Pakistan's Imran Khan has a rocky road ahead

Former sports star will soon be facing a reality check when he takes his oath of office
Pakistan's Imran Khan has a rocky road ahead

Pakistani cricketer turned politician Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice), speaks to supporters during a campaign rally on July 22 ahead of the general election held three days later. (Photo by Rizwan Tabassum/AFP)

Cricket hero Imran Khan is set to become Pakistan's 15th Prime Minister by mid-August following his party's controversial winning of the biggest block of seats in the July 25 parliamentary elections.

However, Khan's Pakistan Justice Party is faced with the daunting task of maintaining a workable alliance with smaller parties and independents.

It can also expect a stiff challenge from the more politically experienced parties of jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto, son of slain premier Benazir Bhutto.

At this stage, some of smaller parties remain reluctant to join a Khan-led government owing to his divisive political rhetoric in the election campaign, allegations of pre-poll rigging and tediously slow vote counting.

Videos keep surfacing on social media platforms raising questions about the transparency of the election process.

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Many opposition groups have raised objections over the results, calling it the dirtiest election in the nation's history.

But they have decided to take their battle to the parliament rather than launching street protests straight away.

Despite the obvious challenges at hand, Prime Minister-elect Khan is expected to be sworn-in before Pakistan celebrates its 71th Independence Day on Aug. 14.

In his victory speech, Khan promised to work for the betterment of the most downtrodden sections of the society, including various minority groups.

"The weak are dying of hunger," Khan said.

"I will try my best — all of my policies will be made to raise our weaker classes, for our laborers, for our poor farmers, who work all year and get no money."

He said 45 percent of children in Pakistan had stunted growth or their brains had not developed properly.

"There are countries with less than 25 million people, and we have that many children out of school," he added.

Khan said no country could prosper when there was a small island of rich people in a sea of poverty.

He also promised to open talks with neighboring countries, including India and Afghanistan, to restore a lasting peace in South Asia.

Although it remains to be seen if Khan can walk the talk, some elements of his start look promising.

However, he has opposed reforms to anti-blasphemy laws, a position which has drawn anger from rights' groups and activists.

Pakistan's draconian anti-blasphemy laws have targeted defenseless and vulnerable minorities who often find themselves persecuted by the state and society.

Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother of five, on death row after being convicted of blasphemy in 2010, is still waiting for her appeal to be heard by the country's top court. 

Barely a week before the poll, Asad Umar, a poster boy of Khan's party and front-runner for the Finance Minister slot, drew flak after he sought electoral support from Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a U.S.-designated global terrorist.

The cleric was placed by the U.S. government on a 'Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT)' list in 2014 for involvement in the Harkatul Mujahideen militant organization.

The finance minister is going to be grilled by the international community when he starts lobbying for Pakistan to be taken off the so called 'grey list' of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF),a terrorism funding watchdog.

In a summit hosted by Sunni clerics on June 8, Khan vowed to defend retention of the anti-blasphemy section of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The section makes it an offence use any words deemed to be insulting to the Holy Prophet Muhammad and includes provision for a death sentence or life imprisonment.

Khan has increasingly aligned himself with Sunni groups who target the minority Ahmadi community and glorify the anti-blasphemy provisions.

Declared as non-Muslims by the state, Ahmadis are arguably the most persecuted minority in Pakistan. Anti-Ahmadi sentiments were palpable during the election campaign.

Some of Khan's supporters argue that his blasphemy stance has been a tactical move to appease hard-line Islamic supporters, but in the past he has never shown any desire to amend the anti-blasphemy laws or stop their abuse.

Judging by the reaction of opposition groups and critical global media coverage, Khan's every step will be subjected to intense scrutiny. 

The former World Cup winning captain will soon be facing a reality check when he takes his oath of office and discovers that there is a big difference between captaining a cricket team and governing one of the world's most problematic nations.

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