The media has always enjoyed describing the conquests of Imran Khan as a playboy, along with his victories in the cricket field. He brought the World Cup to Pakistan in 1992 and married three times, the last being early this year. His joining politics 22 years ago was never taken seriously; yet now, he becomes the Prime Minister of Pakistan!
What is surprising is the turnaround in the media coverage – from a flippant, playful point of view to a critical, often biased - and sometimes even abusive - approach. He is being described as a “stooge” of the infamous Pakistani military forces. What was really shocking were the reactions to the webcasting of the live programmes - for example of NDTV- that were floating in every minute. Now he is representing Pakistan, and the Indian negativism towards that country was quite evident.
It’s a free-for-all – no attempt to show restraint and giving him a chance. Imran famously said in his campaigns that if there is one step forward from India for rapprochement, he would go two steps ahead. But there is no attempt at wait and watch. The pitch has already been queered.
This is the second transfer of power between civilian governments in Pakistan, which has a long history of military rules. It is true that the military has a strong presence in Pakistan’s administration and Imran’s predecessor, Nawaz Sharif was accused of corruption and put to jail when he came into confrontation with the military.
For Imran Khan, the fight now is not confined to the bat and ball; it has opened up in many fronts. Winning the World Cup was not easy; but now running Pakistan will be Herculean, to say the least. He has to first regain the country’s credibility – that Pakistan is not the seat of world terrorism. He has to restore a shattered economy with increasing debts and dwindling foreign currency reserves. He has to tackle effectively the 'trouble spots' of Baluchistan, Afghanistan, and Kashmir. Baluchistan is related to Pakistan’s internal peace. Afghanistan will be his test for improving his relationship with the US. And with Kashmir of course the world will watch how he tackles his arch ‘enemy’ and neighbour India. It certainly will not be an India-Pakistan cricket match.
Indian media need to show restraint and not encourage the usual frenzy that appears the moment anything “Pakistan” comes to surface. Terrorism is a global phenomenon and it cannot be tagged to any particular country or religion. True that there is evidence to prove that the Mumbai attack or the parliament attack or the frequent killings in Kashmir valley have origins in Pakistan soil. But this election could be the beginning of a change. Why not give it a chance. The naysayers would argue that if Pakistan and India becomes ‘friends’, then the separation of the two countries becomes meaningless. Kashmir problem will cease to exist. Pakistan’s military will never let that happen.
Why will the Indian Prime Minister not take the first step and extend his now famous hug to Imran Khan? Let us test his promise of coming two steps forward. The past bitterness can be pushed back and the Indian media can do its bit not raking it up unnecessarily.