Indian witnessed several events of importance in 2018. But the event that grabbed the maximum headlines, surprisingly, happened across the border. It was the election of former Pakistani cricket captain, Imran Khan, as the Prime Minister of the country. Fighting against all odds, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan won the general elections and was sworn in as the PM on 18 August 2018. After 22 years in politics and fighting 4 elections, he finally became the head of Pakistan.
“I want to clarify why I entered politics. Politics could not have given me anything. I wanted Pakistan to become the country that my leader Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah had dreamed of.” he said in his first public address after his party grabbed a lead in General Elections.
Now that he is the PM, a seat of controversy in Pakistan’s tumultuous politics, his tenure till now gives an interesting insight of what we can expect from him in coming years. One thing that observers have noticed in his tenure is how Imran Khan is trying to follow Narendra Modi.
IMRAN KHAN’s ELECTION PROMISES
“I want to share the kind of Pakistan I envision ─ the type of state that was established in Madina, where widows and the poor were taken care of,”
“Farmers are not paid for their hard work, 25 million children are out of school, our women continue to die in childbirth because we can’t give them basic healthcare, and we can’t give the people clean drinking water. A country is not recognised by the lifestyle of the rich, but by the lifestyle of the poor. No country that has an island of rich people and a sea of poor people can prosper,” he said.
“We are facing governance and economic challenges. Our economy has never been so abysmal. It’s because institutions have not been doing their jobs,” he explained.
“People are not investing in Pakistan. Another problem is unemployment; our youth does not have jobs. We will introduce a system that has never been implemented before ─ a kind of governance system that has not been seen before in this country,” he said.
“We will improve tax culture. People will pay taxes because they will see that their taxes are being spent on them. We will help farmers, the business community and help the youth to find jobs and develop their skills. Our money will be spent on human development,” he added.
“Another challenge is foreign policy. No other country needs peace as we do. We will strengthen our relations with China, they have given us a chance by investing in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and we also want to learn how to improve people’s lives, drag them out of poverty. Will also learn how to deal with corruption,”
“Next is Afghanistan. They have suffered most in the ‘war on terror’, and before that in the Afghan jihad. Peace in Afghanistan means peace in Pakistan,” he said, adding that he envisions open borders with Afghanistan reminiscent to those within the European Union.
“We want to improve our relations with India if their leadership also wants it. This blame game that whatever goes wrong in Pakistan is because of India and vice versa brings us back to square one,” he said.
“If they take one step towards us, we will take two, but we at least need a start.”
“I will live humbly,” he promised. “So far we have seen that everyone who comes to power changes. That will not happen with me.”
These words are of a visionary. It is hard to ignore how similar his election promises are to the speeches made by Narendra Modi in 2014. Fight against corruption, creating jobs, strengthening the foreign policy, all this while reminding his humble background. Nevertheless, with these agendas in mind, he began his tenure as the Prime Minister on a positive note.
On 20 August 2018, Khan’s finance minister Asad Umar said that Khan had ordered him to bring back the laundered money from overseas. Umar also said that workers of Pakistan International Airlines and Pakistan Steel Mills will not be sacked as those people have nothing to do with these organizations being in financial loss.
Next day, his cabinet decided that no announcements of projects of public benefit will be made during public rallies like previous prime ministers used to do. Khan will not use a special plane for international visits and the benefit of travel via first class has been taken away from ministers, the prime minister, president, and the chief justice of Pakistan, all will travel via club class.
On 31 August 2018, Khan’s government announced its first reduction in petroleum prices. The price of petrol, high-speed diesel, kerosene oil, and light diesel was reduced by 2.41, 6.37, .46, and .59 rupees accordingly.
ACTION AGAINST CORRUPTION
Imran Khan’s main war-cry has been against the prevalent corruption in the country. “Corruption has ruined the country’s institutions…Until taking office, I didn’t know the volume and extent of corruption the country had to suffer in the past,” he said on the completion of 100 days in office as the PM.
As part of anti-corruption measures, his cabinet decided to put Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz on exit control list so they cannot leave the country and this announcement was well acted upon. On 24 August, the government launched a probe to audit all metro bus projects initiated by the previous PML-N government, including the established metros in Lahore, Islamabad and Multan, the upcoming Green Line of Karachi, and the Orange Line train of Lahore; the objective was to evaluate the transparency of the projects, the contracts allotted to companies, and the spending of funds.
