Imran Khan: A new innings | Daily News

Imran Khan: A new innings

Imran Khan is a legend in the cricketing world, with nearly 10,000 runs and 550 wickets to his name in an international career that spanned from 1971 to 1992. The highlight of his career was Pakistan’s emergence as World Champions at the Cricket World Cup in Australia in 1992 under his dynamic leadership. The charismatic and flamboyant Khan, 65, is facing a different ball game altogether as the incoming Prime Minister of Pakistan. If leading 11 players on the field was difficult enough, steering a country of 200 million on the international political and diplomatic turf will be a thousand times more challenging.

Stability and peace are two ingredients that Pakistan badly needs after non-stop turmoil. In fact, none of the 18 Prime Ministers of Post-Independent Pakistan completed their full five year term. This is only the second time in Pakistani history that a civilian Government is handing over the reins to another. In between, the military has interjected itself to the ruling apparatus much of the time. The military is an all-powerful entity in Pakistan, though most observers say that Khan has a good relationship with the Generals which may help him carry forward his vision for Pakistan.

Ending violence and terrorism should be a priority for Khan. The recent election campaign was among the most violent in living memory, thanks to a spate of suicide bombings blamed on the ISIS and other terror groups. While some detractors say that Khan has been soft on militancy, such sentiments will be disastrous in the ruling seat. Khan must be firm on eliminating terrorism from Pakistani soil. If his PTI (Pakistani Movement for Justice) party’s excellent track record on fighting terrorism in the volatile Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is anything to go by, there is nothing to fear on this count.

It will also be interesting to see how he performs on the diplomatic stage. Many Indian politicians and sports figures, most of whom he personally knows, have already congratulated him. Improving ties with India should be a priority for Khan, who has shown a willingness to be somewhat flexible over the vexed Kashmir issue. “Kashmir is the core issue between India and Pakistan and the two countries should resolve it through dialogue,” he said recently, raising hopes of making some headway on this matter which has adversely affected regional security as well. As a former cricketer himself, he may also want to resume bilateral cricket series with India and get more international cricket for Pakistan on home soil.

The world will also watch how he manages ties with the U.S., which had its ups and downs in recent times, especially over the issues of terrorism and Afghanistan. Khan has pledged to support the U.S. in fighting terrorists but has opposed U.S.-backed operations by the Pakistani military. All SAARC countries including India will be looking forward to having better ties with Pakistan. Sri Lanka and Pakistan have always been good friends and things can only get better under Khan, who is no stranger to Sri Lankans.

Domestically, Khan has many problems to solve. Corruption has always been a cancer that has crippled Pakistan – for example, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a bitter opponent of Khan, is serving a 10-year jail for illegal overseas property transactions. In fact, a promised anti-corruption drive was one of the main planks of Khan’s election campaign that appealed to the younger generation that make up 60 percent of the country’s population.

Khan also pledged to improve the US$ 300 billion economy which is in a state of crisis and create more educational opportunities and jobs for the youth. With the economic growth rate hovering around 5 percent till 2020 and only around one percent of the population paying direct taxes, Khan will have an unenviable task on his hands. Khan has proposed a “Naya Pakistan” economic policy and vision that calls for, among other things, a reduction of the US$ 9.6 billion military budget, reduction in the number of ministries, abolition of the Railways Ministry, income tax on agriculture, job training for two million youth in two years, increase in investment spending, restructuring underperforming State enterprises and tax collection on Rs.900 billion undetected income.

But his biggest challenge will be giving hope to the young people in Pakistan. He has already spoken about increasing the focus on education in a country where more than five million children of school going age are either at home or engaged in menial labour. He wants to double the number of girls attending school and increase spending on education to 5 percent of GDP. He even has a radical plan to stop the funding of schools and get such monies directly to the hands of students.

From now on, Khan will have to bat on an entirely different wicket where so many players are literally out to get his scalp. He cannot afford to put a foot wrong as he guides his chosen team towards the future. If all goes well, his new political innings should be even more interesting than the cricketing one.


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