition, taking in independents. Taking Punjab along, the most populous of Pakistan’s four provinces with a population 100 million, is vital for effective governance and reform.
Before the elections, there was an apprehension that a fragmented national assembly and a fragile coalition will lead to instability. But now Imran is well-placed to initiate the ambitious and detailed reform agenda of the PTI’s electoral manifesto towards building a “naya” or new Pakistan: An agenda based on transforming governance, strengthening the federation, inclusive economic growth, uplifting agriculture, building dams and conserving water, revolutionising social services and ensuring Pakistan’s national security. Internally, a reform agenda that has at its heart the resolve to transform Pakistan into a welfare state where rule of law, meritocracy and transparency are guaranteed to all — a social welfare safety net provided to the marginalised 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. And with such an agenda, the legacy of misrule by a corrupt, inept elite will be relegated to the dustbin of history. With that, the country will be able to stand on its own feet and not remain reliant on foreign aid.
Externally, Pakistan’s core national interests are defined as territorial integrity and sovereignty; socio-economic development; the resolution of the Kashmir dispute; and protection of its citizens wherever they may happen to be. A ‘new’ 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 United States — on the basis of transparency, mutuality of interests and respect for sovereignty. A Pakistan premised on a strong strategic deterrence, but will seek conflict resolution; and that will not fight others’ wars or act as a surrogate for any power.
Implementation of such a multidimensional and integrated reform agenda requires sequencing as there cannot be simultaneous movements on all fronts. Pragmatism is required to tackle the gap between objectives and ground realities. Increasing expenditure on the social sectors and decreasing foreign aid will depend on enhanced revenues. This requires a long-haul reforming of 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-election speech, Imran has been conciliatory, looking to the future, rather than blaming the past. He has come across as ready to cooperate in response to allegations of poll rigging by opponents and seeking better relations with neighbouring India and Afghanistan and with the major global powers, including America.
Pakistan is already working on Afghan reconciliation, but it all depends upon the US deciding on its own Afghan policy. It remains to be seen whether the US will move decisively towards supporting reconciliation rather than a kinetic approach to attrite the Taliban and force them to fall in line, which has been a failure for the 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 has been a slow but upward curve in Pakistan’s relations with Russia.
Though security issues have empowered the military apparatus everywhere, the previous government was criticised for ceding ground to the military on important foreign policy issues. This was not unexpected as for the major part, it had no foreign minister. The PTI, bolstered by strong electoral backing and a stable of competent potential foreign ministers, is positioned to have a tighter control over foreign relations.
Imran’s main attributes as a sportsman, cancer hospital-building humanitarian and then politician have been consistent. But that intensity should not become a rigidity. The PTI does not have a two-thirds majority to push through constitutional amendments that are needed for some key reforms, including making South Punjab a separate province. That will require both caution and skilful manoeuvring 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 will lead to the same polarisation, demonstrations and gridlock that the PTI had used against the previous government. In criminal and civil cases, investigative procedures linked to political opponents should be more thorough and arrests not made for public effect.
Imran has been given this opportunity by a broad cross-section of voters 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 by Pakistan’s famous poet and revolutionary, Faiz Ahmad 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.”
Imran has a huge responsibility to bring all Pakistanis together to make it a stronger, more respected and equitable country.
Tariq Osman Hyder is a retired Pakistani diplomat.