If you drive across the border at Wagah, the most incredible thing is that nothing changes very much. From one part of Punjab you have moved to another. The language is the same. As you get into Lahore, the shops are similar as is the delicious food that you can eat. People are in equal measure welcoming, irascible and prone to drive as badly as they do on the Indian side.
All this is to say that we do not need any special lens to judge Imran Khan’s chances. No one likes to say but India and Pakistan are similar. India is larger, more prosperous since 2001, with the Army under control of civilian power and thanks to its size and democratic government, one of the G-20. Three successive Indian prime ministers during the last 20 years have committed themselves to ‘solving’ the India-Pakistan problem, namely Kashmir. They have all, thus far, failed. The problem often was that the prime minister of Pakistan was not master in his own house. Only Pervez Musharraf being a military man elected to the top had the authority of the Army and the People to settle it. But even with him, it did not quite gel.
India had Jawaharlal Nehru for 16 years to lay the foundations of a stable democratic government. Pakistan lost Muhammad Ali Jinnah within a year and Liaqat Ali, its first prime minister, within five years. The army moved into the vacuum and has not moved out. There is no national party in Pakistan even after 71 years. The Muslim League which asked for Pakistan was an old UP party with no following in what became Pakistan. Sindh has the PPP, Punjab the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and now Imran has staked claim with Tehreek-e-Insaf, a Khyber Pakhtunkhwa party. The elections may have been rigged but at least they were not rigged in favour of the terrorist parties.
Imran may get lucky. Most prime ministers have been from either Punjab or Sindh. He is the first from the frontier region. His fellow Oxford graduate Benazir Bhutto became prime minister 20 and more years ago. But she had dynasty on her side. Even her son has effortlessly become a leader.
The Bhuttos are large landlords in Sindh and Nawaz Sharif has an industrial fortune. Imran is not on the breadline but he has had to slog it out for 22 years, losing election after election, before finally emerging as the leader of the single largest party. He is thus genuinely a new phenomenon, except he is also one of the best known Pakistanis in the world.
It is best to not expect too much of him. He is an untried quantity somewhat like Rajiv Gandhi who had no experience of running a government. Imran does not even have a team of advisers who have been in government. The Pakistan economy which is in a balance of payments crisis will be his first concern. He will need a loan from the IMF as Narasimha Rao did. Maybe he can borrow from Pakistanis abroad as Rajiv did from NRIs. It may be better than a Chinese loan. Kashmir? What is the hurry? It has remained unsolved for 70 years. Try after Imran wins a second term. Meanwhile keep the powder dry.