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Assessing Imran Khan`s First Year

05 September, 2019

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As of August, Imran Khan has been the Prime Minister of Pakistan for one year. Once upon a time, appointing a former cricket player into a position usually occupied by a politician would be a strange move, but we live in strange times. The United States of America is, after all, currently run by a businessman and former reality television star. Khan did at least have one major advantage over Donald Trump - he’s a seasoned politician, and won’t have been taken by surprise by any of the challenges that came with his new role.

Nobody with realistic expectations of what a new Prime Minister can do within their first year will have been hoping to see sudden and major change under Khan’s administration, but a year is long enough to get an impression of what we may see in his full term. That makes it an ideal time to look back and assess what Khan’s achieved during his first twelve months in office.

On The Economy

Nobody will need reminding what the central issue of the 2018 election campaign was; the Pakistani economy was in dire straits then, and remains in dire straits now. Khan came in on the promise of addressing the country’s financial woes, and finding a solution that wouldn’t humiliate the nation in the eyes of its people, or of its international peers. Without meaning any disrespect to the Prime Minister, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that things haven’t exactly gone to plan in that respect.

Initially, he appeared to be making great progress. Khan went away to key allies such as Qatar, China, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, and came away with great loan deals to ease the financial crisis. Those conversations won’t have been easy. Nobody - and especially not sovereign nations with their own books to balance - loans money without the expectation of making a good return. Pakistan’s recent financial form didn’t suggest that a good return was possible, but Khan somehow sold them on the deal.

Pakistan's allies are happy to lend, but they're not happy to gamble. Had they viewed their loans to Pakistan as a game of mobile slots, they wouldn't have agreed to them. When players visit mobile slots websites in related casinos or their sister sites, they spent money on games of chance whereby their chances of coming away with a profit rely more on luck than they do on skill. If we're using gambling metaphors, Khan persuaded them that while there would be a risk, it would be more akin to playing poker than playing mobile slots. While there is an element of luck involved in poker, success is largely down to skill. Khan must have quite the poker face; in total, he came away from his diplomatic missions with $9bn in loans. The issue was that it didn't work.

Despite the injection of cash from friendly nations, the economy didn’t improve. Inflation had hit a five year high by May this year, and then crashed through 10%. Growth didn’t improve. The value of the rupee continued to nosedive. Ultimately, Khan was forced to do the one thing that he’d promised not to do in order to arrest the decline.

A little over a month ago, Khan went cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund to ask for a rescue package. In the build-up to the election, he'd vowed that he would 'rather die' than do so, but in the end he decided to carry on living and swallow his pride. The IMF agreed to Pakistan's 13th bailout in the past four decades, with $6bn the agreed figure this time.

On India

As with every Prime Minister who’s entered office in living memory in Pakistan, relations with India remain at the heart of foreign policy issues for Khan. Just as with the economy, Khan’s initial steps appeared to be positive ones. Not long after he won the election, Khan appeared on television and pledged to take steps to build bridges with the country’s old rivals so long as India did the same. To show that he was serious, he ordered that Kartarpur Corridor be developed as a co-operative project between the two nations.

Things have somewhat soured since then, but the blame for that doesn't necessarily lay at Khan's feet. Indian airstrikes during February brought the threat of war back as a clear and present danger. India claimed to be targeting a terrorist training camp. Pakistan insisted that no such camp existed, and retaliated by shooting down an Indian plane. The pilot survived, and Khan ordered his release in order to defuse the situation. Appearing to be the bigger man was a PR coup, and put India on the back foot.

At Home

Khan's message to his own people has been consistent and clear at all times - the issues the country is facing are the fault of previous Governments, and his own regime is working hard to address those issues. He's cited corruption as being to blame for a number of key issues, and hasn't been shy about arresting those who he feels are criminally culpable. To date, that's included thirteen members of opposition parties.

While Khan insists that the arrests are routine and outside of his control, some critics feel that the military - and Qamar Javed Bajwa - may be calling more of the shots than Khan himself. External observers have claimed that the freedom of the press to criticize Government policy has been profoundly diminished within the past twelve months, and that the military may be the driving force behind the clampdown on dissenters.

In Conclusion

What nobody can doubt is that Khan is a skilled diplomat. He wouldn't have been able to negotiate the loans he received from allied nations without significant diplomacy skills, and nor would he have been able to handle the escalation of aggression with India. Khan presents himself well, and knows the right words to charm existing friends and win over potential new ones. Both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump appear to be enamored with Khan, with Pakistani-US and Pakistani-Russian relations at their strongest in many years.

What's less clear is his ability to turn words into actions. Only three of the thirty-four pledges Khan made while running for office have so far been delivered, and that's a record that must be drastically improved if history is to remember Khan's time as leader favorably. In his first year, he's shown he can talk; now it's time to show he can walk.

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