At this point many western policy makers see little hope in a stable Pakistan and are beginning to view their former ally as part of a new axis of evil. Nevertheless, Pakistanis have not given up hope on their country—and for good reason.
What many western leaders fail to recognize is the difference between the state of Pakistan and the extremists harbored inside the country. The problems of violence and fanaticism are confined to the Taliban, who are by no means representative of the country’s population. If Pakistan wants the international respect it so desires, then its government must identify the Taliban and its various offshoots as an enemy of peace and civility.
One of the many problems the Pakistani government faces is its lack of control over domestic terrorism. Extremists know how inept their government is and can subsequently empower their supporters. This could all change with the recent dissolution of Pakistan’s legislative body and the forthcoming elections. Nevertheless, citizens are wary of the possibility of change after years of hopes for a renewal of democracy have been shattered. From 2012-2013, Pakistan went through four Prime Ministers, Yousuf Raza Gillani, Makhdoom Shahbuddin, Raka Pervaiz Ashraf and Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, the current interim PM. The first three were all sacked from their jobs due to various corruption scandals or illegalities. So, perhaps the Western perception of Pakistan’s turbulent political system is not without justification.
That said, the Pakistani population need not look far for potential providers of a new Pakistan. Parliament’s elections for a new Prime Minister are in May. The three favorites are Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, and Imran Khan.
Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistani Muslim League, has been in power before and has been involved with his fair share of controversies in the past. During his tenure as Prime Minister, Sharif attempted to implement “Sharia law” and was ousted by a military coup after money laundering allegations. Now, his party has become a more moderate conservative party with a “pro-business” party platform. Sharif remains the frontrunner as his party tops the polls.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, is relatively new to Pakistani politics thus little can be said about the co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party. Nevertheless, his party has a colorful history in Pakistan, having championed various leftist ideologies while simultaneously being marred by corruption allegations (Bilawal’s mother), executions (Bilawal’s grandfather), and more corruption (Bilawal’s father). Imran Khan, the renowned cricket player turned politician and leader of Tehreek-e-Insaf, is spearheading the newest national party which thus far has been free of corruption or controversy.
Tehreek-e-Insaf provides Pakistan with a fresh face for a country in turmoil. Imran Khan, though leading the least experienced party, has laid out his vision for Pakistan’s redemption. Along with important social issues, Khan has made clear of his animosity towards Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Taliban, and other militant groups in Pakistan stating that there will be “no future for the country if terrorism is not controlled.” In addition, Khan and his party have proposed a completely revamped US-Pakistan relationship. In contrast to prior politicians’ submission to US authority, Khan has been widely critical of US policy in Pakistan, particularly drone strikes. Khan maintains that drone strikes are a “major stimulant to terrorism”, proving militants with a Jihadist narrative with which to justify their actions.
Pakistan needs a leader unafraid of terrorists, the US, or international allies. It needs a leader who cares about his country first and foremost. Though we cannot be certain that any of the three primary candidates will put their country first, Imran Khan is the only candidate whose party has yet to be blemished. So, why not trust him?