by Raheel Abubakar
All throughout 2018, multiple sources from the Business Insider to NPR to CNN referred to Imran Khan, the new prime minister of Pakistan, as the “former cricket champ playboy turned politician”. However after Pakistan has endured decades of corruption on every political platform, his populist and inspirational view should spark hope for Pakistanis all around the world. Whether it’s my own parents cheering from the couch or the 20 million homeless people in Pakistan who just found out that they might have a future.
However, to understand their plight, it’s imperative to look back to see how Pakistan got into this state. There has always been a presence of corruption in Pakistan since its establishment in 1947, but they have reached global attention with two major events: the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the trial of Nawaz Sharif.
After the the previous Prime Minister died in a plane crash, Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister in 1988. She was the first female Prime Minister in Pakistan’s history, and she served for two non-consecutive terms from 1988-1990 and then 1993-1996. Despite her prolonged presidency, Benazir Bhutto was infamous for her embezzlement of millions of dollars from the Pakistani people, massive corruption with her husband, and allegations of being involved in the controversial murder of her brother. The Bhutto family is equally as notorious with their long line of corrupt leaders who pulled the strings on Pakistan’s government. After returning from an eight-year self-imposed exile, her homecoming rally was hit by a suicide attack which killed 136 people. Given the state of crisis, Prime Minister Musharraf declared a state of emergency, which Bhutto opposed greatly. She then threatened to take her supporters to the streets in protest of the state of emergency which got her sentenced to house arrest for nine days. Then, on December 27th, 2007, shots were fire and a bomb went off killing 27 and wounding 100. Benazir Bhutto was killed when her head hit a part of the sunroof in her vehicle. In response, protests erupted around all around Pakistan’s most populated city, Karachi, and eventually all of Pakistan’s major cities. Her supporters threw rocks at hospitals, smashed windows, and burned cars on the street. By the time the riots were over, more 100 cars were burned and the protests alone killed 11 people in Karachi.
Benazir Bhutto’s assassination became an impetus for Pakistanis to analyze their own sentiments and became one of the most divisive times in the nation’s history.
Upon her death, a culture of distrust was established. It was in this climate that Nawaz Sharif rose to power. Nawaz Sharif worked closely with Benazir Bhutto’s brother, Murtaza Bhutto, to undermine Benazir Bhutto’s government and expose her corruption. Then, when Murtaza Bhutto was killed, controversy followed and accusations went straight for Benazir Bhutto. This series of events is what lead to her downfall and self-exile in 1996. Nawaz Sharif then took his second non-consecutive term and maintained power for two years, from 1997-1999. (His first term was from 1990-1999). He is a dedicated defender of military manipulation and the autocrat protector of the aristocracy. His anti-corruption claims fell quickly and he maintained his power through military control. Nevertheless, he was re-elected for his third non-consecutive term in 2013. This four-year rule was what lead to the controversy that became the final straw for Pakistan. After not being able to show a money trail for how Sharif’s family could afford such expensive and luxurious apartments in London, the Pakistani Supreme Court found him guilty of corruption and sentenced him and his family to ten years in prison.
With prime ministers toppling each other’s regimes, and family politics becoming a dangerous game of backstabbing, mysterious shootouts, and bureaucratic betrayal it is no surprise that faith in government has diminished. 91% of Pakistanis are dissatisfied with how things are going and just 24% believe the government has a good influence on the nation.
But it’s for this very reason that Imran Khan’s victory is so crucial. In the western world, he is mostly known for his record cricket career, but in Pakistan his policy, not his bat is what’s bringing hope to the lower class. His foreign policy sets a standard that Pakistan will no longer play the role of the pawn in global affairs nor simply a nuclear fear anymore. He wants to set a mutually beneficial agreement with the United States and he is willing to try for peace with their arch-enemy, India. He has even endorsed ideas of doing talks about the Kashmir to stabilize the region’s conflict, which is a prime concern of most Indians and Pakistanis. He believes that resolving the Kashmir conflict could be the stepping stone for cooperation between Pakistan and India for food security, energy, and joint civil-nuclear activities.
As for China, Pakistan’s new best friend, Imran Khan will visit Beijing next month to discuss the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. China’s economic influence on Karachi has become a contentious issue as Pakistan becomes China’s latest project in its Belt and Road Initiative. Imran Khan’s ability to pay back the billions of dollars loaned out by China for infrastructure will be a test of his capacity to lead the country. Unfortunately, Imran Khan is quite limited in the moves he can make to repay this debt. Pakistan’s main exports, textiles and rice, currently lack the infrastructure to mass produce, which can be both beneficial but very detrimental depending on how it plays out. If Pakistan does establish this infrastructure then it would hugely benefit their economy and lower its current debts, but that is a big “if”. Incapable of paying for these large-scale projects, Pakistan has relied on Chinese construction. China is known for wanting to establish their own infrastructure in foreign countries to gain influence and gain revenue, but if China builds the groundwork for Pakistan’s textile and agriculture industry, then it would only increase their iron grip on Pakistan.
Corruption in Pakistan has also been due to the country’s volume of state-sponsored terrorism and funding to groups like the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. After United States aid was unsuccessful to combat terrorism in the region under Nawaz Sharif, the Executive Branch froze over 800 million dollars in military aid based on claims that Pakistan inadequately responded to militant groups in the region. While that is true, it should be noted that this state-sponsored terrorism happened under the Nawaz Sharif regime. Now that Pakistan is under Imran Khan’s leadership and he is fighting corruption of foreign aid, it would be opportune for the U.S. to release some of the frozen aid and place higher levels of accountability on the aid. With these provisions, the U.S. could observe how much the corruption has actually changed, adjusting our aid depending on Pakistan’s success in undermining militants. Instead of shutting the door on cooperating with Pakistan, cooperation should come first as it will steer Pakistan away from Chinese influence and on the right path. In truth, if we can regain influence in Pakistan at the beginning of the Imran Khan era, then we can forge a friendship beyond the corruption and upon a world-class cricketer.