“Kaptaan saab jittenge janaab, pitch tay fauj nay banaya” ( Captain-sir will win – the pitch has been prepared by the army) — this was the received wisdom about the Pakistan elections in the early hours of Wednesday as millions of voters were preparing to cast their votes. While the official results are yet to be announced (at the time of writing this commentary), it is evident that the high office of Prime Minister of Pakistan awaits the country’s former cricket captain. Clearly, those on the inside track had been given advance information about the winner, even before the counting of votes had concluded. But as the cynics in Pakistan had been pointing out, the hand of God had blessed the ‘kaptaan’ even before the first vote was cast!
Khan’s former wife Jemima Goldsmith was ahead of the pack and tweeted around noon on Thursday : “22 years later, after humiliations, hurdles and sacrifices, my sons’ father is Pakistan’s next PM. It’s an incredible lesson in tenacity, belief & refusal to accept defeat. The challenge now is to remember why he entered politics in the 1st place.”
Whether Khan’s Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) forms the federal government in Islamabad independently, or in coalition with ‘like-minded’ parties, the preliminary assessment about PM Khan, as far as the India-Pakistan bilateral relationship is concerned, is not very reassuring.
There has been a boiler-plate policy framework in place in Pakistan since the General Zia-ul-Haq military coup (July 1977), wherein the Pakistan army has wielded total control over critical security-strategic and foreign policy issues ; and almost all of them are driven by a visceral anti-India anxiety-cum-hatred. These issues include Kashmir, support to terror groups and the nuclear weapons.
A brief review of the India-Pakistan bilateral relationship since the emergence of civilian rule, beginning with Benazir Bhutto as PM in December 1988 to Nawaz Sharif in 2018, would point to a clear pattern of the khaki constituency trumping the elected leadership if they stepped out of line – and ruthlessly at that. The fate that befell Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, his daughter Benazir and now Nawaz Sharif, are testimony to this army consistency.
Thus, whether it is on Kashmir (back to the 1948 UN resolution was the Imran Khan campaign rhetoric) or restoring the sanctity of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-Pervez Musharraf accord of January 2004 , which committed Pakistan not to let its soil be used for terrorism against India, it may be inferred that the pace and orientation of the bilateral relationship with India will be determined more by Rawalpindi, the army general headquarters, than Prime Minister’s Khan’s office in Islamabad.
To my mind, the most significant and corrosive element in the Pakistan election is the fact that as many as 460 candidates backed by terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and its affiliates, including some rabid anti-Shia groups, were allowed to stand as candidates. Despite many voices within Pakistan being raised against according political legitimacy to those invested in religious extremism and terror, the deep state allowed this electoral transgression.
When the final tally is announced on Friday , it is likely that the Pakistan National Assembly will have these ‘worthies’ as members and the implications of this move can be detrimental to both Islamabad, and Rawalpindi as well as the hapless Pakistani citizen. One illustration of the corrosive governance implications of such an exigency is that the extreme religious right-wing constituency which supported the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer in January 2011 will now shape the laws that will govern Pakistan.
And one last thought – in the campaign, Imran Khan often invoked the ‘China model’ to set Pakistan back on track. To get more details on what that means for the perennially troubled Pakistan-India relationship, perhaps one should follow Jemima Goldsmith on Twitter !
It will be instructive to monitor how ‘kaptaan sab’ opens his innings as Prime Minister Khan.
(Commodore (retd) C Uday Bhaskar is a strategic analyst and director of the Society for Policy Studies.)
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