Pakistan: Can a celebrity prime minister crush corruption?
Pakistan is filled with hope, said Khalid Lodhi in Jasarat. In a stunning rebuke to the corrupt establishment parties that have long ruled this nation, voters last week elected former international cricket star Imran Khan as prime minister. His Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won 115 of the 270 seats in the national legislature’s lower house and has begun talks with smaller parties to build a ruling coalition. Khan, 65, has galvanized the nation—especially the two-thirds of Pakistanis under age 30—with his vision of a strong welfare state in which the rich pay taxes and the poor get an education. He gave his first post-election speech with his trademark “simplicity and sincerity,” calling for peace with our Afghan neighbors, normalized relations with India, and above all an end to the corruption that has been “eating our country like a cancer.” Khan even reached out to his vanquished rivals by promising that his government would investigate allegations of vote rigging.
Those allegations taint Khan’s victory, said Javid Husain in The Nation. The powerful military, which has ruled this country for most of its history, expressed a clear preference for Khan, who has railed against U.S. interference and supported dialogue with the Taliban. Pakistani and foreign observers reported “extensive and systematic rigging and political engineering” in the run-up to the election, much of it targeting the PTI’s main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N). That party’s founder, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was thrown in jail less than two weeks before the election on corruption charges, and “the powers that be” have waged a “sustained character assassination campaign” against Sharif and his family. It’s possible the election result was also rigged. The official count was delayed by two days, and all major parties except the PTI claim that tallies were altered.
But it’s unfair to dismiss Khan as the military’s puppet, said Aijaz Zaka Syed in The News International. Once an international sex symbol, the three-times-married Khan left his playboy past behind decades ago, finding a new purpose in public service and the mystic Sufi branch of Islam. He has worked for 22 years to turn his PTI into “a disciplined and focused election-winning machine.” We would all like to believe that just as he captained Pakistan’s national team to victory at the 1992 Cricket World Cup, “Captain Khan could once again rescue Pakistan and lead it to glory.”
But first he’ll need to save the economy, said K.S. Venkatachalam in The Express Tribune. Khan must quickly secure a bailout of up to $12 billion from the International Monetary Fund. Any IMF loans will come with austerity measures attached, so Khan will have to “take some hard and unpopular decisions to resuscitate the economy.” More challenges will follow, including taming Pakistani jihadist groups and improving relations with India and the U.S. If he can do all that, he might just become the first Pakistani prime minister to complete a full term.