Pakistan’s National Elections took place on 25th July with the 2 main contenders – Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) competing for the majority of the seats in the assembly. After the vote count, PTI won 115 seats out of 270, PML-N won 64 seats and a third, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won 43 seats. Although Khan’s party, PTI, emerged victorious as the single largest party, they had to form a coalition with the other parties like Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, Balochistan Awami Party, Grand Democratic Alliance, Pakistan Muslim League and the Awami Muslim League (Pakistan) to form a majority. The cricketer turned politician was sworn in on August 18th as the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
So, what does his appointment as Pakistan’s Prime Minister mean for India?
Pakistan’s Military, not Imran Khan will be the real ‘captain’
Since independence, Pakistan’s military has ensured their control and supremacy in the country’s political landscape. Today, defense, strategic affairs and foreign affairs, especially relationships with India, China and the US, in particular, are dictated by their powerful military. Now, with Khan coming to power – who many claim has been ‘propped’ up by the Military and whose party is backed by them – we can expect a hawkish foreign policy from his Government. And why not? The Pakistani Military worked pretty hard to oust Nawaz Sharif by implicating him in corruption scandals and getting him arrested, only to bring Imran to power. Some even speculate that the Military worked overtime to skew the poll results in favor of Khan.
Meanwhile, during his election campaign, Imran Khan’s narrative on his opponent Nawaz Sharif consistently revolved around his attempts to have peace talks with India. Khan stated, “Nawaz was very soft towards India. India loves Nawaz. Modi loves Nawaz. But they hate our Pakistani forces. But now they are tensed if Imran comes into power, then he will work for Pakistan”. In another election campaign rally, he called Sharif a security risk for admitting to Pakistan’s role in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. PTI campaign slogans like “Modi ka jo yaar hai, gaddar hai [Any friend of Modi’s is a traitor]”, clearly prove the anti-India stance of the newly formed government.
But it’s no coincidence that a Pakistani government that has apparently been propped up by the Pakistani Military feels this way about someone who seemed open to forging relations with India, or with India on its own. The Pakistani Military has always encouraged this anti-India rhetoric because it helps them stay in power. Watch the video below to understand the impact of the Pakistani Military on Indo-Pak peace.
We can expect many ‘terrorism-related’ bouncers
Times and again, Indo-Pak relations have soured either because terror outfits in Pakistan have violated the ceasefire at the border or because of terror attacks orchestrated by these outfits in India. Back in 2013, Khan called the commander of a terrorist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Wali-Ur-Rehman “pro-peace”. He then suggested opening an office for the Taliban in Pakistan, justifying this suggestion by saying that if the US could open an office for the Afghan Taliban in Qatar, then why couldn’t there be one in Pakistan. This open support for the Taliban earned him the nickname ‘Taliban Khan’. Then in 2018, when Pakistan announced a bill to ban terror groups like Hafiz Saeed-led JuD, Imran Khan supported Saaed. His party also submitted an adjournment notice against the ban. Extreme Islamic ideology coupled with his support for jihad clearly points towards serious security implications for the country. With this ‘Taliban Khan’ leading Pakistan, we might be seeing more such ‘bouncers’ or intimidations from our neighbours.
Boundaries to increase Pakistan’s ‘economic’ score
In his first speech after his election victory, Imran Khan affirmed that both India and Pakistan should have trade ties as it will benefit both the countries. The Pakistani economy is currently in a mess. The country’s deficit is an alarming $18 billion, the Pakistani rupee is shaky, their foreign currency reserve can pay for only 2 months of imports and tax collection is scandalously low. Khan has pledged to fix the economy and provide better infrastructure and jobs, as a part of his ‘New Pakistan’ platform. His solution to this is to have a better and stronger trade partnership with India. It could also mean India and Pakistan finally agreeing upon a non-discriminatory market access program under which Pakistan opens up trade with India while promoting more business between the 2 nations.
Khan might make a ‘sporting’ appeal
Khan, unlike the former politicians and leaders in Pakistan, has spent many years in India. Being a cricketer and then a commentator, he has made multiple trips to India and has many Indian friends like Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and more. Owing to these relations, it was speculated that he would take a more pragmatic stance on diplomatic ties with India as compared to any other Pakistani politician. Cricket – a sport that has a huge fan following on both the sides of the border – can help start a fresh chapter of bilateral ties. Political tension, terrorism and weak relations between the 2 did result in a number of cricket matches being canceled. For example, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) refused to play 2 series against Pakistan in 2015 and 2017, stating that they did not have permission from the Indian Government due the prevalent strained relations. In his victory speech, Khan stressed on the fact that the resumption of the bilateral cricketing series between the 2 countries will help take Indo-Pak peace forward. Under the condition that he somehow slipped out of the Military’s control, maybe this could actually work.