A new dawn for Pakistan: what problems will Imran Khan face as PM?

16 Aug 2018

 A new dawn has broken for Pakistan with Imran Khan set to take the Prime Ministerial oath on the 18th of this month following his electoral victory in July. Khan faces numerous economic, political and social issues, including plummeting foreign exchange reserves and an increasingly unstable geopolitical environment. Khan’s centrist party, Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf (PTI) won the largest number of seats in the National Assembly (116). But as he comes ever closer to claiming power, the hard work needed to reform Pakistan must begin as soon as possible.

 

As Khan settles into power, undoubtedly he will seek to resolve the long-disputed Kashmir conflict. Khan has previously committed to peaceful dialogue between India and Pakistan. He stated in his recent speech that “if [India] step forward one step, we will take two steps forward”: a symbolic gesture to show willingness to end the disputed conflict and free the Kashmir people, who have been trapped as a result of political tensions between India and Pakistan.

 

In the United States, President Donald Trump's administration will keep a close eye on Khan’s position on Afghanistan. They will inevitably push to establish better bilateral relations by halting Pakistan’s support for military proxies in Afghanistan, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. Khan acknowledges that Pakistan has suffered immensely as a result of the so-called War on Terror, and would rather prioritise peaceful dialogue over direct military intervention. Khan has learnt that the longer this war in Afghanistan prevails, the more Pakistan will suffer and will therefore endeavour to resolve the conflict through diplomatic means.

 

That said, while Khan has an interest in cutting back support for the war in Afghanistan he will also wish to do so on terms favourable to Pakistan, by promoting a pro-Islamabad government in Kabul. In Khan’s acceptance speech, he said that “if there is peace in Afghanistan, there will be peace in Pakistan”. Peace in Afghanistan would be beneficial to Pakistan and is therefore an issue at the forefront of Khan’s agenda.

 

Khan has received congratulatory messages from the Afghan government and has been invited for a meeting with the Afghan President, Ashraf Ghani. It is clear that New Delhi and Kabul are keeping close tabs on Khan; Ghani as well as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi telephoned Khan to congratulate him on his win.

 

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a colossal and vital project for Pakistan and China. The $62 billion enterprise aims to provide China with alternative access to the Arabian Sea whilst diversifying Beijing’s trade routes (away from the Strait of Malacca) under the Belt and Road initiative. CPEC is so critical to Pakistan’s future growth and development that Khan has confirmed he will not touch any of his predecessor’s contracts regarding the corridor.

 

Pakistan’s balance of payments crisis and lack of foreign currency reserves are major challenges for Khan personally and for Pakistan’s economic growth in general. One of Khan’s biggest economic concerns during his tenure will be to secure an additional $10 billion from the IMF or China (the latter being more likely) to fill up Pakistan’s diminishing foreign currency reserves. The IMF bailout will come with complicated terms and conditions and the austerity measures that may well be associated with the IMF deal would mean Khan will have to oversee either tax rises or spending cuts.

 

Whether it’s the increasingly complex geopolitical issues, including the Kashmir conflict, the economic crisis dampening Pakistan’s growth or foreign policy issues, Khan faces a mammoth task in reviving the country and delivering his promise of a ‘new Pakistan’. Khan’s acceptance speech was welcomed by many across the country including some political opponents who are ready to work with him to implement his radical agenda for the betterment of Pakistan and its people. I personally hope that the leaders of Pakistan’s main political parties will leave aside petty tribal politics and work in the national interest to improve ordinary citizens’ lives.

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