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Pakistan conducted its parliamentary elections on 25th July 2018, with three dominant parties competing for the majority. Imran Khan, the former cricketer turned anti-corruption activist, can be said to have the most momentum entering the elections, with former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party as his chief rival. The result of the election was announced on 27th July. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won 116 National Assembly seats out of 270 (P., 2018). This momentum can be somewhat attributed to Khan’s reputation as Pakistan’s only world cup winning captain. International sports are a principal inducer of nationalism in citizens across entire nations. It is no surprise that a country may choose to place their trust in one such nationalistic individual who has proven that he can carry the country to victory. Khan’s supporters are, therefore, predominantly members of the youth and the middle class. His history of philanthropic actions such as building hospitals for the poor and providing cancer treatment for the marginalised in Pakistan also adds credibility and favour towards his party in the election campaign.

The representative, elected into power as the 19th Prime Minister of Pakistan will immediately face two significant problems that will affect India either directly or indirectly - grappling with the military control over foreign policy and national security, and the mounting economic crisis as Pakistan’s currency continues to devalue. The Khan manifesto is more inclined towards solving the economic hardships of the nation through structural reforms. In an interview with WION media ahead of the elections, Imran Khan described Pakistan’s plummeting economy as the nation’s most significant obstacle (WION, 2018). He listed weak institutional structures, sinking revenue numbers, and widespread corruption as the causes for the financial crisis.

Some argue that under Khan’s government, the military will exercise unchecked power, which may lead to security challenges in the neighbouring regions - especially with India - as diplomacy between the two nations is at an all-time low.  If so, what kind of collateral damage can India expect from these elections? The first aspect that the Indian government will need to be wary of, is the victory of an unknown politician. Imran Khan, in terms of political experience, cannot hope to compare with seasoned politicians like three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif as Prime Minister had tried to mend India-Pakistan relations considerably. For instance, he attended Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony despite the urges from influential civil and military leaders to not do so. Sharif was also open to looking at increased trade between Pakistan and India as beneficial, owing to his past as a businessman. While Imran Khan may carry the public support and electoral momentum as the country’s favourite sportsperson, his prestige as a cricketer may not be able to compensate for his lack of experience as an individual who has never held a position of political power and hence cannot act in the manner that previous Prime Ministers did. Owing to his inexperience, it will be tough to predict the nature of his future political rulings, hence inducing uncertainty and consequent tension among the stakeholders.

Imran Khan’s opinion regarding the Indian government that he voiced on multiple occasions is also problematic. He has blamed the Indian government for weakening ties between the two nations to the point that Pakistan is often made a scapegoat when it comes to the controversy of Kashmir. He has also accused the Indian media of targeting him for his political identity as a nationalist Pakistani (WION, 2018).  If he is trying to tug at the same sentiment of his supporters that they feel in an India vs Pakistan cricket match, the Indian media isn’t far from the truth if it’s trying to highlight his nationalistic sentiments. Nationalism is innately harmful, for along with a sense of belonging, collective purpose, and cultural and linguistic pride, it may also promote conflict with others, infringe on the rights of others, and create xenophobia in the nation. Identifying oneself as a nationalistic Pakistani underscores their rightist ideologies - not a favourable international image for the leader of a country like Pakistan to have.

On the other hand, Khan has portrayed an opportunistic flair in his manifesto. While discussing his ideas for dealing with Pakistan’s economy, he pitched the idea of re-establishing trade ties with India to refuel the currency. If he hopes to re-establish trade with India as extensively as Sharif did, he needs to adopt a diplomatic approach to fixing the two nations’ strained relations. The collateral damage from strained diplomacy in one sphere of interaction, the relationship between the two Prime Ministers, for instance, will show its effects on other fields, like the trade.

Imran Khan reportedly has the support of the military, which in turn will benefit greatly under his rule through increased autonomy. The rumoured army support that backs Khan may stem from his accusation that the Indian government is trying to weaken the Pakistan military by conspiring with the India-friendly former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The army’s unchecked ability to fix the nation’s political, economic, and security challenges will surge to greater heights under Khan’s rule. The Pak military would influence decisions regarding foreign policy, especially concerning India. The resulting tension and instability might create the conditions for change in Pakistan’s internal and external orientation, as well as sole military discretion when it comes to handling ties with India.

Khan has sparked controversy time and again owing to his inexperience, his soft take on extremism, and his political orientation that is inclined towards the far right. Pakistan’s minorities are wary of the new personality who has taken public support by storm. If  Imran Khan can form an absolute majority in Pakistan through a coalition, India would face a cloud of uncertainty with military autonomy in Pakistan reaching greater heights, and its foreign policy being in a higher state of flux than ever before.

 

References

(2018, July 22). Retrieved August 07, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-AFNn0aw-zU

How will the Pakistan election results impact India? (2018, July 25).  Retrieved from http://www.wionews.com/south-asia/how-will-the-pakistan-election-results-impact-india-154611

Imran's PTI emerges largest party with 116 seats: Official results. (2018, July 28).  Retrieved from https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/world/imrans-pti-emerges-largest-party-with-116-seats-official-results/article24540741.ece

Image Credit: Imran Khan

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Written By Aayush Agarwal

International Relations, Public Policy

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