Imran Khan has been accused of bowing to religious extremists in Pakistan. Photo: AFP/Aamir Qureshi
Imran Khan could well return to power in Pakistan, and the US must be prepared to deal with him. Photo: AFP / Aamir Qureshi

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is poised to rule Pakistan for the next five years. But before we anoint him as the next prime minister of Pakistan, the arithmetic of the business needs clarity.

The total number of seats in the National Assembly is 342. Of these,  272 are directly elected, but only 269 were contested in the July general election. The 70-seat balance is filled by nomination, 60 seats for women and 10 for non-Muslims.

Imran Khan’s PTI has won 116, and is the single largest party in the National Assembly. However, the party will have to shed up to six seats, with Khan having won from five constituencies and two other party leaders each having won from two national/provincial constituencies. (In the Pakistani election process, a candidate can seek election from more than one constituency.) The Election Commission of Pakistan has allocated the reserved seats, giving PTI 33 in all. Nine Independents have joined PTI. Hence it would have an effective bench strength of 152 in the National Assembly of 342.

Reportedly, 27 members of seven other parties will be supporting Khan, taking his tally to 179 and past the simple-majority mark in the National Assembly.

The tally of the next three major parties are: ex-PM Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) 83 seats, Pakistan Peoples Party 52 and Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) 15.

For Imran Khan, it has been a case of making it by the skin of the teeth. Along with Khan himself, an establishment that will be considerably relieved at his making the cut, albeit precariously, would be the Pakistan Army. He has been the army’s favorite for some time.

The military establishment had a role in the Pakistani Supreme Court debarring Nawaz Sharif from holding any public office and also sentencing him to prison. The military also deployed more than 370,000 troops to ensure smooth conduct of elections. The fact that Khan’s position is barely stable ensures that he will be dependent on the army to remain in power.

As far as Pakistani jihadist groups and extreme-right establishments are concerned, they fared poorly in last month’s election, except for MMA, a collection of five religious parties that grossed a total of 15 seats. Terrorist groups made a strong attempt at establishing a foothold in the National Assembly. The charge was led by Hafiz Saeed, leader of Jamaat-ud- Dawa. Having failed to get his own party recognized by the Election Commission, he fielded his candidates through Allahu Akbar Tehreek, an otherwise dormant political party. Not a single candidate of the party was able to win. Among the candidates were his son and son-in-law.

In the hot seat

Imran Khan will occupy perhaps the hottest prime-ministerial office on the Asian continent. A country in a dire financial state, isolated globally and facing an explosive growth of jihadist establishments awaits the former captain of the Pakistani cricket team, one that he steered through many a difficult innings in the past.

Khan has an unenviably uphill task ahead of him. Pakistan needs to reset its relationship with the US, which is well-nigh at its nadir. It has to ensure Chinese patronage without being sucked into a debt trap. It has to get out of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) gray list. Khan has to rid Pakistan of the tag of being the nursery of global jihad.

The bigger challenges for Pakistan lie across its borders. It has to develop a better relationship with Afghanistan. The Afghans have lost all confidence in Pakistan, which they blame for the state of affairs in their country. India has almost given up with Pakistan; New Delhi considers dealing with Islamabad a waste of time and effort.

The biggest challenges Khan faces are in Pakistan’s domestic affairs. He has to rein in the jihadist establishment, an act for which he needs to get the military on board. There is a need to stem the rise of radicalism. A whole generation of Pakistani boys are being schooled in madrasas that teach nothing to earn livelihood, but enough to join the radical ranks when these youths are unable to earn a living.

Pakistan’s economy is in tatters. Every other day it runs to China to borrow enough to keep its foreign-exchange reserves at adequate levels. The Belt and Road Initiative, like Chinese investments otherwise, is proving to be a tightening noose for many countries, and Pakistan could also find itself choking soon. Imran Khan has to negotiate a bailout by the International Monetary Fund, with all the transparency clauses that the IMF will insist on.

Unrest in Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan requires immediate attention. Pakistan-administered Kashmir needs major investments to raise the standard of living of its populace. If not addressed constructively, to put across a tangible possibility in a lighter vein, not just terrorists but bona-fide residents of the area will start attempting to cross over to the Indian side for a better living.

Is Khan the man for the job?

Many more issues could be listed. But another aspect that needs to be considered is how ready the man in the hot seat is to address the multifarious challenges. Is Imran Khan cut out for the job?

His credentials are at best mixed. He has no worthwhile administrative experience. However, he is the favored partner of the Pakistan Army. It’s an army that values its pre-eminence in running the state at the cost of regressive effects on a democratically elected government’s writ.

To ask Imran Khan to tell the army to confine itself to the barracks is of course not an alternative. But it would be prudent to gain some wisdom from the confrontations that have characterized the exchanges between prime ministers and the Pakistani military in the past.

The Pakistan Army carries a legacy of run-ins with most PMs. The worst example was that of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was hanged during the tenure of General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. The judiciary was part of the plot and sentenced him to death.

Even in the case of Nawaz Sharif, the last PM, it was the judiciary that was used to give a veneer of legality to putting him behind bars. Sharif’s incarceration before the elections in effect denied PML-N the services of its most charismatic leader.

Imran Khan has also been known to be soft on terrorists. The coalition government of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province that his party led gave a grant of US$2.3 billion to Darul Uloom Haqqania seminary. The seminary’s tallest flag bearer was none other than Mullah Omar, the now-dead ex-Taliban chief. Will it be possible for Khan now to turn the guns on the terror establishment? Will the army agree to anything beyond selective targeting of jihadist groups? How bloody will the struggle be?

For Imran Khan, it’s an opportunity to put the country back on the rails. Sooner or later, his relationship with the military will experience turbulence. Among his unstated priorities should always be driving the military back to the barracks at an opportune moment.

His political opponents, Shahbaz Sharif of PML-N and possibly the Pakistan Peoples Party leadership could be his partners – something akin to what Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto did to get rid of General Musharraf more than a decade back. They joined hands and created a wave of protests that swept Musharraf away.

Imran Khan has to work with Pakistan’s democratic forces to make Pakistan a democracy.

S K Chatterji

Brigadier S K Chatterji (Retired) served in the Regiment of Artillery of the Indian Army and is a prolific writer.

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