FeaturedNationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 05

Pakistan’s new stature

Prime Minister Imran Khan has emerged a hero in the Muslim world and Pakistan after his impassioned speech at the United Nations General Assembly. He pleaded the case of Muslims over allegations of Islamic terrorism and Pakistan’s stance on its dispute with India on occupied Kashmir.

His stature in the Muslim world is expected to grow further after his efforts to mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia. At the UNGA, he had revealed that he was mediating among the US, Iran and Saudi Arabia to defuse tension in the Middle East, which has grown after recent drone strikes on Saudi oil facilities, raising the prospect of direct conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Though the chances of Imran Khan’s success are remote, because the issue is complex and deep-rooted in history, yet it will be a great achievement if he brings the two Muslim countries to the negotiating table.

Jordan’s Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center has already named Prime Minister Imran Khan as its “Man of the Year” in its recent list of the most persuasive Muslims in the world. The center, an autonomous research entity with the Royal Aal Al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought in Jordan, honoured him for his desire for peace with neighbouring India, besides his role in cricket and launching a successful fund-raising campaign to establish a hospital devoted to both the care of cancer victims and its research, the Arab News reported.

“If The Muslim 500 was in print back in 1992 and I was the Chief Editor then, I would have nominated Imran Khan as our Muslim Man of the Year because of his brilliant performance in cricket, which culminated in Pakistan winning the 1992 Cricket World Cup a sport I have always admired for its combination of elegance and intense competitive play,’ said Professor S Abdallah Schleifer, a Professor Emeritus of Journalism in the American University in Cairo, who chose Imran Khan winner of the title. Schleifer was quick to add that Khan’s role in cricket was not the only criteria for him being bestowed with the title. He said he also impressed with Khan launching a successful fund-raising campaign to establish a hospital devoted to both the care of cancer victims and its research.

However, it was PM Khan’s desire for peace with neighboring India which earned him the title. “It is particularly to his credit that upon taking office in August 2018, Khan made it quite clear that one of his top priorities was to work for lasting peace with India. This is Imran Khan’s great dilemma how do you make a much desired lasting peace with a nation governed by those who have neither interest nor need to make a lasting peace with Pakistan, and against whom any form of war would be hopeless,” he observed.

According to The Independent, Pakistan is finally stepping into its role as a world player after a year of Imran Khan. Undeniably, Pakistan has been heading in the wrong direction for the last five decades; an extractive political system created a rent-seeking political and economic elite, benefitting a sliver of society at the expense of the masses. Fleeting periods appeared when the sea wasn’t choppy, but change never sustained. Amid the backdrop of such misgovernance, Khan’s rise as a legitimate political alternative led to the fanning of irrational expectancies, it noted.

Today, it is difficult to deny that things have not gone according to script. Pakistan’s economic challenges have been harsher than the most dismal prognosis and with the on-going saga in Kashmir, geo-politics has spiraled downwards. After a year of painful policies and economic challenges, most seem inclined to ditch the optimism entirely. However, as is commonly believed, it is the darkest before dawn. With expectations suitably calibrated to the tough reality that Khan’s leadership faces, it is possible to see green-shoots emerging in political and economic arenas. What Khan is trying to implement is a wholesale reform that steers the country towards an inclusive political and economic system. By revamping strategic objectives of statecraft, the game of smoke and mirrors by previous governments is being laid to rest. The speed of reform is slow and bumpy, and the slew of benefits won’t rain down immediately, but crucially, the direction seems to be right, the leading British newspaper observed.

For Pakistan’s economy, the inherited legacy of debt and deficits, enormous even by Pakistan’s own standards, has created immediate issues of economic growth. A deeper dive, however, reveals that the rent-seeking culture of yesteryear is finally being reined in. Discouraging investment in non-productive land and consumer goods imports, while promoting exports and import substitution is a long, drawn-out process, in a country where productivity has been steadily dwindling. After years of neglect, investment in exports is on the rise and entrepreneurs have begun setting up businesses based on import substitution. The technology eco-system in Pakistan is belatedly but ultimately coming into place. An ambitious task of bringing more people into the tax net is reaping dividends, with a 65pc increase in tax filers over the last year.

On the international stage, Khan’s leadership style is a departure from his predecessors. Recognition prior to politics, coupled with the promise of “incorruptibility”, signals his diplomatic stature. Incidents such as Pulwama, followed by the Kashmir crisis, put Khan’s diplomatic headship to instant test and both times, he scored. Requests for him to serve as an honest broker to mediate between the US-Afghanistan and US-Iran evidences the same confidence. Pakistan has surfaced as a responsible global player; a harbinger of peace with its narrative ubiquitously conveyed. The message to world leaders is loud and clear: Pakistan is no longer a pawn, a joke, a bystander on the world stage. It is active, engaged, relevant and responsible. This is a dramatic shift from the past, one which may garner greater recognition retrospectively, the paper argued.

The “Naya Pakistan” that Khan envisioned may be a dream too far-fetched for the perplexing country – at least for now. But by expecting an overnight panacea that turns Pakistan around, we are turning best into the enemy of the good. Instead, what warrants recognition is that despite the cacophony, political winds blowing across the country are putting the architecture for real, tangible change into place – although its pace and scope have left many dispirited, the newspaper observed.

It is clear that Pakistan has come out of international isolation and assumed a significant role in the world in the first year of Imran Khan’s government. An economically strong Pakistan, which is his vision, will be able to play its due role in regional and world peace.