Imran Khan, Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister (PM) and the chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) political party, laid out a broad and ambitious governance agenda in his first address to the nation. PM Khan promised wide-ranging reforms concerning the economy, health care, education, police, tourism, climate change, and the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the disadvantaged. Imran Khan’s inaugural speech, which hardly touched upon Pakistan’s foreign and security policy objectives, is an indication of what is to come: a government that prioritizes socioeconomic reforms by granting space to the country’s national security establishment to make and execute foreign and security policy. His collaboration with the national security establishment on foreign policy and security issues will remain essential as he pursues his wide-ranging domestic reforms agenda.
Economy and Taxation
PM Khan spoke in detail about the economic challenges Pakistan faces and the ways in which he would go about addressing them. His main focus remained on structural reforms related to taxation, increasing the country’s domestic industrial base, raising exports, and attracting foreign investment with a focus on uplifting Pakistan’s domestic economic base. While Khan promised structural reforms, he also noted how Pakistan’s dwindling foreign reserves have added pressure on the country’s economy. This has kept Pakistan engaged in a cycle of borrowing loans to pay for previous debts. It is encouraging that Khan has a visionary agenda when it comes to reviving Pakistan economy.
The issue of Pakistan’s economy cannot be fixed with mere surface level reforms…Pakistan’s domestic economy, industrial and agricultural output remain in need of sustained support at the state level.
However, at the same time, the issue of Pakistan’s economy cannot be fixed with mere surface level reforms; rather, it is an issue that requires deep structural changes. Pakistan’s domestic economy, industrial and agricultural output remain in need of sustained support at the state level. While the vision that Khan has laid out in terms of uplifting Pakistan’s key economic sectors is commendable, it will take years of comprehensive and continued efforts. This efforts, in order to have a tangible impact, cannot afford to be susceptible to neither political instability nor to a change in priorities at the state level.
Education and Healthcare
Another two important issues that PM Khan’s speech focused on were the country’s broken public education and healthcare sector. During the last tenure of PTI’s government in Khyber Pakhtunwa (KP), Khan’s party was able to improve the province’s health care system significantly by offering a comprehensive health insurance scheme, known as the Sehat Sahulat Programme. Throughout the past five years, KP province has made commendable strides in the education sector. The overall increase in student enrollment in public schools, merit-based hiring of teachers, introduction of teacher training programs, growing focus on the quality of education, and improved infrastructure of schools throughout the province are some of the steps the PTI’s previous government took during its mandate in KP.
During the address, Khan also discussed his vision for restructuring Pakistan’s abysmal health sector, which, as he asserts, is one of the reasons why 44 percent of children in Pakistan are the victims of stunted growth and malnutrition. The inadequate availability of health services only makes it worse. For Khan to bring about a major change in Pakistan’s health sector, the entire structure of the country’s public health system would have to be revamped. This, as Khan’s other proposed policies, would require heavy and sustained financial support from the public sector. From the thriving fake medicine industry to bad conditions of public hospitals and a growing disinterest of doctors in public sector practice, Pakistan’s health crisis is real. At the moment, the federal government has neither the resources nor the required for implementing Khan’s vision of introducing a first-rate health care system.
Foreign Policy and Security issues
With the majority of Khan’s speech focused on tackling socioeconomic challenges, reforming civilian institutions, and holding corrupt officials accountable, Khan did not touch on foreign policy or national security issues. However, despite fears that Khan may be granting decisionmaking authority over to the country’s security establishment, the speech’s focus on socioeconomic issues may simply be an indication of where Khan’s priorities lie: in resolving Pakistan’s internal issues.
Despite fears that Khan may be granting decision-making authority over to the country’s security establishment, the speech’s focus on socioeconomic issues may simply be an indication of where Khan’s priorities lie: in resolving Pakistan’s internal issues.
First, he understands that in order to implement his local reform agenda, he needs the national security establishment’s support. One way to attain their support is to allow them to have more space to make decisions in foreign policy. For Imran Khan, this may be a practical choice: granting decisionmaking space to the national security establishment will not be a problem because its outlook on foreign policy is largely in alignment with his own vision. A number of recent statements made by Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the military’s leadership show that the two coincide when it comes to dealing with pressing foreign policy and security issues. Recent reports indicate that the current leadership of the Pakistani military wants to begin a comprehensive negotiation process with India and with Khan, who has shown willingness to listen to the military. This shows that both civil and military leadership are likely to converge on the idea that Pakistan should engage with India through a constructive dialogue process. A frictionless relationship between the two actors would mean that, whenever necessary, collaboration is possible; in all likelihood, Imran Khan will be able to easily work with the national security establishment to resolve pressing security and foreign policy issues.
Second, granting the military space on issues of foreign and security policy could reduce pressure on the civilian government to deal with issues that are particularly polarizing within Pakistan’s current political landscape. For instance, if Khan were to decide to take on radical sectarian groups through a civilian initiative, he would expect serious blowback from these groups in the form of massive street protests. Therefore, leaving the issue to the national security establishment would remain a preferable option, considering that attempting to address this security matter through a civilian-led initiative could derail his government’s policy agenda before it has the chance to truly take off.
It appears that Imran Khan may have developed a consensus with the country’s national security establishment. Under the current arrangement, he is going to wield the full support of the latter in promoting his socioeconomic reforms. Meanwhile, internationally, both actors will likely collaborate on a case-by-case basis to deal with Pakistan’s foreign and security policy issues. Notwithstanding, Khan’s speech has given a ray of hope to the nation.
Image 1: Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung via Flickr
Image 2: Christian Ender via Getty