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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 38 New Delhi September 8, 2018

Imran Khan: A New Hope for Pakistan

Sunday 9 September 2018


by Ravindra Sharma

Merely a month-and-a-half ago, elections were held in Pakistan (July 25). As the political dust of elections has almost settled, one seeks to analyse the outcome of the elections with an open and fresh mind. While cricketer-turned-political leader Imran khan was eloquently busy to take oath as the 22nd Prime Minster of Pakistan, India lost two important personalities. The first, a liberal Hindu leader, A.B. Vajpayee who ruled over India (in 1998 and 1999-2004), and the second, a titan of a journalist, Kuldip Nayar, who contributed to the growth of the “civil society” by writing in Hindi and English for more than six decades. Nayar also came to India from Pakistan soon after the partition and struggled till his last breath for a better India. Sadly, at the time of writing, while Kerala is facing the worst natural disaster (floods) in its history, the ruling party of India (BJP) is busy in preparing a “blueprint” for winning the elections in three States (Chhattisgarh, MP and Rajasthan) and subsequently the general elections of 2019.

To return, post-Pervez Musharraf (the fourth military dictator), Pakistan witnessed three consecutive elections, a remarkable achievement in the democratic history of Pakistan. In the last ten years Pakistan was ruled by two political parties. First, the Pakistan People’s Party led by the Bhuttos (2008-2013). Second, the Pakistan Muslim League (N) led by Nawaz Sharif. Currently, the PPP is “in poor shape” and Nawaz Sharif, along with his daughter and son-in-law, is in jail under charges of corruption. Positively, the radical Islamists, such as Hafez Sayeed and others, were outrightly rejected by the voters of Pakistan. Analytically, the elections of 2018 clearly show that despite the odds and obstacles, democracy is maturing in Pakistan. Second, corruption has become “a serious issue” in Pakistani society. Third, an urge for development has emerged in Pakistan. Fourth, Kashmir is a nominal issue in the country. Fifth, radical Islam carries no influence among the voters and moreover the “young generation”, along with the emerging middle class of Pakistan, is in search of an honest, visionary and educated leadership which was offered by Imran Khan and his colleagues during the latest elections.

Khan, as a cricketer, defeated England by 22 runs and won the World Cup (1992), laid the foundation of the PTI (1996) and struggled for 22 years to become the Prime Minister (2018). In his first address to the nation, he pledged against “corruption” saying: “I promise to my nation today that we will bring the tabdelli (change) that this nation was starving for and that we have to hold strict accountability in this country against the people who looted it. I promise that I will work against them.”

Further, there are several serious challenges that Imran Khan has to grapple with in Pakistan, such as to revamp Pakistan’s economy, to provide a transparent administration, to check the influence of radical Islamists, to improvise the agricultural growth, to boost the industrial production, to rejuvenate Pakistan’s health and education sector, to carefully maintain a distance from the military, to develop harmonious and cordial relations with India and the USA. In a word, to achieve the goal of a “civil society” or to lay the foundations of a welfare state. Alas, the ex-colonial countries are the worst victims of “poor governance” and these include both India and Pakistan. Frankly, violence, corruption and no governance are the chronic maladies of Pakistan. Despite criticism, post-independence India produced a huge middle class (around 300 million) which keeps hammering the ruling parties. However, Pakistan’s middle class is yet to speak out or protest against the ruling parties. True, the journalists, lawyers and youth of Pakistan are struggling hard against the ruling elites; yet, the socio-political consciousness among the “poorer sections” of Pakistan is still missing. Objectively, the idea of socialism or communism is absolutely absent in Pakistan. Probably, Islamic consciousness does not allow the spread of this idea or to speak against religion. Religion-ridden Pakistan is yet to understand the role of religion in the creation of a welfare state.

Another point of difference between India and Pakistan’s democratic history is that in the worst phase of India’s democratic journey, Indian ruling parties had not allowed the military to “take over”. Even during the Emergency (1975-1977) Mrs Gandhi did not call the military to arrest the political leaders of the JP Movement. On the contrary, Pakistan’s military establishment is fond of state power. So far Pakistan has been ruled by four military dictators. As per the Constitution of 1973 Pakistan is a democratic country and follows parliamentary democracy. Frankly, the rule of military is a black spot for a democratic country. Whether the military has rigged the elections of 2018 in favour of Imran Khan or not is a matter of dispute. However, as a liberal democrat Khan must ensure that under no circumstances, he will succumb to the pressure of the military establishment. A few in India’s Left, liberal and democratic circles are really perturbed on learning that out of 21 members of Imran’s Cabinet, 12 are those who were Musharraf’s henchmen.

