How stable will Imran Khan’s new government in Pakistan be? Will India-Pakistan relations improve under his regime?
Imran Khan is the new Prime Minister in India’s neighbourhood. And he has promised a “Naya Pakistan”. Immediately after the elections, the Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad met Imran Khan; earlier, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi called Imran over phone to congratulate him on his victory. The newly-appointed Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, emphasising the need for a “continued and uninterrupted dialogue” as the only way forward, underlined the security reality that “we are not just neighbours; we are atomic powers. We have a lot of common resources”. He also opined that I India and Pakistan “coming to the table and talking peace is our only option. We need to stop the adventurism and come together. We know the issues are tough and will not be solved overnight, but we have to engage…We cannot turn our cheek. Yes we have outstanding issues. Kashmir is a reality; it is an issue that both our nations acknowledge.”
Clearly one could get a sense. The new government wants to talk to India. It wants to engage India in a continuous and uninterrupted dialogue. It also wants India to realise that Kashmir is a reality and an issue that both countries need to acknowledge.
From an Indian perspective, the need to engage Pakistan in a “continued and uninterrupted dialogue” is imperative. But, how important are India and Indo-Pak relations in Imran’s immediate priorities? And how much space will Imran have in pursuing an uninterrupted dialogue with India vis-à-vis Pakistan’s establishment? And what would the contours of such an engagement be?
Imran’s Four Likely Immediate Priorities
Imran’s immediate priority will be internal – especially, leading a stable Parliament at the national level, and an equally stable provincial assembly in Punjab. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has formed the government both at the national level and in Punjab; but the situation is precarious. Imran would like to stabilise these two Assemblies first.
A Stable Parliament
Consider the numbers. The PTI has emerged as the largest party in 2018 elections. With 149 seats including the reserved seats, PTI is way ahead of the PML-N (82 seats) and the PPP (54 seats). When compared to the 26 seats it had in the previous Parliament (2013-2018), the PTI today is the strongest ever since it was founded two decades ago.
However, the number is still not sufficient for the PTI to form the government on its own. The 342-member Parliament needs a minimum 171 for Imran Khan to form the government. This numeric reality for the PTI forced Imran to engage the PML-Q, MQM and the independents. The PML-Q with five seats and the MQM with seven seats in Parliament have suddenly become an important factor for the PTI in Parliament. Both the parties also realised their numbers and its significance and has extracted their pounds of flesh in supporting the PTI and making Imran Khan the Prime Minister.
There are independents; some of them have already joined the PTI. Some of them would join further, depending on their interest and pressure from elsewhere.
Imran would have preferred a simple majority in Parliament; but the PTI does not have it. Consider the number of votes he polled in becoming the Prime Minister – 176, only four more than the required.
The above also means a strong opposition led by the PPP and the PML-N. Though the PML-N candidate Shahbaz Sharif could win only 96 seats, when compared to Imran’s 176, the opposition is still strong. On the day of voting, the PPP abstained from voting for reasons not well articulated by the party. Perhaps, the personal equation between Zardari and Sharif played a role; or perhaps, there was an indirect pressure on Zardari with the filing of new corruption cases. Remember the sudden arrest warrants against Zardari?
Despite internal differences between the PPP and PML-N, both parties along with the MMA look at PTI from the same prism. All three look at the elections as an engineered one in select areas, and also suspect the Establishment tilting the elections in favour of the PTI.
For Imran Khan, the Parliament is not going to be a flat pitch. He should also be ready to face the bouncers from the opposition. At the same time, he should also be careful with his own support; those who are standing with him at the slips have nimble fingers. Matches are being lost, because of people who are standing with you. England would vouch for the same after losing the match to India in Nottingham!
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