Two of the biggest challenges confronting prime minister Imran Khan are Pakistan’s sputtering economy and the fraught civil-military relationship.
As the country teeters on the verge of a balance of payments crisis, the question on everyone’s minds is whether Khan will opt for a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or try and go it alone with the help of allies such as China.
Most analysts are of the opinion that the new government will do a bit of both. “I forsee them going to the IMF but also getting help such as short-term loans from allies like Saudi Arabia and China,” said economist Shahid Siddiqui.
Siddiqui said Khan will use his credentials to get friendly countries to invest in sectors such as energy and agriculture. “What we are seeing is that within a few weeks there will be a comprehensive economic plan in place which will put emphasis on growth and improving the country’s financial indicators,” he said.
Shoring up the rupee against foreign currencies will be Khan’s priority given the effect devaluation has on inflation. “The priority will be to increase foreign exchange reserves in the short-term,” said banker Shahid Hussain.
Hussain said Khan enjoys much higher credibility among overseas Pakistanis than any other previous premier. “I expect that he will use that goodwill to get overseas Pakistanis to invest in Pakistan.”
Pakistan has spent nearly half its history under military rule, and experts had warned of a “creeping coup” fuelled by tensions between the military and three-time premier Nawaz Sharif, largely because of his desire to assert civilian supremacy and seek better ties with arch-rival India.
Khan will face greater scrutiny as his government navigates relations with the all-powerful military since his opponents have alleged he was given a helping hand by the army in the elections after Sharif’s ouster by the judiciary last year and subsequent arrest for corruption.
“There are a number of points of discord, be it foreign affairs, terrorism and even how to manage the economy. There are bound to be disagreements,” said an analyst.
Khan, who has made overtures to India, has said he was elected without any help, but he will have to meet challenges without upsetting the delicate balance of power.
The economy also cannot be separated from politics, and given the ambitious agenda announced by the PTI before coming to power, people are hoping for an improvement in their everyday lives.
“The PTI has promised jobs to the people. They expect this to happen soon,” said journalist Salim Bokhari. “It is easy to make promises but now they will have to follow up on them.”
Politically, Khan’s challenge will come from both opposition parties and extremist groups, some of whom have allied with the PTI. “Imran Khan will have to separate his politics from that of the sectarian groups that are his party’s allies,” said an analyst. That will be difficult.
It will also be difficult to expect Khan to start action against the Pakistani Taliban and other terror groups. Another analyst said one of the understandings with the military was that the army will manage relations with the Taliban and other such groups. Khan, who earned the nickname “Taliban Khan” for his willingness to hold talks with militants, flirted with religious hardliners during the campaign.
With such challenges at hand, it will be interesting to see how Khan’s government achieves the target it has set for itself in the first 100 days. So far, local media reports suggest people are happy with what they have seen. How long this honeymoon lasts remains to be seen.