Pakistan, situated strategically next to Afghanistan and Iran, the proud owner of the Islamic Nuclear Bomb and on-again/off-again US ally against Soviets/Jihad/??? since about 1979.
Pakistan (Urdu: پاکِستان), officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan (Urdu: اِسلامی جمہوریہ پاکِستان), is a country in South Asia. It is the fifth-most populous country with a population exceeding 212,742,631 people. In area, it is the 33rd-largest country, spanning 881,913 square kilometres (340,509 square miles). Pakistan has a 1,046-kilometre (650-mile) coastline along the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by India to the east, Afghanistan to the west, Iran to the southwest, and China in the far northeast. It is separated narrowly from Tajikistan by Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor in the northwest, and also shares a maritime border with Oman…
A regional and middle power, Pakistan has the sixth-largest standing armed forces in the world and is also a nuclear power as well as a declared nuclear-weapons state, the second in South Asia and the only nation in the Muslim world to have that status. Pakistan has a semi-industrialised economy with a well-integrated agriculture sector and a growing services sector. The Pakistani economy is the 24th-largest in the world in terms of purchasing power and the 41st-largest in terms of nominal GDP (World Bank). It is ranked among the emerging and growth-leading economies of the world, and is backed by one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing middle class.
So it might matter.
Imran Khan, a charismatic cricket star who has fiercely criticized American counterterrorism policy in a region plagued by extremism, appeared poised on Thursday to become Pakistan’s next prime minister.
After preliminary results showed his party decisively ahead in an election that critics say was deeply marred, Mr. Khan addressed the nation on television, outlining what he would do as prime minister.
He said he would fight corruption at the highest levels, improve relations with China, seek a “mutually beneficial” relationship with the United States and create a just welfare state along the lines of what the Prophet Muhammad did centuries ago.
“We’re going to run Pakistan in a way it’s never been run before,” he said.
In recent months, army and intelligence officers pressured, threatened and blackmailed politicians from rival parties, human rights groups have said, steadily thinning out Mr. Khan’s competition.
Members of rival parties accused election officers of fraud, saying many ballots had been counted in secret, guarded by soldiers. But Pakistan’s election authorities said the vote, on Wednesday, had been fair.
“The way this stage has been set, it would have been a surprise if he didn’t win,” said Nighat Dad, the executive director of Digital Rights Foundation, an advocacy group.
So there’s that. But Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party nonetheless won across a lot of Pakistan (the red bits below):
Or at least big chunks of Punjab, NWFP, and also of Pakistan’s two metropolises: Lahore and Karachi.
Is this meaningful regarding Pakistan’s foreign policy? That’s debatable:
Little is likely to change for Pakistan’s foreign relations under Khan. Although he has a history of opposing US drone attacks and previously urged dialogue with, rather than action against, the Pakistan Taliban, it is the military rather than civilian leaders that control foreign policy in Pakistan. Whether cooperation with the Americans or Afghanistan continues is the military’s call, not Khan’s. Pakistan’s relations with the US have improved in recent months, following its cooperation over the killing of the Pakistan Taliban leader Maluana Fazlullah in June this year, but it remains under international criticism for having “failed to act against terror financing on its soil”.
Future relations with India are more uncertain. Khan taunted Nawaz Sharif over his “friendship” with Narendra Modi before the election. Khan has since said he would seek good relations with India but it’s the Pakistani military which calls the shots on relations with India, not elected prime ministers.
How about Pakistan’s domestic policies? Horrific:
Khan, the cricketer-turned-politician who is the main challenger in the election, has caused concern in recent weeks with his full-throated defence of Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy laws, which carry a maximum penalty of death.
It is a hugely inflammatory charge in Pakistan. The state has never executed a blasphemy convict, but mere accusations of insulting Islam have sparked mob lynchings and murders.
International rights groups have long criticised the colonial-era legislation as a tool of oppression and abuse, particularly against minorities. In recent years, it has also been weaponised to smear dissenters and even politicians.
The topic is so incendiary that mere calls to reform the law have provoked violence, most notably the assassination of Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most populous province, by his own bodyguard in 2011.
The assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, was angered by Taseer’s reformist stance on blasphemy. Feted as a hero by hardliners, he was executed by the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government in 2016, provoking Islamist fury.
Now Qadri’s image is being used on election banners, and some of Khan’s candidates are asking Pakistanis if they plan to vote for “the party who executed him”, placing themselves firmly on the side of Islamists.
At one rally in Islamabad this month, Khan told clerics in televised comments that the PTI “fully” supports the blasphemy law “and will defend it”.
