Imran Khan is seen by many to have the cold business acumen of Donald Trump, strength of Vladimir Putin, charm of Emmanuel Macron; and the aggression and determination of Narendra Modi, especially with regard to its sibling neighbour.
Khan could be Pakistan’s new prime minister for a five year tenure if his party sustains its momentum in the remaining 50 percent of votes currently being counted. By the end of the week Khan could be one of the handful men globally to have his finger on the nuclear button trigger.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), or movement for justice, which he founded in April 1996, leads in 120 constituencies, needing 17 more to have a majority in 272 elected seat parliament. Else, he’ll have to seek support from smaller parties.
Married thrice, divorced twice, sports writers say Khan, 66, could have been more than a match to Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi in his earlier years as a rare Muslim world Casanova, and never shy to flaunt his exploits.
As a former cricket captain he led his side from the brink of elimination to a world cup victory in 1992 motivating his players to ``fight like cornered tigers, because nothing is more dangerous than a cornered tiger.’’ He changed the national jersey for all players to feature picture of roaring tiger as a constant reminder.
A fringe political player for most past of two decades, Khan had an opportunity to become a significant force five years back but a freak accident left him injured during the last election. As a replay of the famous world cup victory, he’s fought like a tiger. He has an opportunity to use all his qualities to the region’s advantage.
Imran’s triumph could sound a death blow to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) that was bequeathed to a fledgling Bilawal Bhutto by mother Benazir Bhutto. Sharif just began his 10-year jail sentence on corruption charges.
For the record, Khan has already snarled at, what he describes as Narendra Modi’s efforts to weaken Pakistan Army. India remains Pakistan establishment, read Army’s, favourite bugbear.
Pakistan’s obsession with India, its size, growth, economic might and a desperation to nibble into Jammu & Kashmir state, failing which attempts at terrorist attacks led to the critical neglect of its economy over the decades.
While Khan’s assuming power could mark the beginning of a modern era in the 210 million nation, 97 percent of which Muslims. Yet, challenges that the nation with 70 percent of its population below 30 years of age, and growing at a frightening annual pace of 2.10 percent are humongous.
With Army, the most critical centre of power on his side, and his prime rivals decimated, Imran may have the best opportunity in decades to repair and lift a tottering $324 billion economy, feeding the fifth largest population in the world.
The world’s 41st biggest economy sadly is ranked a lowly 151 by per capita GDP of $1615. The abysmally low level of per capita income, sharp income disparity, and a virtual absence of middle class makes the challenge doubly difficult for Khan to broad-base income generation and provision of employment. Corruption, as in most emerging economies remains endemic.
Khan inherits an economy that has a weak base, funded largely by repatriation from Pakistanis working in neighbouring Middle East, help from the sheikhs. Services account for 60 percent, and the remaining shared almost equally by industry and agriculture. GDP grew 4.71 percent in 2016, though growing slower than 4 percent each year after 4.99 percent growth in 2008.
According to NBP Fullerton Asset Management, a unit of National Bank of Pakistan, more than 35 percent of the population remains out of the tax net, compared with about 20 percent for India and less than 10 percent for the USA.
``Instead of isolated measures, a comprehensive policy framework is needed to reduce the size of the black economy, which entails economic liberalization, scale discipline, enhanced space for the private sector, tax reforms with a focus on tax cuts and broadening of tax base,’’ it said in a report. ``Reforms to reduce corruption should be an essential element of this strategy.’’
Impact on India
Born in Lahore in 1952, Khan once said he grew up amidst much hatred and negativity about India. Yet when he visited India he got tremendous love and affection. As a cricket player he was a frequent visitor, a familiar face amongst Delhi’s socialites circle, and probably knows gullies of Delhi better than Prime Minister Modi.
A regular guest at Adi and Parmeshwar Godrej’s bunglow in Mumbai, many would still remember him for his advertisements for Cinthol bath soap and body lotion.
So, a new Prime Minister with such intimate understanding, network and experience of India has a tremendous opportunity to break barriers and push relations higher to a completely new level, making up for decades of inaction. Barring the contentious Kashmir issue most other issues can be quickly resolved.
Imran has the example of its oldest ally China to emulate. The world’s second biggest economy of $14 trillion has historical border disputes with India yet trade between the two has not suffered. China emerged as India’s largest trading partner with bilateral trade of $72 billion in year to March 2017 compared with $38 billion a decade back. This year it would have doubled.
Sadly, trade in the south Asian region is the lowest intra-regional trade in the world, denying citizens benefits of trade, lower prices and huge employment opportunities. Neither of the countries is among even the top 10 trading partners of each other. Intra-regional trade is 5 percent among south Asian countries compared with 73 percent for Asia-Pacific economic Cooperation (APEC).
India and Pakistan carry out $5 billion of trade through third countries. Removal of non-tariff barriers, and liberalisation of rules could easily increase trade at least six fold in a matter of few years, trade experts say. Most Favoured Nation to India could help both.
Afghanistan and India are on the same page vis-a-vis Pakistan, China is seeking to extract the best to turn Pakistan into a vassal state through its One Belt One Road (OBOR) running through the length of the country, and also taking Gwadar port on lease until the year 2059.
Khan will have to grapple with how to deal with bear hug of the Chinese, who are building the $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a vast network of infrastructure projects including roads, ports, railways to help economy realise its potential. Better relations with other neighbours could be one way out.
Its neighbours on the north-west and the east have for decades accused it of fomenting trouble with its home grown terror industry. Sadly, much too late it realised the advice from Hillary Clinton.
``You can’t keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only to bite your neighbours. You know, eventually those snakes are going to turn on whoever has them in the backyard,’’ she said.
Under Khan, Pakistan has a golden opportunity to stamp out terror outfits domestically, and focus on economy.