Imran Khan builds coalition: World braces for US’ Iran-sanctions impact | Sunday Observer

Imran Khan builds coalition: World braces for US’ Iran-sanctions impact

Cricket fans will eagerly watch how legendary bowler Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Premier-elect, captains his governmental team in the difficult task of managing South Asia’s poorest nuclear power. Meanwhile, Turkey’s President Reccip Erdogan finds himself having to deal with Washington’s bully tactics even as Iran and the rest of the world face up to the re-launch of American economic sanctions against Iran. And more Palestinians die from Israeli military firing on civilian protesters in the Gaza Strip.

Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek e-Insaf (PTI – Pakistan Justice Movement) won the largest number of seats in the Pakistan National Assembly but with just 116 Assembly Members elected out of a total of 270 elected seats, has the uphill task of building a coalition from an array of small parties, many of whose leaders Khan has strongly attacked on his way to political victory. Khan needs a working majority of 170 votes in the Assembly in order to govern and the PTI is already busy courting lesser parties.

The defeated traditional ‘big’ parties, namely, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), have done poorly and, being perennial political rivals, are in no position to combine to offer prospects of an alternate government. Instead, the PML-N and PPP are attempting to form a ‘grand alliance’ of all other parties to legally challenge the PTI’s election triumph on grounds of ‘rigging’ and ‘corrupt practices’.

While that is to be decided in court (if it gets there) in the long term, this week, Imran Khan faces his first test in the Assembly to win nomination as Prime Minister. The bets are that the PTI is likely to get around enough of the small parties, including regional and minority parties, to form a coalition strong enough to elect him Premier and enable him to form a Cabinet.

Attempts to get the Pakistani courts to rule against the election result on the basis of ‘rigging’ and similar charges is unlikely to succeed given that all independent election monitors have already declared that, in general, the conduct of the countrywide elections was ‘free and fair’. Election monitors as well as rights groups in Pakistan have all commented that the overall conditions for the elections were influenced by various moves that favoured Imran Khan’s PTI.

Top political leaders like the PML-N’s leader and previously legally unseated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were ruled ‘guilty’ by courts and jailed just weeks before election date (July 25). Other PML-N as well as PPP stalwarts and campaigners were detained suddenly on minor charges, in attempts seen to be hampering the election campaigns of these parties. While much of these moves have been attributed to the Pakistani military, it has long been acknowledged that Khan has been the ‘darling’ of the military in recent years.

The PTI has always been known more for its oppositional rhetoric rather than for strong advocacy of any substantive policy programme of its own. Khan, himself, has never articulated a precise political vision or philosophy, quite unlike the PML and PPP and even the Awami political leadership.

Nevertheless, Khan’s cricketer-philanthroper-based popular appeal and critical style helped him being adopted by the military some years ago as a possible political alternative to the two traditionally rival parties, the PML and PPP. The military, which remains the ‘king-makers’ in Pakistan, clearly wanted another political option for elected government once the populace began to tire of the two traditional parties. That they favoured Khan became clear when his PTI led months long street protests in the heart of the capital, Islamabad, severely disrupting traffic movement and business, but the security authorities were happy to contain the protest campaign to certain areas rather than completely halt the campaign.

Previously, an attempt at such a lengthy urban blockade (which amounted to what Khan briefly achieved) would have been swiftly halted by the military with the leaders detained and followers tear-gassed in forceful dispersal.

Most Pakistani analysts, however, wonder how long it would be before Khan oversteps the mark and arouses the ire of the military, himself. No previous political leader has strongly defied the military and politically survived. Some do not even physically survive. It is just possible, however, that Khan, being less ideological, might be able to bend to the military’s will and resist from radical or drastic moves.

Khan’s political constraints would be in his dealings with the right-wing Sunni Islamist-fascist groups (especially those maintained by the military as their own ‘spoiler’ actors within these groups) and also in dealings with India and Afghanistan. Of course, if he curry’s favour with China, that will help him with his own military who are now increasingly intertwined – in business terms as well as military-strategically) with Beijing. Pakistan is now the world’s newest military airplane exporter after it began a joint manufacturing project with China to build low-priced, but fairly hi-tech fighter jets, which is now marketed worldwide.

Mysteriously, the Sri Lanka Air Force also suddenly wanted to buy these jets which are good as fairly effective aerial fighter jets, but certainly, not to fulfil our air defence needs which are principally internal insurgency ground attack and oceanic economic surveillance. The only state near enough to aerially threaten Sri Lanka is India, but, surely, the handful of fighter jets we could afford would not deter the scores of top-line combat aircraft that the Indian Air Force would deploy. In any case, why should we treat our immediate geographical and cultural neighbour and regional power India as an enemy?

So, Khan has his hands full. But, he is certainly from a different ‘mould’ compared with his predecessors, and the rest of South Asia will wish one of its sports heroes well in this interesting political initiative by a sports star.

Meanwhile, newly re-elected President Erdogan of Turkey is increasingly embroiled in a bitter diplomatic row with his country’s one-time strongest ally, the USA, over the arrest of one, previously-unheard-of, Christian missionary priest on charges of subversion and espionage.

‘Pastor’ Andrew Brunson, according to news reports has been living in rural eastern Turkey for a number of years ostensibly as a missionary with his own so-called ‘Resurrection Church’ which apparently has no more than two dozen followers. Brunson was arrested two years ago in the wake of the massive political crackdown by the Erdogan regime against the attempted revolt by sections of the military, apparently inspired by exiled dissident Turkish leader Fethullah Gulen, now living in the US.

Mr Brunson, is known as a missionary of a US-based fundamentalist Christian group. It is only such American-based fundamentalist groups that are known to continue the old colonial-style religious proselytism in our post-colonial world.

Ankara accuses this ‘missionary’ of having links with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Gulenist movement. The Donald Trump administration, given its links to the right-wing Christian fundamentalists, has strongly taken up this case with Ankara and demands this man’s immediate release.

When Ankara insisted that special treatment could not be given to one suspect when thousands of other coup suspects face trial, Washington imposed individual diplomatic sanctions against two Turkish senior government officials.

When Ankara responded with similar sanctions targeting two US officials, Washington hit back with tough import duties on some Turkish products in the US market. Never have two NATO military allies engaged in such a level of political hostilities, say Western analysts.

Such US actions against Turkey over a single civilian ‘suspect’ (supposedly only a religious cleric) are raising suspicions that the ‘suspect’ is indeed what the Turkish authorities say he is: a useful US intelligence ‘asset’.

If US actions against Turkey are causing waves, the imminent repercussions of massive US economic sanctions on Iran following America’s unilateral abrogation of the UN-endorsed Iran nuclear control pact could cause a tsunami.