Shahid M Amin
A new era is beginning in Pakistan with Imran Khan’s assumption of power on August 18, 2018. High hopes have been raised by his promise of change and an end to corruption. The enthusiasm of his supporters, who had formed long queues on the morning of July 25 to vote for him and his party, was quite astonishing. Only the blind can deny the swell of popular enthusiasm for him. Those who are now crying hoarse about alleged rigging are merely fooling themselves. They claim to respect institutions but are clearly making every effort to erode them: whether it is the judiciary, the Election Commission or the army. International observers have by and large endorsed the integrity of these elections. They were peaceful and orderly and the army played an important role in providing security and order.
The truth is that a vast majority of Pakistanis has been deeply disappointed by the established political parties, which have plundered the country and indulged in nepotism, cronyism and misrule. This election saw the defeat of several prominent politicians in their own constituencies. The democratic spirit is to concede defeat gracefully. But the likes of Fazlur Rahman have not only made wild accusations of vote-rigging but have also gone to the extent of questioning the patriotism of our army and the value of our independence. He belongs to a party that had opposed the Quaid-i-Azam and the struggle for Pakistan. Some years ago, the Maulana went to India and reportedly said that his party was not involved in the ‘sin’ of creating Pakistan. Such language must not be allowed to go unchallenged by our courts.
Leaving aside the ranting of the defeated opposition, Imran Khan has to understand that the real test of his leadership is now beginning. The issues that he faces are onerous. Idealism is all very good and brave promises are often made during election campaigns. But the moment of truth has now come for him and he has to deliver. He has made a good start by his decision to cut down on official expenditure and excessive protocol. But this is little more than symbolism. Pakistan is facing a grave economic crisis, which requires the efforts of the best economists to steer the country out of the morass. The traditional wisdom, of course, is to raise income and cut down expenditure. Economic growth alone will produce jobs. Otherwise, his talk of providing a million jobs will come back to haunt him. No doubt, one way out is to recover the looted money, but it remains to be seen how far this can be done. Maximum incentives should be given to promote exports and the legitimate demands of the business community should be met. The models of export growth of countries like Malaysia, Thailand, India and Bangladesh should be studied. If they can do it, why can’t Pakistan do as much, if not more?
An immediate bailout has to be negotiated with IMF, the Islamic Development Bank and with friendly countries like China and Saudi Arabia. IMF is heavily under US influence and this is one more reason why relations with USA need to be improved. There is basically one issue that has for some time bedevilled our relations with USA: its accusation that sanctuaries exist in Pakistan from where militants attack the US, NATO and Afghan forces. We deny this. Surely, diplomacy can find a way out of this deadlock. We should press the US to share intelligence about the alleged sanctuaries, since only then we can take decisive action against them. In fact, these terrorists are our common enemy and we should eliminate them in every possible way. The ground reality is that the US is stuck in Afghanistan and is looking for a face-saving exit. It needs Pakistan’s help, firstly, for the logistic supplies to its forces, but even more to promote a political settlement in Afghanistan involving the Taliban. In the past, Imran Khan had erred by showing a soft corner for some militants, which delayed the needed military operation against them. As Prime Minister, he must act decisively against all extremists and religious fanatics who produce suicide bombers. This is essential to ensure law and order in Pakistan and it will also improve relations with neighbours.
There are some indications that India is receptive now to improving relations with Pakistan. Imran Khan made a fine speech after winning the election, which won praise at home and abroad. A dialogue should now begin with India, covering all issues including Kashmir. There is need to improve the climate and establish trust. No immediate breakthrough is likely but the process should begin. The best hope for Kashmir is the heroic struggle of its people for liberation. India should not be given any chance to twist facts by claiming that the resistance in Kashmir is due to Pakistani infiltration. The likes of Hafiz Saeed must not be allowed to act as spoilers of the peace process.
While President Trump is often crude and loud-mouthed, he does have a point in demanding that other counties —China and Europe— should not take advantage of USA. We also need to become more hard-nosed in our relations with even close friends. While we should promote the special relations that exist between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, a strong leader like Imran Khan, enjoying the support of our people, should ensure that the relationship is balanced and that Pakistan is not taken for granted. Over many decades, Pakistan has played an unparalleled role in ensuring Saudi security. The record shows that Saudi Arabia dished out billions of dollars to Iraq during its war with Iran (1980-88) and, more recently, to Egypt and Jordan. It is time now for a Saudi quid pro quo for Pakistan’s support. Similarly, Pakistan has done a huge favour to China by providing short and safe overland access to the Arabian Sea. China should be persuaded to make CPEC a grant rather than a loan. To sum up, Pakistan is poised to open a new chapter in its history and Imran Khan has the God-given opportunity to make a difference. He has to rise to the occasion with wisdom and courage.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.
Shahid M Amin