Widely perceived to have the military's backing in his bid to become Pakistan's next prime minister, Imran Khan seems to have come a long way since his assertion six and a half years ago that "army's days are over".
Widely perceived to have the military’s backing in his bid to become Pakistan’s next prime minister, Imran Khan seems to have come a long way since his assertion six and a half years ago that “army’s days are over”. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has emerged as the single-largest party in the country’s general elections amid insinuations by his rivals and several commentators that he is the ‘laadla’ (favourite) of the all-powerful Pakistan military which worked behind the scenes to help him win.
This marks a big departure from what the flamboyant cricketer-turned-politician had to say in January of 2012. In an interview to PTI news agency in Swiss Alpine resort town of Davos during the ‘World Economic Forum Annual Meeting’ in 2012, Khan had said, “The army’s days are over. You will soon see a true democracy in Pakistan.” His party could not manage many seats in polls that took place after Khan’s assertion in Davos till this time around when his fortunes have turned for good with the results in yesterday’s election giving him a clear-cut lead.
A clear-cut change is also visible in Khan’s views about the army. In an interview to the New York Times this May, Khan said, “It is the Pakistan Army and not an enemy army. I will carry the army with me.” While Pakistan Army has ruled Pakistan directly for nearly half of Pakistan’s 70-year chequered political journey, it has also been involved deeply with several democratically-elected civil governments.
A change is also clearly visible when it comes to politician Khan’s views on India. While in 2012 he wanted to have “best relations” with India, during the run-up to this election, the 65-year-old Khan accused India of trying to “weaken” the Pakistan Army and “conspiring” with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
After claiming victory in the current elections, Khan said Pakistan is ready to improve its ties with India and if New Delhi moves one step forward, they will move two. He also raised the issue of alleged human rights violation in Jammu and Kashmir, saying Kashmiri people have suffered. In another interview to PTI in 2013 in Davos again, he had asserted that armies are not equipped to find solutions to bilateral problems between India and Pakistan.
He had also rued that ceasefire violations at that time were pushing back the peace process. Khan had also favoured Pakistan and India sorting out all pending issues on their own and stressed on the need for a continuous dialogue. “It is not in the interest of people of India and Pakistan to have animosity…eventually the solution lies on the dialogue table and peaceful dialogue (is needed) for sorting out the differences,” Khan had said.
Asked if Indian and Pakistani armies should have a greater contact at the top level, he had said, “What we need is strong (political) leaderships. Armies are not going to settle the issues. Army men are not equipped to find political solutions, only politicians are.
“Politicians with big public mandate would eventually find the solutions for issues between two countries”. While at that time Khan had opined that Pakistan has been used as a “tissue paper” by Washington, it will be interesting to see his approach towards the US now.
During his 2012 Davos visit, he had also attended the reception party, organised by Indian business chambers, alongside corporate and political leaders from India. Khan had also said there is nothing wrong in taking groups like JuD along in his political journey. “If I try to bring them (extremists) back to the mainstream, there is nothing wrong in it. And if you talk about support to the extremists, did America not support the Taliban?” Khan said.
On his policy towards India when he comes to power, Khan had promised faster steps to normalise ties and confidence-building measures. “That is my aim regarding India. Quicker you do, the more the subcontinent would reap the benefits and dividends of peace because trade has such an enormous impact on our subcontinent,” he had said. Khan also favoured greater cricketing ties between the two countries.