Six months ago, Imran Khan, the charismatic former cricket star, was elected prime minister of Pakistan. At first his victory seemed like a win for the military in its decades-long struggle for power with Pakistan’s civilian politicians—a contest that has kept the country perpetually weak and unstable. International observers and Khan’s domestic political rivals had accused the Pakistani military of meddling in the election to benefit Khan and his party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI). And in fact, the military likely did attempt to tilt the election toward Khan, via a crackdown on the media and harassment and intimidation, preferring the PTI to the rival Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), whose leader, the jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had become increasingly willing to defy the military during his last years in office.
But even if Khan rose to power with the aid of Pakistan’s generals, he is not their puppet. During the campaign, he showed himself to be a skillful politician who could use ambitious promises of reform and development to knit together a broad coalition in a country where politics often fractures on ethnic and provincial lines. But although Khan’s political savvy (and the military’s support) put him at an advantage as he began his term, a debt crisis and a fierce political opposition have largely prevented him from implementing his agenda. Beyond an unexpected crackdown on fundamentalists, Khan has yet to deliver on any of his ambitious campaign promises. And his alliance with the military may cause him grief going forward.
Khan campaigned on a classic populist anticorruption platform. He presented himself and the PTI as outsiders who could provide a fresh alternative to the country’s two established political parties, the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party, both of them led by family dynasties and beset with corruption and reputations for misgovernment. Khan’s anticorruption platform and personal celebrity appealed to an electorate widely disillusioned with the status quo. The PTI
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