• 08 Sep - 14 Sep, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

The Pakistani population in the UK has responded with joy and hope to the inauguration of Imran Khan as Pakistan’s 22nd Prime Minister, much like Pakistanis back home. Supporters of the Tehrik e Insaf party have, of course, been overwhelmed by happiness and pride but those who are not supporters of the party have been rather more cautious in their expectations of things to come.

British TV has all but ignored the event although some British newspapers have devoted space to it. However, the Daily Telegraph, for which Imran has written many cricketing columns, is not one of them. Some of the others which did cover it seemed to highlight mainly the myriad problems that Imran Khan’s government is going to face as it takes the reins of power. Heading the list is the economic condition of the country but the suppression of militancy comes a close second and here Imran’s supposed soft corner for the Taliban which earned him the nickname of ‘Taliban Khan’ is mentioned. Along with that is the huge problem of Pakistan’s ever expanding population which seems to be under the Pakistani political radar thus far. There are religious connotations to this issue and that could be the reason why it is not a major issue in Pakistan yet, but western observers do see it as one of Pakistan’s major concerns. It has been pointed out that it is all very well for the economy to be growing at six per cent but if the population keeps growing as it currently is, no amount of economic growth will be able to keep up with it. All of which is pretty sobering and perhaps does not quite tie in with the general sense of euphoria that Pakistani television seems to be conveying.

Seen from a distance of five thousand odd miles, it appears as if much of Pakistan – certainly supporters of Imran Khan and his party – see the political situation in terms of a game of cricket which, given Imran’s outstanding achievements on the cricket field, is partially understandable. In the world of cricket, a fielding side can be in deep trouble if the opposition’s opening batsmen have put up a score of 200 without loss. But then this meteoric fast bowler can come and in four overs turn the match upside down by skittling the opposition. That can happen on the cricket field. However, Pakistan’s problems may not be subject to such miracle solutions and the institutional collapse seems to be so great that one wonders whether five years will be enough to cure the innumerable maladies that afflict the country.

One thing which most western newspapers covering the coming of the new Pakistan government repeatedly emphasise is the balance between civil and military relations which at present is badly in need of something even remotely resembling equilibrium. Given the events that preceded the polls in Pakistan, the consensus of opinion seems to be that Imran may not be in a position to address that problem and that crucial parts of foreign and domestic policy may be outside his purview. That said, Imran is a very independent individual and has never been known to take any dictation on any subject from anyone. It will be interesting to see how these forces play out in the weeks and months to come.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is on holiday somewhere in Italy, but in spite of that she seems to have been one of the first foreign leaders to have congratulated Imran Khan after his swearing in. That is quite remarkable in view of the fact that Mrs May herself is in what PG Wodehouse would have described as being ‘knee deep in the gumbo’. While the actual composition of the gumbo may be uncertain, it can be said it is made up of extremely unpleasant ingredients and to say that Mrs May is only knee deep in it could count as an assessment of unbridled optimism. The British position with regard to Brexit now seems much worse with even cabinet ministers admitting that the chances of Britain exiting from the European Union without any deal – or a Hard Brexit – may be 50 per cent. Others rate the chances as much higher. Should a Hard Brexit happen, the entire political structure of the United Kingdom may, in time, undergo radical changes with the chances of Northern Ireland unifying with the Irish Republic to its south becoming very real. Exactly how Scotland would react to a Hard Brexit is also a matter of grave concern all of which would leave the United Kingdom considerably less united.

Both in the UK and in Pakistan we seem to be living in heady times, with seemingly impossible problems facing deeply divided nations. In both countries the main problem seems to be that the heart is ruling the head. That usually does not solve problems.