On 3 September 2018, in a top-level meeting, Khan directed government departments to take proactive measures in preventing money laundering and smuggling across the country through unconventional, illegal methods such as hawala and hundi. He reviewed a presentation from the Federal Board of Revenue on losses incurred to the economy as a result of illegal financial transactions. A committee was constituted to make existing financial laws stronger, and propose amendments to these laws where required, the findings of which would be presented in a week.
In the first 100 days, the PTI government had also strengthened the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to curb money laundering and the government has booked bigwigs involved in power theft.
In October, Imran Khan stated that politicians and officials involved in corruption will not get any protection from legislations like NRO. National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) was promulgated in October 2007 by the government of then-president Gen Parvez Musharraf. Under the ordinance, cases against politicians were removed, paving the way for many of them to return to the country. This was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2009. He stated that all the corrupt officials will be brought under the hammer and Pakistan’s stolen money will be brought back.
However, in a setback to Imran Khan’s crusade against corruption, a senior minister of PTI from Punjab was arrested on Wednesday by The National Accountability Bureau on charges of “possessing assets beyond his known sources.” The veracity of the charges will be known in the coming days.
IMRAN KHAN’S FLAGSHIP HOUSING SCHEME
In October, Imran Khan launched PTI’s ambitious flagship “Naya Pakistan Housing Programme” aimed at building five million low-cost and affordable housing units across the country, fulfilling one of the “cornerstones” of his party’s election manifesto.
The Prime Minister announced that the government would provide the land, facilitate and remove bottlenecks and work under a public-private partnership to construct housing units with all basic amenities.”We want to build houses for those who ordinarily do not even dream of owning a house, as they fall in low-income group and barely manage to find a shelter,” Imran Khan said.
The NPHA (Naya Pakistan Housing Authority) would provide a one-window operation and construct houses in both rural and urban areas, he said and added, the Authority would coordinate with the local bodies and provincial governments.
The core fundamentals of this scheme and its several features bear an uncanny resemblance to India’s PM Awas Yojana. However, only time will tell if NPHP is similar in implementation to its India counterpart or not.
IMRAN KHAN AND BALUCHISTAN
Baluchistan is Pakistan’s largest yet least developed province and has been a centre of insurgencies and human rights violations since 1948. The issue has attracted global attention now and thus to assimilate the region better, Imran Khan has made several announcements regarding this. Talking to Members of National Assembly belonging to Baluchistan Awami Party, Prime Minister Imran Khan said development of the people of Baluchistan, especially equipping youth with skills, is a top priority of the government.
He said technical colleges are being set up in Baluchistan for imparting vocational training to the youth. He has also emphasized on the utilization of solar energy to fulfil energy needs in Baluchistan. Minister for Defence Production Zubaida Jalal apprised the Prime Minister about difficulties of fishermen due to the construction of passageway linking expressway on East Bay. She demanded the expansion of passageway to redress fishermen’s problems. The Prime Minister directed to immediately resolve this matter.
Imran Khan has also said that his government is focused on abolishing Baluchistan’s apprehensions regarding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). He also promised that the region will get its due share from the deal. While stating that the country’s progress was connected with the development of the south-western province, Khan said that an agricultural revolution will be witnessed in Baluchistan following the completion of the Kachhi canal.
“Progress of the country is linked with the development of Baluchistan. The federal government will extend all possible cooperation to Baluchistan to overcome its financial crisis and eliminate poverty. Baluchistan would be paid more than its due share in the CPEC projects,” He said in October last year.
Simply put, Baluchistan is to Pakistan what India is to Kashmir. Narendra Modi has adopted an aggressive policy to curb insurgency in Kashmir while talking of development for the region. Imran Khan, more or less, seems to be on a similar path of tackling Pakistan’s Achilles heel.
IMRAN KHAN’S ENVIRONMENTAL INITIATIVES
Tackling pollution and climate change was also listed in PTI’s manifesto. Following up with their promise, the initiative of Clean and Green Pakistan was launched. A nation-wide drive has been launched to create awareness among the citizens to keep their environment neat and clean. Several celebrities and personalities have been involved in the campaign.
A project to plant 10 billion trees in 5 years has also been launched by the PTI government. Taking a page out of Indian PM Modi’s book, a campaign has been launched in Pakistan to make the country open-defecation free.
According to Khan, the country’s economy faces costs of between US$6-10bn per year to cope with investing in a new green energy system and to prepare for floods, droughts and heat waves. His government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has made climate change a priority, he said, with the allocation of two billion rupees (around $20m) to focus on green initiatives.
