The streets of Pakistan were filled with joy and celebration as Imran Khan won the elections for prime minister.
But Imran Khan is no stranger to cheering crowds and flashy triumphs. His widespread popularity is rooted in his fame as a sportsman. In 1992, he led Pakistan’s cricket team to a World Cup victory.
The win should have been steeped in significance. But to Khan, it felt empty. He retired from the game and found meaning in philanthropy, religion, and politics. Khan founded the Justice Movement in 1996. He entered politics with a single-minded focus - the failure of Pakistan’s government to do its job. And in the following years, events in Pakistan set pieces in place to ensure Khan’s victory.
The most important of these events was the release of the Panama Papers (read our article here). Among the many people who were incriminated was Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister of Pakistan. He was charged with illegally using public funds to buy expensive apartments in London. This was exactly the kind of corruption that Khan had based his entire campaign on - a government official achieving personal gain at the expense of the nation. Khan called on Sharif to resign. Sharif was removed from office by the Supreme Court and then imprisoned.
The Military's Role
But current events alone don't explain Imran Khan’s victory. The past also plays a role.
For a large part of its history, Pakistan has been ruled by the military. Even when it hasn’t been in power, the country’s generals have been known to set the agenda for Pakistan’s foreign policy, its security policy, even its agenda for dealing with terrorist groups. In fact, the army dominates Pakistani politics so much that this is only the second time in Pakistani history that power is being transferred from one civilian government to another.
The strong army influence is believed to have played a role in Nawaz Sharif’s imprisonment. The Supreme Court ruling that removed him from office was most likely due to pressure from the military. The army frequently clashed with him and saw him as a nuisance. In contrast, they see Khan as an ally. The army’s interest in Khan as a candidate has led to accusations of vote rigging. Evidence that the army pressured and threatened Khan’s opponents is growing. They blackmailed some into leaving their political parties and joining Khan’s. The military’s help is the single greatest factor in Khan’s victory.
The Challenges Ahead
Khan will be sworn in next week. Soon, he will preside over a nation that faces a host of problems. Pakistan’s infant mortality rate is distressingly high. Its electricity grid is barely functional. Its debt to foreign nations is climbing steadily. As the economy worsens, numerous citizens go to the Middle East to get any job they can.
Khan has not forgotten his roots. In his victory speech, he vowed to fight corruption at every level. He also said he would be ashamed to live in the prime minister’s mansion. He has also clarified his positions on foreign policy. He hopes to make peace with India. He also hopes to establish a better relationship with China. But he is much more opposed to the United States. He is a staunch opponent of drone strikes and has accused the US of murder, calling the war on terrorism “madness”.
In an election marred by rumors and hearsay, one thing is for sure - Pakistan is in dire need of change. Imran Khan and his victory are that change, for better or for worse.
Sources: BBC, CNN, AlJazeera, NYTimes