Many Pakistanis harbour hope for a new dawn on the nation as Imran Khan is sworn in as prime minister
The 25th of July saw a new wave of hope in the 200 million strong population of Pakistan, as Imran Khan won the general election to become prime minister. How he will fare in a country where no prime minister has ever completed a full term will be monumental in the country’s history.
The in-tray is not short of challenges for the prime minister-elect; corruption laces through every vein of Pakistan from traffic patrols to the judiciary. It is globally regarded as a hot spot for sectarian conflict and for the “War on Terror”. Amid growing Islamophobia globally and the constant political instability at home, whether a man given the moniker of “Taliban Khan” can deliver a tangible and positive change for the country will have huge implications.
As opposed to his counterparts, Imran Khan is not feudalistic and garners support not on the basis of caste and feudalism, but policy and change. This seems to bother western commentators whose eyes are fixed on a colonial narrative, whereby an independent-minded Muslim leader, outside of a western sphere of influence, prompts deep uncertainty and doubt.
These often grotesque displays of Islamophobia are evident in the coverage given to Imran Khan, and in particular of his advocacy to encourage peace talks between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP (Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan).
In response to US drone strikes which were allegedly aimed to specifically target 24 men, but have instead killed 847 innocent civilians including 142 children, Khan called for an end to drone strikes and an end to a one-sided relationship with western powers, in which the “Pakistani government tolerates drone strikes in return for aid money”. Khan has argued that peace talks are not a deplorable idea, and that “Pakistan, Afghanistan and America are in need of peace and a mutually beneficial, balanced relationship”. Many Pakistanis agree with him.
Years of brutal war have cost Pakistan countless innocent civilian lives, and the US and UK millions in taxpayers’ money. The country’s infrastructure, economy and tourist influx has taken a huge hit. Interference of both the American and Pakistani military in cases such as Operation Khyber and Black Thunderstorm have been futile in tackling the presence of Taliban fighters, or their ability to adapt and respond.
As the United States was the nation to instruct Qatar to host a Taliban office for peace talks, it is vital that at this juncture the United States supports Imran Khan’s decision to establish communication with the Taliban, rather than insisting on a violent approach. It is not Pakistan alone that needs peace to prosper; the international community does too. As Khan has said, “We need to establish peace in Afghanistan to stabilise the entire region and improve relationships; we hope to mediate this.”
Every election Pakistan conducts is fuelled with debates of international influence, army interference and vote rigging. This time, many have claimed that Khan has been appointed as the ladla (favourite) of the army, rather than legitimately voted for, due to his soft corner and support for the military of Pakistan. Accusations such as these are thrown about daily and regularly in Pakistan.
In these elections, however, the election commission was appointed by the former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, now imprisoned on corruption charges. Meanwhile, the army personnel to oversee fair and free elections were agreed upon by the oppositional Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the then governing party (Pakistan Muslim League N). Though the opposition parties have made claims of rigging, these have been minor compared to the collective uproar in the 2013 elections. If Imran Khan and the army are indeed complicit in rigging the elections, they have certainly not done a good job. The party of Khan, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), does not hold a majority in neither the national assembly nor the most populous state, the Punjab.
Imran Khan has already proven his mettle in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province by creating a social welfare state, depoliticising the local police and making education more accessible, thereby raising literacy rates to nearly 70%. For many Pakistanis, these are noteworthy achievements that offer proof that Imran Khan can bring change to the rest of Pakistan.
Khan’s aims are to tackle corruption, raise the aspirations of the poor and labouring classes, make education an accessible right not a luxury, and to make peace with Pakistan’s neighbours. He is also the first South Asian leader to take an initiative on climate change by initiating the “Billion Tree Tsunami” project in an effort to restore the province’s depleted forests and fight the effects of climate change. This is a man that has fought the political elite all his career. And now he has been elected, Imran Khan wants to implement positive change and create a Naya Pakistan (New Pakistan).
I have spent time in Pakistan’s major cities over the last year, and it resonates within people’s conversations and hopes that they see a new, flourishing Pakistan under Imran Khan’s leadership. Economically, there have already been positive changes. The dollar has weakened against the Pakistani rupee, and there is a renewed confidence in the Pakistani economy and businesses over recent weeks.
On the 71st birthday of the birth of this nation, Imran Khan is taking his oath as PM. As Pakistan steps into a light, the world can support it or watch as Pakistan renews itself.
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