From the point of view of foreign policy Pakistan is maintaining harmonious and congenial relations with the Muslim world and Communist China. However, with India and the USA, Pakistan’s relations are quite acrimonious. While Kashmir is a core issue between India and Pakistan, cross-border terrorism is a central issue between the USA and Pakistan. It goes without saying that on the issue of Kashmir the USA had wholeheartedly supported Pakistan during the Cold War. As long as the Soviet Union survived, the USA continued as a friendly ally of Pakistan. However, in the post-Soviet era, the USA sought to forge close ties with India. As regards the Taliban, the USA and Pakistan’s third dictator, Zia-Ul-Haq, jointly created the Taliban to fight the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. After sometime the Taliban bulldozed the American Twin Towers in New York, and radical Islamists became the Frankenstine of Pakistan. Time and scope does not allow us to elaborate on Samuel Huntington’s thesis Clash of Civilisations, which in a nutshell means Hinduism plus Christianity versus Islam. Currently the ruling party of India (BJP) suffers from the concept of an aggressive Hindu nationalism, which means it is anti-Muslim and anti-Communist. In retaliation, if Imran Khan’s Pakistan follows the policy of “radical Islam”, then another war between India and Pakistan cannot be averted. Factually, the ruling party of India can provoke Imran’s Pakistan to fight another war so that it wins the 2019 elections.

Who am I to advice Khan? However, Khan and his colleagues should craft Pakistan’s Kashmir policy in such a way that the ruling party of India is isolated and unable to win the elections of 2019. Khan may not be able to solve the Kashmir dispute; however, his efforts to build trust between India and Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir will always be welcomed by India’s Left and democratic circles. In this regard the ex-Chief Minister of Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti’s statement is praiseworthy. She has boldly said: “If India can talk with military dictator Pervez Musharraf, why can’t it do so with democratically elected Imran Khan?” As regards China, in the post-Soviet era, India is behaving as a junior partner of the USA, resulting in better China-Pak understanding and affinity. However, Khan’s China policy should not lead him to turning Pakistan into a colony of China. China’s aid for the development of Pakistan should always be utilised for the welfare state but not at the cost of sovereignty. Pakistan is a “sovereign country”.

A few words about the invitation for Navjot Singh Sidhu, which triggered a controversy in this country. Imran’s team invited four celebrities of India, Amir Khan, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sidhu. Sidhu accepted the invitation but the other three either ignored it or declined to attend the ceremony. Harshly, the current ruling party is trying to project a new definition of patriotism. As long as Sidhu served the political interest of the BJP, he was considered a patriot; but the day he joined the Congress party, he became a traitor. If he rejoins the BJP then again he will be considered a patriot. The conclusion is: except the BJP, the rest in the country are traitors.

To return, Khan’s Pakistan must build trust, develop trade and initiate dialogue with India. He must ensure that more Pakistani cricketers visit India and vice-versa. In his tenure more cultural interaction and people-to-people contacts are required between India and Pakistan. He must guarantee that radical Islamists of Pakistan do not enter Kashmir to create more conflict. Factually, India and Pakistan are in the transitional phase of history. Once an Italian thinker Gramsci pointed out that in the transitional phase mafias plunder the society.

Sadly, this is a dark phase of India and Pakistan; however this phase will continue to be iluminated by the unsung heroes such as Kuldip Nayar and Gauri Lankesh. Communal mafias, radical Islamists, military dictators have no sense of history. They are only trouble-makers; trouble-makers don’t create history. They only malign history. History is created by Gandhi, Frontier Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Mao and Lenin. Above all, a stable, developed and well-off Pakistan will work in favour of India and a mature, prosperous and powerful India will work in favour of Pakistan. Let us see how much Imran Khan’s Pakistan achieves in its efforts to reach the goal of a wellfare state.

Prof Ravindra Sharma is an eminent scholar of Chinese Studies. He also follows the developments in South Asia. He has published extensively on politics, history, literature and international relations. Currently, he is a Senior Associate Professor at the Doon University SOL, Dehradun. He may be contacted at radical_sharma[at]

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