'If India takes one step towards us, we'll take two': Imran Khan
akistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan is all set to become the next Prime Minister of Pakistan after his party won 119 out of 272 seats in Pakistan's National Assembly. Even though it is short of the half-way mark, the PTI would easily be able to form the government with the help of independents and smaller parties.
On Thursday evening, Khan delivered his first address after the PTI's victory in the elections. He promised a "new kind of governance that Pakistan has never seen". As a symbolic move marking his break from Pakistan's elitist political culture, Khan said that he would not be staying in the palatial Prime Minister's residence in Islamabad.
"The palatial PM residence is a symbol of our ruling elite's insensitivity to the country's masses. I would not be staying there. The building can be used for educational or welfare purposes," Khan said, adding that he would be staying in a "normal house in the complex meant for ministers".
During his address, Khan repeatedly stressed on the need to rid Pakistan of corruption, which according to him lies at the root of all that plagues the nation.
"Pakistanis are one of the biggest contributors to charity but they don't pay taxes. Why? Because they see how the political establishment misuses their taxes," he said.
He also said that Non Resident Pakistanis also don't invest in the country because they don't have faith in the political establishment.
"This is going to change. We will establish an honest administration that is committed to eradicating corruption," he said.
Khan said that his regime will be guided by the pious principles of the early Islamic order under Prophet Muhammad and the first four Caliphs.
He said that such an administration will take care of the aspirations of every Pakistani, "especially religious minorities and the poor, who are often denied even the basic constitutional rights".
During his address, Khan also gave enough hints on what his foreign policy is likely to be.
Regarding relations with India, Khan began by lamenting that the Indian media had maligned him throughout the election campaign.
"Every quality found in a Bollywood villain was attributed to Imran Khan," he said.
However, he stressed that he hopes to have good relations with India so that both countries can focus on addressing their domestic challenges like poverty.
He expressed his solidarity with the people of Kashmir saying that "Kashmiris have suffered immensely over the past 30 years. They have been victims of grave human rights violations. The military cannot be a solution. Whenever a military enters civilian areas, there are bound to be human rights violations," he said.
He further urged India to enter into a dialogue with Pakistan on Kashmir.
"If India takes one step towards us, we will take two steps towards them," he said.
His address also indicated a tilt towards China and opposition to the nature of Pakistan's present ties with the United States.
"Till now US gave us aid and used Pakistan as its frontline in the 'War on Terror. This arrangement harmed us," he said.
Regarding China, Khan said that the country has contributed to Pakistan's well-being and stressed on the centrality of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
"CPEC has immense potential and can contribute to the development of Pakistan," he said.
Imran Khan, who led Pakistan to victory in the 1992 cricket World Cup, formed the PTI in 1996. However, electoral success proved to be much more difficult than success in the cricketing arena. The PTI contested the 1997 elections with the "bat" symbol as a tribute to Khan's status as a cricket icon. But the party failed to win a single seat. In 2002, Imran Khan won from the Mianwali seat but the PTI got less than one per cent votes nationally.
The party boycotted the 2008 elections, which were swept by the Pakistan People's Party following the assassination of its leader Benazir Bhutto.
Khan and the PTI gained in popularity as an important voice of opposition against the PPP government, especially President Asif Ali Zardari. It was in this period that the PTI is said to have developed a working relationship with Pakistan's military establishment. The establishment is said to have been upset with the PPP but the main Opposition - Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) - refused to do the military's bidding. This is where Khan is said to have stepped in.
Despite not playing ball with the army, the PML-N won the 2013 general elections, sweeping its bastion Punjab. But the PTI too tasted electoral success, forming the government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and emerging as an important force nationally as well as in Punjab and Sind. Khan was particularly successful in wooing the urban youth in Pakistan.
Buoyed by the youth's support and high-profile defections from other parties, the PTI kept the heat on Nawaz Sharif from the moment he took over as PM in 2013. When Sharif had to step down following corruption charges, the PTI tasted blood and sensed an opportunity of winning Pakistan on its own might.
Opinion polls held over the past one year suggested a gradual increase in the PTI's projected vote share, particularly in Punjab and urban areas. With Sharif missing from the campaign trail, the PTI surged during the last one month of the campaign. It has managed to surprise pollsters, most of whom were predicting a hung National Assembly.
Khan now has a difficult job at hand in delivering his promise of change, especially as many of the new entrants in his party are from the same elite that he loathes. His positive relationship with the military and the judiciary is likely to ensure stability in his first few years in power.