Which is bad. Though a contradictory position from Mani Shankar Aiyer:
More significant than who won is who lost. Hafiz Saeed’s Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek (God is Great Movement) fielded 50 candidates. All of them lost. Great indeed is God! The self-styled “Islam-pasand” parties — the Jama’at-e-Islami, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan, the Milli Awami League, et. al — banded together in a new political alliance called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (United Implementation Alliance) – under the formidable Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the veteran Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (NWFP) cleric-cum-neta who has even chaired the Senate External Affairs Committee – and lost almost all the seats they contested, not just in Punjab but even on their home ground in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KP). Even the Brahelvi Tehreek-e-Labaik-e-Pakistan (Pakistan ‘Allah Be Adored’ Movement) has bitten the dust despite fielding close to 200 candidates in about two-thirds of the parliamentary constituencies. Equally, the factional breakaway groups from the principal Islam-pasand parties have uniformly failed to fulfill Pak Senator Sherry Rahman’s nightmare, revealed on election night on one of our TV channels, of terrorists filling the ranks of the Pakistan National Assembly (parliament).
For us in India, the near-universal rejection of Pakistan’s religion-based parties is perhaps the most significant outcome of this election – for it demonstrates (once again) that far from being partisans of fanatical Islamic terrorists, Pakistanis, by and large, reject religious extremism and terror politics. The mainstream of Pakistan’s public opinion is remarkably like India’s: deeply religious but very wary of basing politics on religion, and wedded to the ballot rather than the bullet.
I think he is perhaps overly optimistic — about Pakistan and also about India. But those fringe Islamic parties didn’t win any seats in Pakistan. On the other hand, Imran Khan appealed to their supporters with this blasphemy stuff and took their votes, so….?
Barkha Dutt asks all the right questions, and points out this (I had never heard it but, in terms of populism, having a global Barney Decade this sort of feels right — in other words, the intersection of possibility and desire):
Though some commentators have likened his political outsider status and populist politics to those of President Trump, his rhetorical criticism of the United States is likely to put him on an early collision course with the administration in Washington. His first public comments after declaring victory reinforced his sharp criticism of the U.S.-Pakistan equation, which he called “a one-sided relationship in which America paid Pakistan to fight its war.”
Of course, not many believe (despite the denials and assertions of autonomy) that Khan would have any significant space to craft his foreign policy independent of Pakistan’s all-powerful military. How he negotiates his relationship with the Pakistani army will be key, especially with the announcement of his victory coming amid allegations by rivals and rights groups of voting manipulation by the Pakistani security establishment. Khan swiftly offered to support investigations into any genuine complaints. But his real test of independence will be how he steers his country’s relationship with India. Ousted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, now in jail in a corruption case, is widely seen to have been punished by the Pakistani army, in part for being too friendly with India. Khan also called Sharif a “security risk” and taunted him for “speaking the language of [Narendra] Modi” after Sharif admitted to Pakistan’s role in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.
So, it looks like not much will really change. But it might, and it seems like it’s potentially a big deal. Pakistan’s own redoubtable Najam Sethi sums it up:
Imran Khan will be Prime Minister, he will choose the next President of Pakistan and the PTI will rule in Islamabad, KP and possibly even in Punjab while mounting stiff opposition to the PPP in Sindh. Why was such a sweeping victory required of it? What should we expect in the new Pakistan?
…What’s on the cards?
A State of Emergency could be imposed under the garb of financial necessity pinned to the alleged misdeeds of the previous regimes…[that] would restrict fundamental rights and pave the way for a witch hunt of political and media opponents..and detract criticism from unpopular policy decisions or incompetent and corrupt mismanagement….
The constitution may also be targeted for amendment. The 18th Amendment, for starters, has become irksome because it shaves the federal pool — which is required to pay for increasing defense expenditures and pensions— by devolving financial resources to the provinces. A need may also be felt to reduce the size and strength of Punjab [and] to carve it up into three or more “units” that are politically more “manageable”.
But the…economy needs more than a shot in the arm…The value of [the] rupee is going to fall…IMF structural reforms will dampen infrastructural growth and employment. This will give grist to the opposition, media and judiciary to stand up and create hurdles in his path.
All scary stuff! But he concludes, comparing Imran Khan to Pakistan’s last Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (as mentioned now in jail on corruption charges):
Admittedly, the Miltablishment has stitched up an extraordinary political dispensation in difficult times. But, unlike Nawaz, the person they have chosen to lead it is strong-willed and unpredictable. In fact, Nawaz was eminently pliant. Yet, after a while, he felt compelled, given the nature of power, to try and be his own man. But this was unacceptable and he had to pay the price for even thinking such rash thoughts. Imran Khan, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish. He may have embraced the Miltablishment as a tactical move but sooner rather than later he will begin to challenge the conventional wisdom of the national security state handed down to him. That’s when all bets will be off.
Anecdote: a Pakistani friend What’s App-ed me Imran Khan’s First Speech after winning the election. As one does, I said God bless his endeavor — but also said that I hoped this wasn’t going to be their Rajiv Gandhi moment. (Because that did not end unambiguously well for India.)
“That’s the majority prediction” came the immediate response.