The GHQ in Rawalpindi may well be enjoying a collective chuckle with Imran Khan at the crease. For a Rhodes scholar and cricketer with little or no experience in the affairs of State, it is early days to expect either a roadmap on domestic governance, let alone on relations with India.
Nonetheless, his inaugural statement that he is “ready to improve ties with India” raises hope, if not optimism. His perception that “Kashmir is the core issue” echoes the standard viewpoint, both of the military and civilian dispensations since those heady days of 1947.
The rest is history. His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has emerged as the single largest entity, reducing the outgoing Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Bhutto family’s Pakistan People’s Party to the footnotes. Pre-eminently, Shahbaz Sharif, brother of Nawaz, chief minister of the dominant province of Punjab, and president of the PML(N), and the caretaker Prime Minister, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, are among the also-rans.
Far from an emotional wave in the aftermath of the arrest of Nawaz, his party ~ that was named after him ~ has been decimated in its bastion. Imran has let it be known that he has won the election and is poised to fulfil his long-cherished ambition to helm the country.
Psephologically, he has. For all that, he will have to accept the reality ~ Pakistan’s second democratic transition has happened via the murkiest election in the country’s history, one that has been stagemanaged by the military. No, this isn’t India’s cavil; it resonates loud and clear to the west of the Radcliffe Line.
Politically, therefore, Imran has succeeded to a depleted inheritance, however reassuring the tacit support of the omnipotent Generals. Though his party has established a commanding lead, the outlook is grim not least because the mandate has been less than convincing, to use an understatement. The political class has been unanimous in rejecting the outcome.
Startling no less has been the delay in announcing the results in the midst of reports of ballot-stuffing that fuelled suspicion and anger during the process of counting.
The Election Commission was pretty much helpless in the face of the feet-dragging, almost deliberate. Imran’s party takes over a country struggling with violence, extremism, poverty and a worsening economic situation, in a fraught international environment; a mightier China, tense relations with the US, India and Afghanistan.
Whatever he does will be done within the context of a strengthened military. He has claimed that the country’s “umpires” would step back if he were elected. It remains open to question whether the promised “New Pakistan” will attain fruition or merely signify the nebulous concept of “present indefinite”.
The PM-to-be will have to countenance a robust challenge from the political class. On 25 July, Pakistan voted for change. Some good must come of this starry-eyed victory, transcending the nervous excitement.