Imran Khan, Pakistan army's new pawn

WION Islamabad, Pakistan Dec 24, 2018, 10.25 AM(IST)

File photo of Imran Khan. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

While he started his tenure on a stream of promises, deliverables have been limited.

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan became the prime minister of Pakistan after being on the periphery of political power circles for 20-odd years.

The firebrand nationalist promised radical change, saying he would redistribute wealth, hold the country’s political elite accountable, make more people pay taxes, improve the lives of the poor, bring Pakistan out of its debt burden and improve ties with neighbours and strategically reposition his country.

So has Imran Khan delivered on his promises or buckled under pressure from the army and the deep state?

Shortly after coming to power, Imran wrote a letter to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting a meeting of the foreign ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly elections.

But a day later, Pakistan terrorists killed an Indian soldier and three policemen, while the Imran Khan government released stamps glorifying terrorist Burhan Wani.

India rejected the offer of talks with foreign minister Sushma Swaraj clearly saying talks and terror cannot go together, and that India needed action before any meeting could take place.

Snubbed by India, Imran lashed out, tweeting, "Disappointed at the arrogant and negative response by India to my call for resumption of the peace dialogue. However, all my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture.”

This time too, Imran Khan later retracted clarifying he never meant this for the Indian PM.

But there's been a pattern to his public posturing, denials and doublespeak. In December this year, Pakistan, under its new prime minister, did it again. After the groundbreaking ceremony of the Kartarpur Corridor in Pakistan, which was attended by Indian ministers Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Hardeep Singh Puri, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi controversially said, "Imran Khan delivered a googly and India sent two ministers to Pakistan."

Qureshi's remark came after India refused to attend the next SAARC summit, citing cross-border terrorism.
While Imran extended a hand of friendship with the opening of the corridor for Sikh pilgrims from India, he insulted India with the presence of pro-Khalistan activist Gopal Singh Chawla at the ceremony - a man believed to be close to terrorist Hafiz Saeed, the 26/11 mastermind.

Not to forget, the ceremony was also attended by Pakistan's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who was also seen greeting Chawla warmly on the sidelines of the function.

Soon after coming to power, Imran promised on national television that his government will grant citizenship to the Pakistani-born children of the country’s roughly 2.5 million Afghan refugees.

But after strong push-back by nationalists, the military and his own coalition partners, the prime minister did a U-turn saying there was no decision yet.

The celebrity cricketer began his term by shunning the trappings of state, promising to turn opulence into austerity. It started with trimming the PM's motorcade, to selling buffaloes at his residence.

It was clear that personal austerity was going to feature high on Khan’s agenda.

But there seemed little logic then in his refusal to live in Islamabad - if his daily helicopter rides from a personal hill estate would cost even more.

His government's argument that it cost just about the same as a cab drive drew further flak.

With the economy in shambles, Imran vowed to set it right. He was also seen as vociferously against another IMF bailout - the 12th for Pakistan. Initial brainstorming sessions, however, have done little more than planning loans from friendly nations such as China, Saudi Arabia.

But he has constantly flip-flopped on the IMF deal as well.

While he started his tenure on a stream of promises, deliverables have been limited.

Imran's bravest appointment has also been reversed under pressure from the Islamists.

Two days after Fawad Chaudhry announced the appointment of Atif Mian, an Ahmadi Muslim and Princeton professor named by the IMF as one of the top 25 young economists in the world as an economic advisor, Imran’s party asked Mian to step down.

Then came the much-publicised case of Asia Bibi - a Christian woman accused of blasphemy under the country's stringent laws. She was finally allowed by the courts to be free, but it was done under immense international pressure.

The Imran Khan government first welcomed the decision, promised protection to her, and agreed to send her out of the country. But after widespread protests from hardliners, he buckled under pressure. Asia Bibi would not be allowed the leave the country and the Pakistan government would appeal against the case.

But what has been clear from the beginning is that Imran Khan is the choice of the army.

Even before the elections, there were wide-scale allegations of rigging in the elections that delivered Imran victory and sent his predecessor Nawaz Sharif, a popular politician, to jail.

Imran has been seen cozying up to the Pakistan military on several occasions. However, his popularity with the army doesn't do him any good with the US.

The Trump administration has drastically scaled down on aide and this year confirmed it will cut $300 million in aid to Pakistan over its failure to tackle terror groups.

So, while Imran Khan will have to shape a new trajectory in his relationship with the US, it remains to be seen if he can change the narrative in Pakistan’s ties with India.