MOSCOW, July 30 (Sputnik) – Imran Khan, who surged into office with a strong national support by promising an idealistic scenario of lifting millions out of poverty and combating corruption in Pakistan, could be quickly dethroned by its own people who had voted for him in Wednesday’s election if he does not put in concrete efforts and take painful but necessary steps, experts told Sputnik.
Pakistan’s centrist party Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by former cricketer Imran Khan, won the general election after it received 116 out of the 272 directly elected seats in the lower chamber of the Pakistani parliament.
“Imran Khan will have to put in concrete efforts in the education and healthcare departments, in improving the performance of bureaucratic sectors and in alleviating the poverty that most of the masses of Pakistan continue to live in; or he will be severely criticized and might be electorally punished more severely than conventional parties in the next elections. He served idealistic dreams in a silver platter to the gullible hopeful masses, and so his government will be judged accordingly harsh,” Muhammad Zia, a research assistant at the Center for International Strategic Studies (CISS), told Sputnik.
Saima Sial, a senior research fellow at CISS, in turn, noted that only time would tell if Khan would be able to honor his promises despite the obstacles in his path. “Running an election campaign is different from holding a public office and so much would have to be seen in terms of how much of what he claimed, he actually delivers under a challenging internal and regional environment,” she stressed.
The dust and smoke have hardly settled over the nation following the election, which was overshadowed by allegations of interference of Pakistan’s military in the vote as well as restrictions on freedom of speech and the media, but Khan already declared on Monday that he intended to swear in on August 11 as the country’s new prime minister, according to local media.
In order to become next country’s leader, Khan needs to win over independents and smaller parties gaining enough coalition support to reach the magical number for a majority in the parliament, according to the experts.
“He will need to make very sensitive decisions in choosing his coalition partners. Once he begins to form his government, he’ll face the crucial task of choosing the right candidates to pick for his cabinet, and in the most important seats of the government, for instance the candidates for foreign minister, minister of defense, interior minister, and the candidates for the Chief Minister positions for KPK [Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province] and the newly attained government in Punjab …. The public won’t tolerate the same old corrupt faces holding the seats of the government in this ‘Naya Pakistan’ (New Pakistan). Making wise and sensitive decisions on this front will be the earliest crucial challenge facing the new government,” Zia noted.
TEST OF ECONOMY
Both experts agreed that economy remained the biggest challenge for a pivotal nation and the world’s sixth-most populated country that has nuclear arsenal and strategic location in the region. For decades, it faced serious security problems with extremism and terrorism coupled with serious economic difficulties. Nowadays, Pakistan is undergoing great stress with a foreign debt exceeding $90 billion.
“With a huge and mounting debt that has crippled Pakistan’s economy, Imran Khan’s government faces a colossal economic challenge in terms of how to get the country back on its feet. As foreign exchange reserves are running out and dollar is pushing against rupee, the country needs an economic package or a loan facility,” Zia highlighted.
He noted that the steps that the next prime minister would have to take would obviously be painful.
“In any case, the public reaction to asking for loans from the IMF or friendly countries will be stressful for Imran Khan as he has always spoken against the previous governments borrowing,” Zia pointed.
FOREIGN POLICY CHALLENGES
Assuming Khan gets the Prime Minister job, his cabinet will face a multitude of foreign policy challenges as well, according to the experts.
“There is an upcoming election in India in 2019, US forces in Afghanistan wanting to dictate, impose their terms of cooperation with Pakistan on Afghan Taliban issue, internal stability, security issues, water crisis,” Sial stressed.
During his election campaign, Khan declared Pakistan’s readiness to extend an olive branch toward its neighboring India and was ready to march two steps forward in return for India’s one step toward peace in South Asia.
Sial noted that when it comes to a dialogue with India, it can be complicated by several factors. “The media coverage in Indian channels has been very toxic against Khan even though in his speech he was calling for peace with India. In addition, it is election time in India and although hostility with India is no more a major election agenda in Pakistan, in India hostility with Pakistan is a riding political agenda during elections and so major headway may not be possible very soon,” she stated.
The experts underlined that under Khan, they expected Pakistan’s clearer articulation of its foreign policy and an active engagement with neighbors.
During his election campaign, Khan spoke of his overall desire for better relations with the neighboring countries such as Afghanistan and Iran as well as with China – a neighbor that he praised conspicuously as a role model.
“Touching upon his commitment to improved relations with Afghanistan and the US whose presence in the former makes it a direct neighbor of Pakistan, Imran Khan pointed out that he seeks an open border policy with Afghanistan. It’s clear that betterment of foreign policy relations with these three countries and continuing the spell of mutually beneficial relations with China is high on the priority list for Khan,” Zia said.
Sial, in her turn, pointed that with the United States, which in recent years had harshly criticized Pakistan for Afghan policies and slashed military aid to Islamabad, Khan showed forcefulness calling for more equally beneficial relationship.
“US administration has already stated its willingness in working with the new administration and his narrative about dialogue and peace talks (with warring factions in Afghanistan – Taliban and the unity government) would be a positive denominator in this regard for US-Pakistan relationship in the context of Afghanistan,” Sial said, noting, nevertheless, that Khan was a known critic of the US drone strikes and that could cause tensions.
Being A-list celebrity and having strong name recognition, Khan, according to the experts, could have better chances to defend country’s interests in the international arena but to succeed as a leader should focus first and foremost on social and economic issues through developing skilled manpower at home, as human development was a main political manifesto on which people of Pakistan have elected him.