Imran Khan’s acceptance speech was laudable from many angles. It had a healing touch after the deep polarisation and cleavages that have occurred in the polity in the weeks and months of electioneering. How long it can be sustained would depend on how words are transformed into deeds. The wide canvass of economic, political and foreign policy issues that he dealt with would certainly need a broad national consensus to be implemented.

Imran Khan’s vision on foreign policy was equally ambitious. His thrust was that with major global powers and regional countries, especially important neighbours, he would like to have good relations. Of course, it was accompanied by caveats. It would be a useful exercise to examine what are the likely prospects of achieving this worthy goal.

China is committed to the success of CPEC and is fulfilling its part of the bargain. As the situation stands now, there are delays on our side that need to be speeded up to keep pace with the agreed schedule of work. Moreover, our people especially from Balochistan need to benefit from the project in a significant way. For this, the security situation has to be better so that work could progress smoothly. Moreover, the real benefit of the corridor lies in attracting investment and adding value to the economy that Pakistan so desperately needs.

Chinese leaders right from Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping to the current able leadership of Xi Jinping were able to transform China in a remarkable way that history has not witnessed before. It is always useful to learn from the Chinese experience and emulate their hard work and selfless dedication as Imran Khan suggests. Answers to overcome our national shortcomings will have to be found from within. The reason is that the Chinese economic and political model is so vastly different from ours. Duplicating a communist imprint on a quasi-democracy would not work. However, emulating their hard work, dedication and methodical approach should serve as a guide and incentive.

President Xi has taken several measures to minimise corruption that includes removing top and middle-ranking leaders and ensuring that accountability is across the board. Yet it would take a long time before China ranks among the corrupt-free nations. In Pakistan, to reduce corruption, several measures would have to be taken. In this election, the PTI heavily focused on the “electables”. These politicians have built their electoral strength largely on the basis of patronage and to a lesser extent on performance and leadership. The electables to enhance their local influence spend lavishly to win votes. Once in power, they would like to recover their investment thereby perpetuating a form of corruption.

The Afghan government welcomed Imran Khan’s reiteration of remaining committed to the Afghan peace efforts. His thinking of an open border between the two countries was equally well received. As conditions exist, it will take a few years before Afghanistan turns peaceful and the government is able to establish its writ in the provinces adjacent to Pakistan. Only then would free movement be a feasible proposition. The army leadership too has been earnestly working towards developing a close and cooperative relationship with Afghanistan. General Bajwa has made several visits to Afghanistan to regain the confidence of its leadership. A recent development is the institutionalisation of relationship where representatives of both countries periodically review security, trade and border management. The alleged presence of the Haqqani Group and the Taliban Shura in Pakistan has been a sore point for Afghanistan as it is for the US. Recent moves by Pakistan and international organisations like Pugwash to facilitate the peace process between the Taliban and US officials augur well for Afghanistan and the region. These could lead to a negotiated settlement. Even if Imran Khan remains on the sidelines, his words of sympathy and support and his positive image in Afghanistan should contribute to building mutual confidence.

Pakistan’s relations with the US will largely depend on how our military leadership is able to convince Washington that they are not supporting the Taliban and Haqqanis. A stable relationship may not be possible if our policies on Afghanistan, India, Iran and China run counter to the US positions.

Balancing relations between our long-term strategic ally Saudi Arabia and important neighbour Iran, with whom Pakistan has been taking measured steps to improve relations, would remain a challenge. The role of being a conciliator in the Saudi-Iran confrontation as Imran suggests seems impractical.

Imran Khan’s desire to develop good relations with India will be a great challenge. First, he would have to take the establishment on board, which may not be easy. In the past both the PPP and PML-N leaderships were reportedly thwarted by the military in their attempts to foster political and economic relations with India. How will the army high command react to the PTI government’s moves to break the logjam, especially his desire to strengthen trade ties with India? With Kashmir in turmoil and Modi’s government unrelenting, it makes the task even more challenging. Anyway, his expression of goodwill and a sincere proposal to engage in dialogue should be commended.

From Pakistan’s perspective, the inflated role of India in Afghanistan makes it uneasy. Whether the new government will reconcile to this situation or take the ownership of relations with India and steer it towards an end that has space for both the countries remains to be seen.

The more fundamental question is, would Imran be able to wrest back the power of formulating and implementing foreign policy. Asif Zardri had to make a fast retreat after his initial attempts at subordinating foreign policy. Nawaz Sharif’s attempts at improving relations with India brought him in direct confrontation with the military. There are better prospects for Imran to take control over foreign policy provided he consolidates his power and convinces the armed forces that Pakistan’s future and stability lies in developing a functional relationship with India, gaining the confidence of Afghanistan, building trust with the US and deepening ties with China.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2018.

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