The Pakistanis are celebrating Eid and a new prime minister. Imran Khan was a famous cricketer and a beloved figure. However politics’ skills are different than sports, and religion is a winning game for some and he’s trying to play it despite his background as a liberal and a secular.
In his public speeches, he attacks the West and the western model. Meanwhile, he has two children from his British Jewish ex-wife. He asked them not to attend the swearing-in ceremony as he takes oath as the prime minister because he fears for their lives. Everything in his first life was western as he played in English clubs and graduated from Oxford.
Like a number of presidents of third world countries, his supporters market popular news and photos of him. He cancelled the fancy lunch at the inauguration ceremony saying he wants to decrease the budget deficiency and promised to sell the cars of government officials. The picture gives a positive impression that suits his electoral promises and contradicts with the image of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for corruption.
Pakistan is an important country. It has the second largest number of Muslims in the world after Indonesia. It’s a nuclear power and its army is ranked as the 8th strongest in the world. It’s important in regional calculations as competition over swaying it is fierce between Saudi Arabia and Iran and also internationally between China and the US. Although there is talk about Imran Khan’s close relation with Iran based on old statements he’s made, we cannot judge politicians when they were not in power.
Relations with the Gulf
No matter what is said, Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf countries is deep and solid regardless of who governs it. Let’s not forget that the same was said about late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto but she proved that she was never swayed to Iran.
Apart from being the heart of the Islamic world, Saudi Arabia also has the largest Pakistani community outside Pakistan, and its commercial balance with it is larger. We must not forget that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have a special relation with the US. The relation with Iran is not even an allowed option as a result of American sanctions which the prime minister cannot violate.
Regardless of the domestic considerations which pushed the new prime minister to much such statements, what’s hoped for is developing relations with Pakistan more and giving it a bigger role in resolving regional cases, like Afghanistan, and in pressuring Iran to stop its interferences in Pakistan itself and in the region.
The continuous conflict over state leadership posts, and which because of many figures ended up imprisoned or dead, has undoubtedly weakened Pakistan’s status on the foreign level, preoccupied it on the domestic level and economically exhausted it.
Khan, who benefits from the fact that he comes from a background that’s different than former prime ministers, has a chance to develop the status of his country in the Gulf and improve the balance of payments and economy by executing a real reform program in cooperation with countries like his allies in the Gulf and getting involved in projects than benefit both sides and that are viable.
We are not worried of Iran now as it cannot even get enough of its market’s needs of oil although it’s an oil-producing country. Tehran’s rulers have what keeps them busy today, and the worst is yet to come.
In these changing circumstances, Pakistan must play a more important role, and it’s in fact a major regional power, if more pressure is exerted on Iran so it changes its foreign policy. This will strengthen the Pakistani role in the Middle East and South Asia, but if it abstains, it will not be able to play an opposite role.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed