DARKNESS BEFORE THE DAWN?

Amid allegations of vote-rigging, Pakistan’s new PM-elect has laid out his stall. Rahimullah Yusufzai assesses Imran Khan’s planned domestic and foreign policies, and the challenges he faces in implementing them

Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is poised to become the prime minister of Pakistan after leading his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to a spectacular victory in the July 25 general election.

Almost all the opposition parties have rejected the election as unfair and rigged and called for fresh polls. Following an all parties’ conference in the federal capital, Islamabad, a statement was issued calling for protests across the country to highlight the alleged rigging, and demanding a new election.

Imran Khan, however, has already declared victory and made a speech outlining his government’s domestic and foreign policy. His aides and party colleagues have been holding meetings at his sprawling Banigala residence in Islamabad to discuss formation of the government.

The PTI leaders are reaching out to independently elected lawmakers and other political parties – with the exception of deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N and former President Asif Ali Zardari’s PPP – to explore the possibility of cooperation at a federal level and in the provinces. Imran Khan has made it clear that he will not make an alliance with either the PML-N or the PPP because the leadership of both these dynastic-style parties was involved in massive corruption while taking turns to rule the country.

Khan has made it clear that he will not make an alliance with either the PML-N or the PPP

At the time of writing, the complete official result has not yet been declared but it will be announced in the coming hoursby the Election Commission of Pakistan. The results of266 out of the 272 National Assembly seats declared so far show that the PTI has won 116 seats – 21 short of the 137 needed to form a majority government. However, the party leadership is hopeful it will reach that number by attracting independent Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) and those from the smaller parties. The PTI managed to win National Assembly seats in Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), but none in Balochistan, the smallest province in terms of population though the largest area-wise.

The PML-N, the party of the resourceful Sharif family, stands now in second place, with 64 seats in the National Assembly. It won most of them in its stronghold of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province that has been ruled by the Sharifs for the last 10 years. The PML-N is now led by former Punjab chief minister Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif. The latter is currently in prison – along with his daughter and political heir, Maryam Nawaz, and son-in-law, retired army Captain Mohammad Safdar – after being convicted of mis-declaring their wealth and having assets beyond their known sources of income.

MIXED MESSAGES: Nawaz Sharif (l) called the election 'stolen' while his brother, PLM-N leader Shahbaz Sharif, was less negative
MIXED MESSAGES: Nawaz Sharif (l) called the election ‘stolen’ while his brother,
PLM-N leader Shahbaz Sharif, was less negative

As for the PPP, founded by late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto inthe 1960s and later led by his daughter Benazir Bhutto until her assassination in a suicide attack in Rawalpindi in December 2007, it looks set to win a mere 43 seats. The party has suffered a decline in recent years after a long period of ruling Pakistan, and is now largely restricted to Sindh, the home province of the Bhutto and Zardari families. Nevertheless, the PPP won a majority of seats in the provincial assembly of Sindh and would be able to form the next government there, having ruled it in the previous term from 2013-2018.

The MMA, an alliance of five religio-political parties, revived prior to the recent election after its collapse before the 2013 polls, lost badly. The most it could win is 12 National Assembly seats, only a slight improvement on its performance in the 2013 general election, when it won nineseats, and nowhere near its spectacular victory in the 2002 pollsthat enabled it to rule Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces for five years. The JUI-F and Jamaat-i-Islami, the MMA’s two major components, have always taken a hardline stance against the West, particularly the US, and have sympathised with Islamic movements ranging from Hamas to the Taliban.

So, what of Pakistan’s new Prime Minister-elect? Oxford-educated Imran Khan entered politics in 1996, but success eluded him until 2011, when he organised big public meetings in Lahore and promised the people ‘change’. The youth were already his biggest fans due to his exploits on the cricket field, including leading Pakistan to its only World Cup victory in 1992. Young men and women were also inspired by his philanthropic work,supporting him when he began collecting donations to found a cancer hospital in his hometown Lahore and a university in Mianwali, the district to which his family originally belonged.

The JUI-F and Jamaat-i- Islami, the MMA’s two major components, have always taken a hardline stance against the West

As Khan stated in his post-election victory speech, he began his struggle 22 years ago by forming his own party. He kept going despite continued defeat in elections and an inability to build his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice in Pakistan). He noted in his speech that he has finally got a chance to fulfil his dream for Pakistan and run the country asit hasnever been run before.

Now 65 years old, Imran Khan was desperate to become prime minister this time round as it was said this was his last chance to attain the prized position. He will be 70 by the time of the next general election in 2023, and it was widely believed that it would then be too late for him to shoulder the responsibilities that come with the premiership.

