Knowing that in many quarters, Imran Khan’s name is synonymous with cricket, political commentators have resorted to terms familiar with the game to describe his rise to power. Imran Khan, former captain of Pakistan’s legendary cricket team, is now at the helm of the country’s most powerful hot seat: Prime Minister of Pakistan. His election victory, despite being marred by controversies, has finally rewarded him with this prestigious title following two decades of tough campaigns.
Now in his mid-60s, Khan, upon reflection will know that his earlier romance with Pakistani politics which began while he was much younger, has now turned into a full-blown marriage, requiring a different set of skills.
Pakistan, since its birth in 1947, following a messy divisive separation from India, has been a tough terrain to manage and govern. Riddled with coups, assassinations, wars, civil strife, bombings and corruption, many have struggled to reconcile Pakistan’s failures with the vision of it’s founding fathers.
Not only has the last seven decades been marred by a succession of military coups, Pakistan under various juntas became a mercenary regime beholden to foreign interests. The most costly has been how its sovereignty was utterly reduced to zero following 9/11 when it was officially hijacked and drawn into futile wars against its own population by America in pursuit of the discredited “War on Terror”.
Playing roughshod over the lives and dignity of the inhabitants of Pakistan without any regard for the civilised values it aspired to uphold as per its founding principles, meant nothing to foreign powers led by the United States. With the active participation of corrupt thugs, both in the military and governing structures, Pakistan tethered on the edge of a failed state, serving the interests of imperialist western powers characterised by savagery.
Drone warfare became the mainstay with Pakistan turned into a full-blown participant in unlawful killings of so-called “terrorists”, whose fate was decided by executioners based in Washington, London and Tel Aviv.
It is in this climate of treachery that Imran Khan pitched his efforts to reclaim the state from scoundrels and war mongers blinded in their greed for power, prestige and US dollars. While sceptics initially thought of him as a novice, Khan demonstrated that his ability to remain focused and consistent in articulating a manifesto which laid out his desire to reclaim the state from those who mortgaged it, will prove them wrong.
And wrong they have been. In addition, much of the world was surprised at the turn of events. Suddenly renewed interest in Pakistan’s fate has emerged. Will the captain who led the national team to triumph over former world champions, lead Pakistan to finally earn the respect of the international community?
Unlike cricket where you lose some and win some, leadership of a country leaves no room for games of chance. Khan thus has no choice but to navigate through challenging terrain to manage a restless population and lead them out of decades-old victimhood.
The socio-economic conditions are in dire straits following years of corrupt misrule. His decision to avoid the trappings of a glitzy inauguration ceremony is thus a welcome departure from wasteful expenditure. Instead, an austere event which excludes pompous celebrations signals Khan’s determination to realign Pakistan’s economic woes.
A further sign of his intent to recover money looted by the political elite came during Khan’s meeting with British officials. After all attacks on the greed of Pakistan’s dynastic families who siphoned off money from public sector institutions have been the cornerstone of his popularity.
On the domestic front, apart from the looting of state coffers and widespread abuse of power, Imran Khan faces multiple challenges to redress past injustices which gave rise to civil strife based on religious sectarianism.
India and the politics of a right wing Hindu-national government headed by Narendra Modi embroiled in the brutal military occupation of Kashmir, will test Khan’s resolve.
That Afghanistan remains a war-zone with foreign military boots on its soil and that Pakistan’s national security remains compromised by the active collaboration between its military and the USA, poses perhaps the most intriguing challenge to Khan. As a nuclear power, the new prime minister known for his prowess with bat and ball, will now be holding a red button.
Poverty and inequality among the masses, coupled with ongoing casualties arising from unjust wars on its territory fomented by foreign powers, instability due to inflamed tensions between religious factions and the certainty of vicious backlash from defeated corrupt elites, makes Pakistan a cocktail of uncertainty.
Imran Khan, with bat in hand will know that leading his country is not a game of cricket.
Iqbal Jassat is is an Executive Member of the Media Review Network based in Johannesburg, South Africa