Welcome to the hot seat, Mr Prime Minister

Welcome to the hot seat, Mr Prime Minister
By Kamran Yousaf
Published: August 13, 2018

In a matter of few days Imran Khan will formally become Pakistan’s prime minister. He is taking over the reins of power at a time when Pakistan is facing daunting challenges both on the domestic and external fronts. Many domestic issues are inextricably linked with external factors and that’s where IK’s diplomatic skills would come under scrutiny. The US is stepping up pressure on Pakistan even before the new political dispensation takes shape in Islamabad. Its Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has already cautioned the International Monetary Fund (IMF) against approving any bailout package for Pakistan, which it may use to repay Chinese loans. The statement appears to be not just a mere threat as a bipartisan group of US senators also asked the Trump administration to block IMF from bailing out the countries that have obtained loans from China under its infrastructure development plan. The letter addressed to the

Secretary of State and the Treasury Secretary mentions Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Djibouti among the countries that have accepted billions of dollars in loans from China but are unable to repay. Adding to the already tense ties, the Trump administration has quietly started cutting scores of Pakistani officers from coveted training and educational programmes that have been a hallmark of bilateral military relations for more than a decade, according to media reports. All these ‘punitive’ measures suggest that relationship between Pakistan and the US may unravel something that would further compound the problems for the incoming government. In his recent meeting with the acting US ambassador, Imran Khan expressed his desire to have improved relationship with Washington based on mutual trust and respect. He pointed out that ups and downs in the relationship between the two ostensible allies were due to trust deficit.

 

With latest US moves, the trust deficit and misgivings are likely to further deepen, although the precarious situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s pivotal role may prevent the Trump administration from seeking complete divorce from Islamabad. Nevertheless, the immediate impact of this hardline approach by the US could undermine the incoming government’s plan to seek bailout package from international financial institutions. This leaves the prime minister-inwaiting in a difficult situation. He has to reach out to Pakistan’s friends to inject much-needed dollars in the fast deteriorating economic condition. The Saudi-backed Islamic Development Bank has indicated that it may provide four billion dollars to the incoming government led by Imran Khan. But there are no free lunches in this world. If Riyadh is willing to help the new government then it would ask for certain favours in return.

In his victory speech, Imran Khan expressed his willingness to improve ties with neighbouring Iran. President Rouhani also telephoned the prime ministerin-waiting and invited him to visit Tehran. But if he accepts assistance from Saudi Arabia that means he has to go slow on Iran in a move that may have serious implications for Pakistan. This will surely test his leadership skills and capacity to deal with such intricate foreign policy issues. In one of his TV interviews, Imran Khan was asked what trait and quality saw him through in his cricketing career and his reply was: “The passion to succeed, the ability to take the knocks, the ability to pick myself up. I always believe that I could win and any chance you saw in winning I would try and grab it. I never give up till the end.” For the next five years or as long as he stays at the helm, his passion to succeed, ability to take the knocks and the spirit of not giving up would surely be tested as after all leading a nation is a different ball game. Welcome to the hot seat Mr PM.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2018.


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