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Can Pakistan PM Imran Khan Keep Promises With Army Watching Over?

If Khan decides to go beyond limits set by Pakistan Army, this will be the true test of how powerful a PM he is.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
Image used for representational purposes.
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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first address to the nation is being welcomed by all, even his opponents, because PM Khan hit almost all the right notes when he unveiled the plan for his five-year rule. From alleviating poverty to tackling a failing economy to addressing education woes, Khan appears to understand many of the issues Pakistan faces today.

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But if one looks beyond his grand promises to transform Pakistan into a social welfare state, it all appears to be rhetoric, and many before Khan have propagated similar promises but have never delivered.

We will have to wait and see whether he delivers on these pledges but we should not forget how the previous provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, that was run by Khan’s political party, has nothing to show when it comes to progress. Even after five years of Khan’s government there, the province today continues to face similar issues of unemployment, infrastructural weakness and corruption.

But it not what Khan addressed that is of bigger concern, but rather what he omitted from his speech that is more telling of how things may not change for the better in Pakistan.

The newly-elected PM chose not to elaborate on rising extremism and radicalism in the country, and did not outline how his government will deal with foreign and security policy issues.

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Imran Khan’s Flip-Flop Politics

Let’s first analyse why Imran Khan did not talk about ever-growing extremism and its consequence as terrorism in Pakistan, and in the region – because he does not believe this is a domestic, home-grown issue.

Khan, who was once considered a liberal progressive, has in recent years shown a streak of conservatism and hyper-nationalism, by blaming Pakistan’s terrorism troubles on international players, particularly the United States. He has come out as an apologist for militant groups, calling them ‘misunderstood’. His last provincial government funded a madrassa known to have links with the Taliban. Recently he also used blasphemy accusations to win the right-wing vote against his rival and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. He also has openly shown disregard for religious minorities and women.

A large majority of his followers are Pakistani youth who have narrow-minded ideas about Pakistan being under attack from international powers, due to what they are fed by a controlled school curriculum and the media. Khan continues to dangerously reinforce such propaganda, instead of enlightening the youth with introspection. He has chosen to further strengthen conspiracies, resulting in a youth population that offers no hope for change, but rather intellectual degradation.

Now, the reason for his second omission – not talking about foreign and security policy – it is pretty straight-forward. These two policy areas are dominated and controlled by the Pakistan Army who do not want any civilian interference in such matters. Even though many of the issues Pakistan faces today emanate from this civil-military imbalance, Khan chose to not address it at all.

His silence is significant, because Khan is said to be the ‘chosen man’, and there is widespread belief that the elections were manipulated by the Pakistan Army to make him win.
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Pakistan Army Holds the Reigns

It is common knowledge in Pakistan how the military creates and props up political parties which are often referred to as the King’s party to continue being in the driving seat when it comes to running Pakistan as a security state.

And this time around, Khan’s PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf which translates to Movement of Justice) is being called the new ‘King’s’ party, ie, the choice for the military establishment that has overtly run Pakistan for half of its existence and covertly disrupted democracy for the other half. And indication of this is the newly-announced Cabinet by Khan, which consists of the majority of those ministers who were close to the last Pakistani military dictator General Pervez Musharraf.

However, every time the military has created a protégé politician, the relationship has not lasted long.

Pakistan’s political history is full of such politicians brought into power by the Pakistan Army and then soon dismissed, forced into exile and even executed.

Will Imran Khan meet a similar fate? That depends on whether or not Khan challenges the military.

Will Prime Minister Khan ask the military to stop its policy of sponsoring proxy wars in the region? Will he question the military’s commercial interests? Will Imran Khan choose rapprochement with India and upset his military masters who want to continue having a conflict to justify their relevance and large military budgets?

There are reports that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written a letter to Khan to initiate a peace dialogue. Will Khan reciprocate? Will he go independent of the military narrative when it comes to India?

We have seen how Khan, who once protested against military dictatorships, has for the last many years, not criticised the Pakistan Army for its extended footprint in politics, its role in sponsoring militancy and draining the economy with the businesses it owns. And in his maiden address to the nation, while Khan chose to talk about austerity and accountability at length, he did not mention once the Pakistan Army that eats up most of Pakistan’s yearly fiscal budget, and has never been held accountable for its wrongs.

And if this is any indication of what is to come, there is a strong chance that Imran Khan will not challenge his sponsors, and the love affair with the military will continue.

His positive image in the media will continue to be managed, and his claims of bringing change will be exaggerated as we have seen in the run up to the last elections, even if he fails to deliver on his promises of reforms.

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Will Imran Khan Be Cornered by Army?

But power or the perceived idea of having power has compelled many other military protégés to challenge the Pakistan Army in the past. And given that on paper Khan is the Chief Executive of the country, he may falsely come to believe he is actually in charge.

However, the Pakistani Generals have always been quick at reminding civilians that they have no independence when it comes to reforming the Pakistani military or addressing their flawed foreign and security policies.

So, when Khan does decide to spread his wings and go beyond the limits set for civilian leadership by the Pakistan Army, this will be the true test of how powerful a PM he is.

And if suddenly there are leaks (to the media) about Khan’s corrupt practices – it will mean the end of Khan’s honeymoon period.

The military is known for such tactics to push politicians into submission by maintaining a record of their “skeletons in the closet” and revealing them only when necessary. We might also see the judiciary being activated against Khan, and eventually he may meet the same fate as others who have challenged the military in the past – being sent home packing before their time ends in office.

(Taha Siddiqui is an award-winning Pakistani journalist and founder of safenewsrooms.org. He tweets @TahaSSiddiqui. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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