By Owei Lakemfa
ONCE in a while, our troubled world throws up unexpected leaders who may be a force for further degeneration as is the case of American President Donald Trump, or positive change as the new Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi might be. It is still dawn, so too early to predict the former international cricket star who came to power on August 18 and has within a week already engaged his country’s overbearing ‘ally’ the United States in a principled fight over terrorism.
Khan who in his first two weeks in office has triggered a political Tsunami, is intent on creating a “New Pakistan”. He told his fellow Pakistanis: “If we do not change our direction we will head towards disaster. The corrupt people will make a lot of noise when we target them. They might come onto the streets or say that democracy is under threat. Either Pakistan will be saved or these corrupt people.”
The populist Khan said the palatial Prime Minister’s official residence is too obscene to house just one family, so he plans to convert it into a tertiary institution while he and his family will stay in the Military Secretary’s three-bedroom house. Ordinarily, he said, he wanted to stay in his private house, but the security services opposed this. Also, Khan has decided to reduce the 524 staff in the Prime Minister’s residence to two , and the 80 cars to two.
Khan complained: “The Prime Minister, which is me, also has 33 bulletproof cars. We have helicopters and airplanes to fly us. We have massive governor houses and every conceivable luxury. On one hand, we don’t have money to spend on our people; on the other hand, we have a section of our people living like our colonial masters used to live.” He also cancelled all official travels on first class and said he would auction off all the other bulletproof cars and put the proceeds in the state treasury. As a practical demonstration of his politics, rather than the usual lavish banquet at swearing in ceremonies, only tea was served.
He said his government will build an egalitarian, non-exploitative state based on the principles of the first Islamic state of Medina. He promises a new society in which all will be equal before the law, political opponents will not be victimised, the judiciary will be independent, the police and military will be re-oriented based on democratic values. His government promises 10 million new jobs and the construction of five million low-cost housing units within five years.
Khan’s declaration: “On our foreign policy, we want to improve our ties with all our neighbours,” might be a profound one as this is a major source of problem for the country, and an international open sore. Over the years, the only part of its border at peace, is the Arabia Sea to its south. Pakistan with its Islamisation ideology, has not been comfortable with China, its neighbour in the North which it sees as a godless country. It is uncomfortable with Iran, its South-West neighbour which, although Islamic, is Shiite, in contrast to the mainly Sunni Pakistan.
In 1979, Pakistan militarily assisted young Islamic fighters from Afghanistan to attack their country on the claim that the then Afghan Government was communist and therefore godless. It also encouraged its own nationals and youths from other Muslim countries in Asia and the Middle East to join the attacks against Afghanistan. Since then, Pakistan has become quite insecure. Perhaps, its most volatile border is that with India. Both countries have virtually been at war footing since August 14, 1947 when they split. They have fought three wars; 1947, 1965 and 1971. The fact that both Pakistan and India have nuclear weapons makes their conflicts more worrisome.
Although there is a general sentiment in Pakistan that the disputed region of Kashmir belongs to it, Khan says the dispute must be rested, and his suggestion it to present the Kashmir matter as a humanitarian issue, as opposed to a territorial dispute. So for him, there can be no military solution. The origin of the Kashmir conflict began at independence when the leadership of that region, despite its Islamic population refused to secede with the rest of Pakistan, opting to remain in India. Khan’s government said it is so desirous for peace that if India takes one step towards Pakistan, it will take two steps in response.
Khan’s position on terrorists, especially the Pakistani Taliban who the Americans have been at war with over the years, is that there can be no military solution, so he favours dialogue. For this, he is considered soft on terrorists and some of his political opponents call him ‘Taliban Khan’ . In the past, he had accused America of sabotaging the peace process especially by killing the Pakistani Taliban leader, Hakimullah Mehsud. On October 6, 2012, he joined a caravan protest against American US drone missile strikes in Pakistan.
It is not surprising that this issue of terrorists and how they should be handled, has led to a controversy between Khan and the Americans. The American Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo had called Khan on phone wishing him success, and according to the US State Department readout, Pompeo had also asked Khan to take “decisive action against all terrorists operating in Pakistan”.
But Khan’s government said: “There was no mention at all in the conversation about terrorists operating in Pakistan. This should be immediately corrected.” But the Americans insisted their version of the conversation is correct. It is not unlikely that during the proposed visit by Pompeo on Wednesday, September 5, both sides will openly disagree on the issue.
Khan played for the Pakistan national cricket team at 18. He played until 1992 when as captain, and with a shoulder injury, he led Pakistan to clinch the Cricket World Cup.
He founded the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice) party, and supported the 1999 General Pervez Musharraf military coup. They later fell apart and Musharraf detained him. Khan escaped, resurfaced at a student protest, was re-arrested and sent to prison only to be freed within days.
One enduring imagery of Khan was a march on then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s official residence. Three people died and about 600 were injured when the protesters stormed the residence.
In the July 25, 2018 elections, his party won 116 of the 270 seats contested; the largest by a single party. Nine independent parliamentarians aligned with his party. Additionally, his party was allocated 28 of the 60 seats reserved for women, and five of 10 seats reserved for minorities. With that, he became Prime Minister; a leader that may rewrite Pakistani history and blaze a new trail in world affairs.