Pakistan has just come to elect its favorite playboy turned cricket world champion turned corruption bashing politician to the country’s highest political office- Prime Minister. What can we expect from Imran Khan’s reign?
The answer to that depends on which side you’re on. The biggest stakeholders in Khan’s leadership are India, China, and the United States. With India, Khan can’t seem to make up his mind. He feels compelled to carry forth the hate and bias that is in Pakistan’s DNA yet he also wants to be seen as the Messiah who is finally able to deliver some closure to the troubled relationship that the 2 countries share. This is why Kashmir is at the top of his wish-list of problems to solve. It is that elusive prized puzzle that he alone believes he can solve. Doing so would fuel his hero complex and make him a national champion for the 2nd time. It would also ensure his legacy in history. But can he solve it and what would be the right solution? To answer this, we need to understand which stakeholders would prefer the issue to remain unresolved. China has huge stakes in seeing that Kashmir continues to remain a problem. In China’s chessboard, Kashmir provides the right amount of friction to ensure India and Pakistan are always on opposite sides of the fence. It allows China to play one country off the other and more importantly to keep India in check. So far that strategy has worked. China owning a part of Kashmir gives it both military and strategic leverage so they have both motive and intent to ensure that Kashmir continues to remain a problem for both countries.
Secondly, everyone knows that the army is the de-facto ruler in Pakistan. They have a huge incentive to keep Kashmir a disputed region. ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency regularly uses operatives who pose as Kashmiri freedom fighters but that is just a euphemism for terrorists whose job it is to wreak havoc on their neighboring country. If Kashmir is granted freedom there is no need for freedom fighters. It becomes harder to continue the charade. Khan often rejects this argument by stating that Pakistan has more at stake than India in ensuring peace across the borders since it regularly loses its citizens to an alarmingly high rate of suicide bombers. It’s unclear whether Khan actually believes this or is merely using this argument as a tool to deflect his critics, but either way, if his line of reasoning is true it speaks all the more to the level of dysfunction and warped identify the crisis of the nation that it still harbors terrorists.
With America, Khan is clear on his views. His autobiography speaks of his skepticism of western values and his fundamental belief that Islamic traditions and culture is an inherently superior form of governance for his people. He is completely right in believing that each society has its own form of governance and must do what works for them. His frequent lamentations that America has entered the fight against terrorism without understanding terrorists is noteworthy. Pakistan is in a unique position to help the world understand what drives terrorism and Khan seems to truly have his country’s best interests in heart when in his autobiography he provides suggestions on how America could have tapped on Pakistan’s understanding of the culture and traditions of radical Islamists to root out Al-Qaeda.
However, what is going to define Khan’s legacy will not be his external relationships but his internal ones. Will he be in control of the push and pull relationship between the army and civilian or will he yield to military rule like others before him? His country’s history of leadership is bleak but Khan’s personal history is more promising. He has shown much tenacity and grit with his personal achievements in building a cancer hospital from scratch and his 26-year long-fought political career to acquire the nation’s highest office has not come without many personal sacrifices. The question is, will these qualities be enough? For Pakistan’s sake, I sure hope so