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A fork in the road ahead for Pakistan under Imran Khan

IMRAN KHAN is now in the process of forming the next government of Pakistan. 

His PTI party has emerged as the largest in the country’s 270-seat national assembly, albeit without an overall majority.
Immediately, the would-be prime minister has to overcome two hurdles if he is to take office. 

First, there are the predictable calls from many — although not all — of his defeated rivals for a rerun of last Wednesday’s elections on grossly exaggerated grounds that they were rigged. 

The US State Department and European Union election observers have criticised unequal access to the media, restrictions on rights of assembly and free speech and shortcomings in pre-poll administration. 

Nevertheless, while alleging interference by the military and judicial establishment in the electoral process, neither US nor EU representatives question the integrity of Pakistan’s electoral commission or the validity of the result.  

Given the recent history of Pakistani politics and the threat posed to democratic rights by jihadist terrorism, it would be surprising had there been no significant degree of vote-fixing, coercion and corruption.  

Ominously, spokesperson Heather Nauert promised that the US and its Western allies would seek to broaden the involvement of Pakistanis in their country’s political process, strengthen Pakistan’s democratic institutions and work with the new Islamabad government to “advance our goals of security, stability, and prosperity in South Asia.”

Roughly translated, that means heightened interference in Pakistan’s internal and external affairs and renewed efforts to keep the country’s military forces and facilities under the US Central Command. 

This is all the more important if the US is to project its military power across the region from Iran and Afghanistan down to the Arabian Sea and across to the Bay of Bengal.

For certain, levers will be pulled to prevent Pakistan from forging stronger economic and political links with China. 

Khan has already upset US ruling circles by referring to US aid as a form of “enslavement” and threatening to withdraw his country from the so-called “war on terror.” 

He told journalists last August: “Sadly, our ruling elite took dollars from the Americans and went into this war ... it has created such hatred in our society.”  

But before he can do anything else at all, his second hurdle is the need to create a parliamentary majority. His choice is a stark one.

Either he panders — and not for the first time — to the religious fundamentalism in his own ranks and turns to like-minded parties outside or he allies the PTI with more progressive groups in the national assembly.

Only the latter course of action will be good news for the women of Pakistan. They have struggled courageously for the right to participate in elections, braving the retribution of family members, community rulers and religious extremists. 

Although the number of female assembly members has actually declined by one to just eight, many more women voted last week. 

Their demands are for social emancipation from discrimination and domestic violence, where the law is weak and constantly under threat of dilution, and for a measure of economic advance. 

Khan’s performance in office should be judged by whether his regime substantially strengthens the position of women in Pakistani society, as well as tackling chronic corruption, cutting back the economic and political influence of the army and security forces, rebuilding an efficient public sector and preventing a looming currency crisis caused by the country’s chronic balance of payments deficit.

For now, Pakistan’s communists and other socialists are wishing him well in any such efforts. The prize could be more prosperity for his people and a measure of peace for the region.

 

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