New Delhi’s South Block is watching anxiously as Pakistan witnesses the transition of an executive regime only for the third time in its history of 71 years. Imran Khan, a maverick cricketer-turned-pro-right politician, is seen as a frontrunner for the top post. It is said that public sentiment is in his favour for his vociferous speeches on corruption in the civilian government, also he has the much-needed deep state support for his softer stance on military interference in internal issues.
The key question from the Indian perspective – how will a change of regime effect India – still stands, and widely speculated. Imran started his political career in 1996, however, his rise began in 2012 when the country was preparing for the next elections. He was seen as an alternative to the two established parties – Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party and Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). There was clear enthusiasm, but the party failed to spring a surprise after the elections and ended on third place, slightly behind PPP with 32 seats in the 342-member national assembly.
A defeat in the elections didn’t make much of a difference to Khan’s furious approach and agenda. With PPP’s popularity on a decline, the PTI leader took almost no time to become the prime face of Pakistani opposition. His campaign against Sharif, who was seen as an elitist, gained much momentum as he accused that the prime minister was working for his personal business interests, instead of the country by “going soft on Modi”.
Another factor, which the experts in New Delhi consider as much bigger in Khan’s meteoric rise, was Sharif’s departure from his earlier policy of being a ‘yes man’ to the deep-state, the army and the ISI. The jailed Pakistani leader openly defied its army’s stance on “India Threat” when he attended PM Narendra Modi’s oath-taking ceremony in New Delhi and hosted an impromptu party at his birthday in Lahore. This was not all. Sharif also ‘accepted’ that its global image was badly hit for not acting against the accused of 26/11 Mumbai attack. In another significant move, he tried Pervez Musharraf, a former army ruler for treason. These acts, it is believed, irked army generals in Rawalpindi and created their natural support for Imran Khan – who stood a better chance of winning the elections.
The PPP and PML (N) have openly accused the Pakistani army of rigging elections in favour of Khan, a view shared by most in New Delhi. Also, Khan has remained soft towards the army and is coiner of the term “bad terrorism and good terrorism”. Going by what has happened so far, Khan is believed to follow an India strategy as dictated by ISI and Army controllers. His election campaign, which makes for jingoistic slogans against New Delhi, also fails to narrate a clear view on how he will take on the country on prominent issues of Kashmir and terrorism. For Kashmir, he has repeated his stance that violence by Indian establishment be stopped and resolution be brought under United Nations Seurity Council. This too has been the stand most political parties in Pakistan have with regard to India. His speeches skip a for or against notion about India’s charges of terror emanating from Pakistani soil.
Not counting the obligatory statement or menifesto mentions, India or Kashmir doesn’t gain much significance in Khan’s entire campaign. This also indicates Khan’s agreement, like his most predecessors, that India policy should remain at the hands of military and intelligence. A better understanding between the military and civilian government in Pakistan, with the former having an upper hand has never been desirable by New Delhi.
Sharif’s civilian government was trying to dominate or atleast, create an at-par relationship with the military.