Pakistan election results are out and it seems that Imran Khan will be the new Prime Minister of Pakistan. Khan, who was widely supported by the younger generation, does not belong to a political dynasty. In this election, three parties emerged as national parties namely, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan Muslim League (N), (PML of Nawaz Sharif), and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). The religious and fundamentalist parties were wiped out. For the third time, national elections were held in Pakistan since the departure of General Musharraf from the Presidency of Pakistan, which happened primarily due to American pressure. Pakistani voters voted wisely. In the Indian media, there have been a number of critical comments against PTI and Khan. In my opinion, PTI’s victory is a good sign for the democracy in Pakistan and also good for India as a democratic Pakistan is better for India than a military dictatorship. Before Khan’s situation is discussed, it would be beneficial to review the status of democracy in Pakistan.
When Nawaz Sharif came to power again after he was deposed by General Musharaf, he had become wiser and more experienced. He was able to strengthen democracy to a level which was unknown since Jinnah’s time. Things started going fairly well in Pakistan. Government institutions such as the judiciary, police and Election Commission, started functioning more independently. The judiciary has become very strong and Sharif paid the price for it. Not only he had to resign from prime ministership, he ended up in jail. News media has become free and vibrant. Despite speculation that the army under General Kayani might take over the government, Sharif was able to replace him and one more Army Chief and at least one ISI chief without any significant resistance. Current Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa made two significant statements upon his appointment as Army Chief which were unfortunately not widely acclaimed. First, he said that terrorism, and not India, was Pakistan’s number one enemy. Second, he said that like the Indian Army, the Pakistani army should be primarily confined to barracks except in the case of a war. These public statements were the first by any Pakistani senior officer military. He very rarely issued any warnings to India despite frequent warnings by Indian army officers and political leaders. At one time, I had to request Prime Minister Narendra Modi to stop Indian leaders, civilian and military, from issuing anti-China and anti-Pakistan statements. Such rhetoric has come down to significant levels in both the countries.
In the last Pakistani election in 2013, before the election campaign heated up, the Pakistani army beheaded two Indian soldiers in the hope that India would retaliate and the army, using the excuse of India’s aggression, would take over the government and postpone the elections. At that time, I contacted Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders of the BJP and RSS and urged them not to retaliate and issue any stern warnings. Fortunately, they did not retaliate; the elections were held in Pakistan, and Nawaz Sharif became the Prime Minister. In 2014, Parliament elections were held in India and Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister. For the first time, the head of SAARC countries were invited to a Prime Minister’s swearing-in ceremony and Sharif also attended the ceremony. Modi surprised everyone when he stopped in Lahore to attend a wedding ceremony of Sharif’s family member. Things were going well; however, there were a series of three attacks at Indian military bases, starting with the Pathankot Airforce base. It became extremely difficult for India to quietly swallow these attacks. The result was steady deterioration in the relationship between the two countries.
Now, Pakistan has a new party in power with a cricket-player-turned-politician as Prime Minister. He belongs to a relatively younger generation with no known anti-Hindu and anti-India feelings. He is not a Punjabi; comes from Pakhtunistan and has a clean image. He could easily have a new start for Naya Pakistan as well as India-Pakistan relationship.
There are assertions that military caused the defeat of PML (N) and that Khan is a military puppet. There are also allegations that the military rigged the elections. It was the Panama Papers and judiciary which caused the defeat of PML (N). If there was rigging, why did PTI barely get the number of seats to form a government? There might have been some irregularities, but nothing on a wide scale. In all probability, at least for some time, Khan would be under the army’s pressure. There is no doubt that the military did not want Sharif and his party to win as Sharif was able to sideline the military. The assertion of Khan being a military puppet does not have any sound basis; however, it seems that he has a soft corner for the Pakistan military. About three years back, his party surrounded the Pakistan Parliament along with a cleric from Canada. When the government did not budge, he wanted the military to act as a mediator to resolve the standoff. At that time, I called the head of the Punjabi PTI whom I had met in 2014,and urged him to convey my message to Khan that his party had a right to surround the Parliament, but he must not involve the military. He must remember the past when the military took advantage of political uncertainty and took over power. Then there was a terrorist attack at a military school in Peshawar. It is not known whether because of my request, the terrorist attack, the combination of both or due to other factors, Khan did end the agitation and lifted the siege of the Parliament. The military will try to increase its influence with the new government and Khan may have to tolerate at least until he gets his hold firmed up. But with his political mandate, an energetic young Pakistani generation and an assertive judiciary, he will be able to act independently, especially after he gains experience and confidence. Khan presents a fresh face for Pakistan. If he does good for Pakistan, he would become popular and he can use his popularity to subdue the military.
Now, here are some thoughts for India to open a new chapter of relationship with Pakistan. India should invite Khan to visit India. India should also deal with the Pakistani Army directly and let General Bipin Rawat, India’s Army chief, meet General Bajwa. Once they have frank discussion and personal rapport, the tension between the two countries will lessen significantly. Both countries can work together to significantly reduce terrorism, if not completely eliminate it. Let us hope that both Khan and the Pakistani military realise the importance of a good relationship with India for Pakistan’s own political and economic stability and a new chapter is initiated so that the Indian subcontinent can focus on economic development and a peaceful existence.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As with other opinion pieces, these views represent that of the author. It may be added that both opinion polls as well as the final results could be rigged, which is what appears to have happened in Pakistan.