ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – From creating 10 million jobs to building an Islamic welfare state and restoring Pakistan’s tattered image abroad, new premier Imran Khan is facing a problem of his own making: runaway expectations raised by his lofty rhetoric.
A cricket legend and firebrand nationalist who is hero-worshipped by supporters, Mr Khan swept to power in last month’s election on a populist platform vowing to root out corruption among a venal elite and lift people out of poverty.
But he inherits control of a volatile nation facing mounting problems at home and abroad, including a looming economic crisis and a fracture with historically the United States over Pakistan’s alleged links to militants. Ties are also fraught with neighbors Afghanistan and nuclear-armed rival India.
Opponents in parliament talk of forming a grand coalition against Mr Khan, dubbing him a “puppet” and accusing him of entering into a Faustian Pact with the powerful military, which has a history of ousting prime ministers and clashing with civilian governments over control of foreign policy.
Mr Khan denies all accusations that the military covertly helped him win the election.
And in his victory speech, Mr Khan offered an olive branch to India and called for mutually beneficial ties with the United States.
Whether Mr Khan can become the first Pakistani prime minister to complete a full five-year term in office will depend on his relationship with influential generals, analysts say.
If his ideas on foreign policy differ from theirs, analysts say Mr Khan would suffer a similar fate to other civilian leaders who have failed to see out their term.
Forced to rely on smaller parties for a razor-thin majority in parliament, and with the opposition controlling the Senate, Mr Khan’s coalition government could struggle to push through legislation without major compromises. An increasingly assertive judiciary could also hold it back.
Yet the mood in the country is one of unbridled optimism, especially among Mr Khan’s young supporters, who believe he can build a corruption-free and prosperous “New Pakistan” for the country’s 208 million people.
During Independence Day celebrations this week, when flag-waving Pakistanis flooded the streets of Islamabad, many voiced confidence that Mr Khan would deliver on promises to build world class hospitals and improve education in a nation where the illiteracy rate hovers above 40 percent.
Others were delighted Khan has broken the decades-long dominance of the two dynastic powerhouses, the outgoing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party of jailed former premier Nawaz Sharif and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of the Bhutto family.
But Khan’s campaign pledges are likely to be checked by a worsening economic outlook, analysts say, especially his vow to build a welfare state.