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Moving Forward
Although Pakistan is set for changes under Imran Khan, the China-Pakistan relationship will remain as strong as ever
By Yu Lintao | NO. 33 AUGUST 16, 2018
Supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf celebrate the party's victory in the general election in Islamabad on July 26 (XINHUA)

When the final result of Pakistan's general election was announced on July 26, the streets and squares in the country's two major cities Islamabad and Karachi were thronged with cheering crowds holding aloft the country's national flag along with posters of Imran Khan—leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) which had just won a majority.

The scene for many Pakistani people old enough to remember may have evoked a similar moment that took place back in 1992 when Khan, then captain of the Pakistani national cricket team, led the country to victory at the Cricket World Cup. Following his win in the general election, Khan will be responsible for leading his country, rather than its cricket team.

Change is coming

For the Pakistani people, the recent general election was of profound historical significance. The success of the PTI marked the first time that the traditional dichotomy of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) had been broken, heralding a moment of crucial change in Pakistan's politics. The break has also given people a fresh wave of expectations for their country's future.

Although admitting that she doesn't care much for politics, Minal Neel, a student from the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology in Karachi, said that she is very happy with the outcome of the election after voting for the PTI.

"We want to give Imran Khan a chance to serve the country and he deserves it," the 22-year-old told Beijing Review. In her view, Khan is charismatic and economically independent, without political baggage, and so he can fight against corruption in the country.

Neel is confident in the future of her country under the incoming government of the PTI. "I think everything will be better, including education and poverty reduction," she said. As a student, she hopes the new government will increase investment in education and boost employment for young people.

During his campaign, Khan promised to create a New Pakistan by reforming the country's system of governance and pushing forward an anti-graft campaign. He also promised to create 10 million jobs in the coming five years and to build 5 million affordable housing units to improve the living conditions of poor people, building Pakistan into a "model Islamic welfare state." His policy proposals won wide support from the lower classes, as well as the country's younger generations.

According to Javed Jabbar, a former federal minister in the Pakistani Government and renowned scholar, a more profound takeaway from the election outcome is that it reflects the political awakening of people in the country.

"This election has shown the change in public opinion in Pakistan," Jabbar told Beijing Review. "Previously, people used to work mostly for their community, people living in the same area, speaking the same language or from the same racial group. Now with this election, much of that has changed. People who are not connected with each other by language, class or ethnicity became successful candidates because they were acknowledged to be honest. It is an improvement in people's political thinking."

Jabbar said that the majority of people have decided that corruption should not be tolerated at the highest levels of society and that strong action should be taken against it. That is believed to be a key reason why many shifted away from the PML-N and the PPP toward the emergent PTI.

The election results also show that the people of Pakistan have rejected the use of religion in politics, according to Jabbar.

"Even though 97 percent of us are Muslims, people say when it comes to politics you have to show your ability, your ideas, your plans, not because you are a Muslim, or you grow a beard and you say, 'I'm the custodian of Islam.' The people are not impressed [with such rhetoric]," said Jabbar, adding that he hopes the general election can herald the start of a new era for Pakistani politics.

Jabbar has faith that Khan and the PTI have the ability to bring about positive changes for Pakistan. According to him, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, where the PTI has already ruled for five years, police corruption has been greatly reduced, healthcare and education have been improved, and millions of trees have been planted to improve the environment.

Jabbar believes that one of the major tasks for the incoming government is fighting extremism in the country; he suggested the new government improve the education system and introduce books and teaching through television and radio in schools, colleges and universities to promote respect and nonviolence and to discourage people from using weapons.

The PTI has declared that it has secured enough seats in the National Assembly to form a coalition government and formally nominated Khan as its candidate for the office of prime minister. But the two formerly dominant political parties, the PML-N and the PPP, have repeated accusations that the July 25 vote was rigged by the military and vowed to vote together alongside several smaller parties to block Khan's election as prime minister in parliament. It seems a grand opposition alliance is taking shape in the Pakistani parliament.

The PML-N and the PPP won 64 and 43 seats, respectively, together almost equal to the 115 secured by the PTI. It is thus possible that Khan and his government will face huge resistance from the opposition in their attempts to bring about change in the country.

Unchanged relationship

Before the election, Khan was quoted by some media outlets as saying that his opinion diverges from the government on the construction of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Pakistani scholars have noted that the "divergence" to which Khan referred is not related specifically to China or CPEC itself, but a more general kind of rivalry between political parties in the country.

The opposition party always criticizes the ruling party and says whatever they are doing is bad for the country, said Jabbar, and Khan's "divergence" is that he wants CPEC to benefit more areas in Pakistan.

Pakistani Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua told Chinese media in a group interview in Islamabad on July 30 that CPEC will continue to be taken as a priority by the new government. "The most important thing we need to underscore is that whoever is in power in Pakistan has a clear commitment to the continuation of CPEC as an important project that brings mutual benefits and prosperity for the people of Pakistan," she said.

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad, shared a similar view. He told Beijing Review that "China-Pakistan cooperation is beyond governments. All governments in Pakistan and all governments in China have always supported this relationship. I see no reason for any concern that the Pakistan-China relationship will go down. In fact, it will go up."

After the election, Khan met with Chinese Ambassador to Pakistan Yao Jing on July 30. According to a statement from the Chinese embassy in Islamabad, Khan said that the PTI accords great value to China-Pakistan ties and is willing to learn from China in areas such as tackling corruption, poverty alleviation, environmental protection and urban development. He said that after taking office, his government will fully coordinate with China and promote the development and deepening of bilateral relations.

Speaking to Beijing Review, Pakistani Ambassador to China Masood Khalid also seemed assured that the China-Pakistan friendship was not set to change following the election. "If anyone questions that, please read objectively the history of China-Pakistan relations," the ambassador said.

(Reporting from Pakistan)

Copyedited by Laurence Coulton

Comments to yulintao@bjreview.com

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