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News analysis: Imran Khan takes guard in Pakistan's new political innings

Imran Khan, chief of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, speaks to media after voting at a polling station in Islamabad on July 25, 2018.   | Photo Credit: AP

A decisive break has taken place in the politics of Pakistan after 30 years. Neither the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) nor the Pakistan Muslim League (N) will form a government in Islamabad this time. It will be the newish kid on the block — the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.

Though formal results to the 272-member National Assembly are yet to come, it’s evident that the power shift desired by Pakistan’s ''permanent political party'' — the army — has happened.

The establishment’s new bet is Imran Khan, who has been very public in his praise for Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa. Officially, the army maintains that it has no role in politics, but every observer of the country’s politics is aware of its widespread role — from providing security to polling stations to conducting the country’s census.

Whatever be the merits of the corruption case against former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, there is little doubt that the Supreme Court cleared the path to power for Mr. Khan. Corruption among politicians and generals is a not-so-new issue for Pakistan, but the doggedness with which the court pursued Mr. Sharif is notable.

Militants’ entry as politicians

For Pakistanis, India was not an issue in the current elections. But for Indians, the efforts to “mainstream” anti-India militants, was very much an issue. From Imran Khan to former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, everyone wanted the support of the “naya politicians”.

The most blatant example was that of the PTI welcoming Harkat-ul-Mujahideen leader Fazlur-Rehman Khaleel into the party with his supporters.

Mr. Khaleel is known to have been involved in the conspiracy to hijack IC-814 to Kabul in 1999 and secure the release of his one-time associate Masood Azhar from an Indian jail.

Sunni sectarian leader Ahmed Ludhianvi of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a new name for the Sipah-e-Sahaba, mysteriously had the ban on his movements and activities lifted in the run-up to the election by the “caretaker” government. Such a “ban” could only have been lifted with the blessings of the country’s security apparatus.

On relations with India, it’s unlikely that a new civilian government in Pakistan will be better disposed towards New Delhi than its predecessors. The 2018 PTI manifesto talks of resolving the Kashmir issue “within the parameters” of the United Nations resolutions but also speaks of lasting peace with India.

The line on U.N. resolutions is pretty much a red rag for India and can only impede any thought process in Delhi that might favour resumption of bilateral talks and exchanges with India.

Back channel the best bet

The back channel remains the best bet to ensure contact in times of crisis between India and Pakistan. Given that Pakistan will only have a new civilian Prime Minister and not a new Army chief, business will continue as usual..

Of course, statements from the new Prime Minister and his government will be closely watched, but it would be naïve to expect from Imran Khan the personal positivity that Mr. Sharif or Asif Ali Zardari displayed occasionally towards India. Mr. Khan’s relationship with the Pakistan army will also be under watch. This is an interventionist force that wants its way without taking the reins of power directly. Conflict of interest is inevitable.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 9:13:40 PM |

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