Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. Photo: AFP/ PTI
An aide to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has been accused of hiding a family business empire overseas. Photo: AFP / PTI

The world is moving into a new era, an era where globalization and protectionism are competing for dominance. It is that point in time when nations will determine their roles for the next 50 years. It’s a bit like the post-election period where everyone wants to have a role in the new global governance system and countries are vying for control. In the midst of this chaos and power struggle, strong leaders have emerged around the world to steer their countries into the future.

These strong leaders have the will and the courage to make difficult and unpopular decisions for the benefit of their respective countries. These leaders are popular and have ambitious plans for their people.

The strongest among these leaders is definitely Chinese President Xi Jinping, driving his nation into the globalization era with his mega-project the Belt and Road Initiative. His crackdown on massive corruption has increased his popularity with the common citizens. His popular notion of going after “tigers and flies” was a popular hashtag for a long time on the Chinese social media.

Donald Trump is another powerful leader breaking free of the chains of the powerful US establishment. We can agree or disagree with his decisions, but there is no denying that his decisions are powerful and affect the world. His Twitter barrage has been a new, economical and effective way of engagement. His “America First” policy is drifting the US toward protectionism, but these decisions are popular with his voter base.

Vladimir Putin has been in the game for far too long to be left off this list. If there is anyone who really understands global political dynamics, it’s Putin. He was already in the corridors of power when his counterparts were still figuring out their mid-life career choices. He has total control of the state authority and establishment. His tough stance against US involvement in Syria has returned Russian to global geopolitics.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been re-elected as the president of Turkey. His re-election gives him a fresh mandate to change the system, giving him sweeping administrative powers. People power averted a military coup against his government, and he is one of the few to have survived such an event.

Narendra Modi has emerged as another strongman in Asia. He has brought sweeping reforms to India’s financial and agriculture sectors.

Mahathir Mohamed has returned to power in Malaysia at the age of 92 with a strong anti-corruption and economic agenda, and most of his voters are young people. He was the one who changed Malaysia’s course toward development in the early 1980s.

Pakistan has voted for change after a long time. Imran Khan led his Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf” (PTI) party into last month’s general election. He obtained the required majority in the National Assembly and two provincial assemblies to form governments. PTI is also sharing power in Balochistan province in an alliance.

Khan came out as a vocal critic of US policy in Afghanistan and took a hard line against US drone strikes in Pakistan. His anti-American rhetoric brought him into the media spotlight. He has been a constant supporter of talks with the Taliban and now the US, after 17 years, has entered such talks on how to end the conflict.

After the general elections of 2008, Khan campaigned hard against corruption, and eventually his movement against issues pertaining to corruption led to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s demise. Imran Khan has promised sweeping reforms in governance and economy of the country. He has promised austerity measures, and one of the first steps he took was to move into the ministers’ enclave instead of the luxurious prime minister’s house. He has also decided against inviting foreign dignitaries or having an ostentatious oath-taking ceremony.

He has strong intentions of curbing corruption and nepotism in the government and Pakistani society in general. In his first telecast to the nation, he expressed his desire to learn how to curtail corruption. He is a great admirer of President Xi’s “catching tigers and flies” policy toward corruption.

Imran Khan has also vowed mutually beneficial and balanced ties with the United States. This is the first time in history that a Pakistani leader has proposed the term “balanced ties” and it will have far-reaching implications in Pakistani-US relations.

When I talk about strong leaders, it’s not just mental strength, but also physical strength, and that would reflect on his diplomacy and foreign policy. In the end we are all humans, and humans get intimidated by strong physiques, which is an area where Khan as a sportsman does well. Usually this point also gives leverage on an interpersonal level of communication.

It is the need of the hour that Pakistan gets its fair share of strong leadership. Imran Khan, although he will have challenges ahead of him, has to keep a cool head and deal with the issues that have plagued Pakistan for decades. It will be a slow and painful task, but in the end it will be worth it.

Professor Zamir Ahmed Awan is a sinologist at the National University of Sciences and Technology (NUST) Chinese Studies Center of Excellence, Islamabad, Pakistan. Posted to the Pakistani Embassy in Beijing as science counselor (technical affairs) from 2010-16, he was responsible for promoting cooperation between Pakistan and China in science, technology, and higher education.

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