Imran Khan has also been vocal about the country’s water crisis. Khan made his second televised address to the nation in September. The speech, which was only a few minutes long, stressed the importance of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam and the extremely critical need for water storage infrastructure in Pakistan’s immediate future, which was faced with the threats of severe drought and depletion of resources. Khan called on overseas Pakistanis and also appealed to all country folk to generously donate to the public fund created by the Chief Justice of Pakistan which sought to raise money for the dam project. The speech had such an impact that several eminent Pakistani personalities in the country and overseas made sizeable donations to the fund.
IMRAN KHAN’S FOREIGN POLICY
Pakistan’s foreign policy rests on four pillars: It’s on-again-off-again relations with the US; Its continuous interactions with Afghanistan; Its never-ending rivalry with India; and the role of Pakistani Military in its foreign policy. No Pakistani leader has ever been able to have definite control over the country’s international relations. Moreover, Imran Khan took over Pakistan’s reigns at a time when its relations with the 3 countries are probably at its lowest ebb.
The United States has frozen its aid to Pakistan. India has been critical of its actions and has made several attempts to isolate the country in the International arena. And Afghanistan’s President Ghani levelled allegations that Taliban’s attack on Ghazni involved militants of Pakistan. Thus, a cautious and determined approach by Pakistan’s PM is expected and he has begun well on that front, for now at least.
American President Donald Trump and Imran Khan had an exchange of words in November with Trump accusing Pakistan of “not doing a damn thing to help us” despite billions of dollars of military assistance. In response, Mr Khan said: “I would never want to have a relationship where Pakistan is treated like a hired gun — given money to fight someone else’s war. The Taliban-US-Pakistan problem seems more unsolvable as the days pass. Pakistan’s growing proximity to China has added a new dynamic to the situation.
In August, Khan met the Chinese ambassador where they discussed the strength and progress of their relations. He has met delegations of Saudi Arabia, Japan, and Qatar among others and strengthened Pakistan’s relations further with these countries.
A dispute arose after Mike Pompeo’s call with Khan where he discussed “terrorists operating from within Pakistan”. While Pakistan’s Foreign Office denied any such talk, the US released a transcript causing major diplomatic embarrassment to Pakistan. A week later, the Secretary of State visited Islamabad where both sides of talk of improving their bilateral relations and ensuring peace in the region.
IMRAN KHAN AND INDIA
Any change in Pakistan’s ruling regime opens a Pandora Box for India-Pakistan relations. What will happen? How will the relations change? Will they improve? The answers to these questions are for another time. But, if the few albeit significant events that happened since Imran Khan’s swearing-in are to be considered, the next few years are going to be very crucial.
In August, Prime minister Imran Khan offered India peace talks to improve mutual relationships for better trade and normalise the situation in the region. He further said that the only way to move forward is through dialogues. He also offered humanitarian assistance to the flood-ravaged Kerala. In late August, A nine-member Indian delegation under the Permanent Indus Commission arrived in Pakistan on a two-day visit to discuss water sharing rights as per the Indus Waters Treaty, and to discuss bilateral concerns on current hydro-projects.
The closest that Imran Khan came to interaction with India was at the ceremony for the opening of Kartarpur Corridor. With several Indian leaders in attendance, he said, “The only issue between us is Kashmir and all it needs is just two capable leadership to resolve this issue”. This comes soon after External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said there will be no dialogue with Pakistan unless it desists from terrorist activities against India.
“Unless and until Pakistan stops terrorist activities in India, there will be no dialogue and we will not participate in SAARC,” Swaraj had said.
However, just 2 months later, Imran Khan took a dig at Indian PM Narendra Modi and India’s Internal situation. He posted a tweet that compares the 2 leaders’ treatment of religious minorities through an image. “Two countries, two leaders, two days, two news” reads the image. Imran Khan’s headline was about how he declared an ancient Hindu site as national heritage whereas Modi’s headline was about a Muslim being lynched for cow theft. He drew the attention towards the treatment of minorities in both countries. However, this wasn’t received well in India with even opposition leaders like Asaduddin Owaisi criticizing the Pakistan PM.
Clearly, India-Pakistan relations are in for a bumpy ride ahead.
The 65-year-old former cricketer has begun his political innings on the front foot, just like his Indian counter-part did. He’s looking to clear the boundary with every ball. Be it foreign policy, austerity measures or economic activities, he has made his intentions clear. It would be interesting to see how long he lasts given he’s yet to face the bouncer of the infamous Pakistani Military! One thing is clear though, he’ll leave his mark on Pakistan’s politics in his trademark charismatic style and the way he’s steering his government, comparisons to Narendra Modi will only become inevitable.