Without wasting time, Khan briefly presented his views on domestic and foreign policies that his government would like to pursue, and they struck a positive note. At home, he outlined plans aimed at helping the poor, ensuring that the law applies equally to the haves and have-nots, and fighting corruption. He also made it clear that his government wanted to improve relations with India, Afghanistan and the US and strengthen Pakistan’s already friendly ties with China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. He called for a dialogue to settle issues with India, including Kashmir, and increase trade ties.

The new Prime Minister-electmade a plea for better relations with the US, on the basis of equality and cooperation between the two former allies, to bring peace in Afghanistan. However, he cannot implement any of his ideas unless he deals tactfully with the combined opposition that is threatening to start agitating for a fresh election. His offer to discuss the rigging allegations has been rejected by the opposition parties, who were likely pleased by the European Union monitoring team’s report that there was a lack of equality and opportunity in the election campaign, even though there were several legal provisions aimed at ensuring a level playing field for all candidates. Some of the opposition parties have even alleged that PTI was favoured by the civil and military establishment.

That said, there is still hope for the PTI that the opposition will notcleave together for long over the issue of rejecting the polls, because the PTI’s main rival, PML-N, has saidit will not boycott the new parliament, despite having reservations over the election results. The PML-N has been sending mixed signals: the jailed Nawaz Sharif termed the election ‘stolen’ and therefore unacceptable,while Shahbaz Sharif was said to be considering becoming the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly.

The PTI and PML-N are also involved in a tussle to form the provincial government in Punjab where they have won an almost equal number of assembly seats and are now trying to woo independent lawmakers and the smaller parties to gain a majority. There is no such ambiguity in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the PTI won two-thirds of the seats in the provincial assembly and will easily be able to form a government. The PTI is also likely to get a share in the proposed coalition government in Balochistan, even though it won only three seats in the provincial assembly. In Sindh, PTI lawmakers will have to sit in opposition to the PPP, which won the majority of the seats and is getting ready to form the provincial government.

From the look of things, difficult times lie ahead for Imran Khan as he prepares to form a government and run a politically unstable country facing acute economic and security issues.


Rahimullah Yusufzai is a Pakistani journalist and Afghanistan expert. He was the first and last reporter to interview Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, and twice interviewed Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1998. His achievements have been acknowledged by several prestigious awards, including Tamgha-e-Imtiaz and Sitara-e-Imtiaz

Pakistan ‘grey-listed’

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is a 37-member intergovernmental organisation that focuses on setting global standards for combating money laundering and terrorist financing. Headquartered in Paris, it holds three plenary sessions a year – in February, June and October. During its latest meeting, which ran from June 24-29, the FATF added Pakistan to its ‘grey list’.

So, what is at stake for Pakistan? The country unsuccessfully sought to avoid being placed on the FATF’s watchlist of ‘jurisdictions of strategic deficiencies’, the so-called grey list. The FATF encourages its members to apply countermeasures against grey-listed countries that can include heightened scrutiny for international banking transactions. For Pakistan, the new listing will increase its risk profile at a time when the country’s macroeconomic woes necessitate external financing. Foreign exchange reserves have dwindled to $9.7 billion, covering just two months of imports, while the current account deficit will reach 4.6 percent of gross domestic product compared with an average of 1.5 percent from 2014 to 2016. The developments highlight why ratings agency Moody’s downgraded its outlook for Pakistan from stable to negative.

In a geopolitical context, the United States is using the FATF as part of its broader strategy of forcing Pakistan to change its long-standing support for militant organisations and charities accused of funding militant groups. Without question, Pakistan has taken a series of steps to redress the FATF’s concerns about terrorism financing and money laundering. In February, President MamnoonHussain signed an ordinance broadening the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997 to include individuals and organisations subject to U.N. Security Council sanctions. As a result, officials can target the financing of four individuals and groups – Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Falah-e-Insaniat, Al Akhtar Trust and Al Rashid Trust. Then on June 20, the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan combined its formerly separate regulations targeting money laundering and combating terrorist financing. But these steps werenot enough for the FATF.

Because the use of militant proxies is a key strategy of the Pakistani army’s asymmetric warfare campaign to counter a militarily powerful India and shape a friendly post-conflict government in Afghanistan, Islamabad will refuse to fundamentally alter the policy, choosing to absorb the consequences instead. (Still, Pakistan has agreed to implement an action plan with the FATF to redress its deficiencies over the next 15 months). Pakistan’s placement on the grey list will ultimately increase the country’s reliance on China as a lender of last resort – Beijing loaned more than $5 billion to Islamabad during the fiscal year that ended in June – but it will not affect Pakistan’s ongoing support for the Taliban and Haqqani network in Afghanistan.

 

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