PM Khan

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  • Welcome to the jungle

It’s done. He couldn’t do it with the people or ideals of his 1996 version of the PTI. It was never going to happen with the PTI of 2013 either. All it required — like most parties that have come to power before him – was a sizeable chunk of electable candidates from across the country and a little help from ‘friends’. Thankfully Imran Khan accepted this reality going into elections 2018 and welcomed with open arms many such candidates to his party, even those that aren’t ‘machine washable’ — Khan famously bragged that he will run tainted new entrants through a PTI washing machine before accepting them into the party.

Those jumping the PML-N ship must have realised it’s better to shift loyalties to the winning team at the expense of being called a ‘lota’ (turncoat) than committing political suicide by remaining with them. It actually serves the Sharifs just right, what has happened to them in Punjab, considering that for the better part of their five-year government wielding all the power with a thumping majority they rudely ignored the little guy in their party i.e. the MPAs who used to beg for an audience with the Sharif brothers but to no avail. Reduced to 60 odd seats in the National Assembly and unlikely to make a government in Punjab it is a complete reversal of fortune.

It will be a strong opposition with the PML-N as the second largest party leading it along with PPP and smaller parties facing the treasury benches that will mostly be occupied by the PTI. The opposition will pounce at every misstep by Khan and his team both in parliament and in the media. Khan has his shot but the road ahead is littered with landmines chief among which is the horrific condition of the economy the PTI is inheriting.

In 2013 the PPP government got a fair bit of criticism for handing over a complete mess of an economy to the incoming PML-N. Reserves were around $11.5 billion, the current account deficit was $2.5 billion, and the rupee was hovering close to Rs98/USD. The PML-N has done quite a number on those numbers in five years.

While the reserves figure is higher at $15.6 billion it realistically does not matter given how the current account deficit is its highest ever at a staggering $18 billion and the USD/PKR that has been left to its own devices has reached a historic low of Rs128/USD with no indication of stopping at this level. Immature childish pipedream policies like bringing back “all the money in foreign accounts back to Pakistan” will simply not do. A significantly worse case than 2013 will be presented to the IMF for a lot more than $6 billion (previous facility amount), which of course will only be agreed to on some very tough terms. There is no escaping this eventuality and some work to approach them has already been done by the caretaker setup.

If becoming PM was simply an ego battle for Khan then he might become the first one to complete a five-year term by doing as he is told

Across-the-board accountability and eradicating rampant corruption is perhaps the promise most voters are hoping PM Khan will keep. Successful in his relentless pursuit of putting Nawaz Sharif behind bars just before elections with a lot help form the courts he now has to ensure that the process expands towards his own people, other parties and those untouchable institutions as well. Giving important positions to allegedly corrupt individuals in his party due to their contribution to the election campaign (financial or otherwise) would be ill advised.

Some bigwigs lost in this election. The ECP completely dropped the ball on the counting exercise on election-day. Allegations of no access to polling agents of various parties, reports of Form-45 (official count signed off by returning officer at a polling station) not being handed over to party representatives and a lengthy delay in announcement of official results that was blamed on ‘technical difficulties’ have created doubts over the fairness of the process.

Margins in some of the most competitive constituencies are less than a thousand votes. It was a mature step by Khan in agreeing to investigate any and all claims of rigging by cooperating with the affected candidates. However any mass collection of parties under the banner of widespread rigging is unlikely to materialise as both the PML-N and PPP will have to be part of the effort and PPP will never join it having secured 40 odd seats in the centre and a comfortable majority in Sindh.

In his address to the nation-cum-acceptance speech PM-designate Khan outlined a foreign policy that is a welcome departure from his pre-election views. Nothing new about the “our brothers the Iranians” and “Saudi Arabia is our biggest supporter” positions but on the US front he emphasised on a reconciliatory path to mend ties with a reciprocal relationship henceforth. Realistically however that is unlikely to happen any time soon given their insistence on Pakistan to ‘do more’ in rooting out terrorists of all sorts from its bad lands. Khan will need to shake his Taliban sympathiser label as well before expecting the US to not be sceptical about how much our heart is really in the resolution of the Afghan conflict. Considering our financial problems that could get compounded if we land on the FATF blacklist; the situation is precarious.

His stance on India may not have gone down too well within certain quarters but he is correct in proposing dialogue to improve relations and open trade that would benefit the subcontinent. He was extremely forthcoming by saying “you take one step, we’ll take two”. Whether this policy is implementable is largely dependent on what the powers that be are willing to digest. Nawaz Sharif tried to implement a similar policy and soon fell out of favour with the security establishment of the country. A series of events then culminated in his complete removal from power and politics. It will soon become apparent how much room is afforded to Khan before being reined in.

If becoming PM was simply an ego battle for Khan then he might become the first one to complete a five-year term by doing as he is told. But he has made some huge, difficult–to-keep promises. In order to deliver he will have to ruffle some feathers where too much ruffling has never been tolerated. Judging by the electorate’s response in these elections he probably won’t get another chance if he does not deliver now.

So good luck, skipper! You’ll need it.