The new Khan in Town: Imran Khan at a polling station in Islamabad to cast his vote, July 28

Pakistan’s new prime minister has started well and has the army’s backing. Can the ex-cricketing hero pull off another miracle for his country, this time on the political turf?

by Sandeep Unnithan

Imran Khan's biggest cricketing achievement in 1992 was to lead a team of underdogs to win the World Cup. That moment of triumph also coincided with his massive fund-raiser for a charitable cancer hospital named after his mother.

Twenty-six years later, he has been called upon to do a bit of both, but on a far larger scale-lead his country and find the funds to save its teetering economy from bankruptcy. So far, Khan, who was sworn in as prime minister on August 18, has hit the right notes. He has raised unspecified amounts from China, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which means he hasn't yet had to go to the IMF for a bailout. And he is seen as a favourite of the match umpires-the powerful Pakistan army.

Several factors, external and internal, have coincided with his rise to prominence. The army's need for internal political stability to continue playing its game of geopolitical chess with China and the United States, for one. US President Donald Trump began the year by snapping aid and castigating Pakistan for not doing enough against terrorism but ended the year by asking The Army's Captain Islamabad for assistance in securing peace in Afghanistan.

In the 1980s, nuclear weapons brought Pakistan strategic parity with India. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)-$62 billion dollar worth of investments by Beijing-the army believes, is the miracle pill to stabilise the country and bring a semblance of economic parity with arch-rival India.

Khan, an ethnic Pashtun, does not threaten the army in a way that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, the most powerful politician in the country's influential Punjab province, did. Sharif, unseated by the judiciary as PM after being found guilty in the Panama leaks probe last year, now finds himself sentenced to seven years in prison over corruption deals.

New Delhi has dismissed Khan as a GHQ Rawalpindi marionette, a perception that was no doubt strengthened by the Kartarpur Corridor proposal, first suggested by army chief General Javed Bajwa in August and later taken up in a groundbreaking ceremony by Khan in November. Khan has used this perception to his advantage. Peace talks with New Delhi, stalled for over two years after terror attacks by Pakistan-based non-state actors, are now possible only after the 2019 Lok Sabha election. It will be left to a new Indian government to discover if Khan will walk the talk or remain a leader forever in the looming shadow of the military.