Cricketer-turned-politician Imran khan has defied the odds in Pakistan politics. He has managed to record a handsome victory in the recently held national elections in Pakistan.
His Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (the Movement for Justice) or PTI party has established itself as Pakistan’s another big party alongside Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). PTI has emerged as the major national party in the recent polls.
Defying odds has been a hall mark of Imran’s life. In 1990s, he led his nation’s cricket team hampered by injury and poor performance to the status of world champions.
It is said that the then 40-year old Khan- the star batter and bowler- gave an inspiring speech before the match to motivate his team for a tough fight for victory. The national team won the world cup by defeating England in Australia in the final.
Now Khan is a star politician. He is all set to form government in Pakistan and assume office as the Prime Minister of the country. From the cricket field to the political field, Khan has been leading from the front and has achieved the highest level of success both as a cricketer and a politician.
Many other sports personalities have gone to lead governments. Most notably George Weah, a Liberian soccer star in the 1990s, was elected president in 2017. Ted Heath won the Sydney-Hobart yacht race in 1969. It was just a year before he became the prime minister.
Manny Pacquiao's impressive career in the ring isn't the only thing he's famous for - he's also the current senator of the Philippines.The 'Pac-Man' had a successful boxing career, being the only eight-division world champion in history, having won 11 major world titles.
As a national hero in the Philippines, he has flirted with careers in basketball, music and acting - but now finds himself as a boxer-come-senator. In June 2016, Pacquiao was elected as a senator and is serving a six-year term until 2022.
Speaking of Imran Khan, he attributes his successful journey in politics to his ability to make a clean break with his athletic career and to focus completely on his political objectives.
True, his illustrious career as a cricketer and the attending reputation boosted his morale and carried him through the political ups and downs on way to the pinnacle of political field.
Khan has burnished himself as a reformer who intends to remove the rot from the corrupt system dominated by the two political dynasties such as the Sharif and the Bhutto families under whom are Pakistan’s two long-lasting political parties. However, his party includes many top leaders who once belonged to those two parties.
Moreover, PTI has taken a leaf out of the book of these parties. For instance, in the recent polls, PTI attracted influential and moneyed electoral candidates with the ability to deliver large numbers of votes for the party.
Even in the field of cricket, Khan had blemished his image to a certain extent. In his 1994 book, he admitted to ball tampering, picking at the seam and even bringing a bottle cap onto the field to scratch it.
That is a serious offence in cricket as it adds an unexpected twistiness to a bowler’s spin. Khan defended his action by saying that everyone was doing it and that he only did it sometimes.
His anti-corruption message has appealed many people who notably include the young, the urban, the conservative and the middle-class voters in Punjab, the country’s most populated province.
Interestingly, what does Khan’s electoral victory indicate? It indicates to a Pakistani voter that there is a third option in Pakistan’s politics and that the leaders with no ties to family dynasty too can climb the political ladder to the top.
Certainly, Khan’s resounding victory may have given hope to the common electorate that no parry or politician of any standing is invincible.
Meanwhile, Khan is preparing to take the driving seat in the country’s politics. Many analysts believe that his honeymoon period will soon be over and his ability to lead the country among various challenges will soon be known after he takes office.
He will have to lead the country out of the economic crisis amid the aggrieved political opposition which believes that there was a pre-poll and election day rigging.
“Exports are down, debt is up, the macro indicators are pretty poor,” said Sehar Tariq with the US institute of peace. He also has to take care of the challenge of Pakistan’s growing debt to china.
It seems that Khan’s government will soon have to approach the International Monetary Fund ( IMF) for a bailout. But, it could be difficult because the US administration has warned the IMF not to bail the country out. The other option may be more borrowing from China.
Khan will have to settle well with the army that will keep a close eye on him to ensure that its interests are met and if it finds that the interests are hurt with Khan in power, he may face difficulties in continuing his innings.
Another acid test to Khan and company will be on governance front. His party has no experience of leading the country and he will be operating in the most polarizing atmosphere in the country.
Keeping poll promises and taking the country out of the mire of various issues may prove an uphill task.
Weeding out corruption too will prove tough because before the election, he took in his fold those politicians who have no clean hands in terms of corruption.
Besides, only one percent people pay taxes. Khan himself said during a victory speech recently that “people don’t’ pay taxes because they see how our ruling elite spends that money.”
Internationally, Pakistan is surrounded by countries with whom good ties are important. PTI will have to ensure that china stays committed to its $65bn deal in China Pakistan Economic Corridor.
Besides, efforts will have to be made to bring India on the negotiation table for Kashmir issue and water crisis between the two countries need to be addressed. Khan rightly said in his victory speech that he would build friendly relations with neighboring states.
Moreover, Pakistan no longer is the US’s close ally and has become more dependent on China. Khan has said that he would rebalance his country’s ties with the US that seems difficult.
Seher Tariq puts it: “The road to better relations with Pakistan and the US is not a direct road… it goes through Afghanistan.” Afghanistan may prove a tough choice.
One more challenge facing Khan’s government is to drop Pakistan from the financial action task force (FATF) grey list. A failure in this will mean deep trouble for Pakistan's image and economy in case sanctions are imposed on it globally.
Above all, Khan will have to perform to keep his promises of eradicating poverty, opening 10 million jobs, operating an autonomous foreign policy and ensuring accountability for all.