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Former Cricket Star Declares Himself New Prime Minister Of Pakistan


A former cricket star has just declared himself Pakistan's new prime minister. Imran Khan announced his victory earlier today after a contentious election that his opponents call fraudulent. NPR's Diaa Hadid joins us now from Islamabad. Hey, Diaa.


CHANG: So Khan says he won. Is he in fact the winner of yesterday's election?

HADID: The official results aren't in yet, but the unofficial tally so far shows that he has a very strong lead. And he's already given a victory speech.

CHANG: But we should note that his chief opponent is in prison right now, right?

HADID: That's right. His chief opponent is the former prime minister of Pakistan and the leader of the former ruling party. And he alleges that the military and the judiciary intervened in the runup to these elections to curb his party's electoral chances. He was convicted on a corruption case, and he's now spending years in prison. He says those charges were cooked up to prevent him from campaigning. There was also a crackdown on media that was perceived as being sympathetic to the former ruling party. And Imran Khan was given plenty of positive airtime during the runup to these elections.

CHANG: And on top of those allegations, there are allegations of fraud on election day.

HADID: That's right. All the other major parties are alleging there was either interference or rigging during election day itself.

CHANG: Has Khan responded to any of these allegations?

HADID: So I asked him about the allegations of interference by the military and the judiciary in a press conference a few days ago. And basically he said the former ruling party and its leader dug their own grave by being so corrupt.

CHANG: How do people expect Khan to govern Pakistan?

HADID: So we've already had hints of it from his victory speech, which was in fact quite gracious and struck a markedly different tone from the very harsh rhetoric of his campaign. He pressed on the themes that have inspired his followers. He's against corruption. He promised to try to alleviate Pakistan's crushing poverty. He said that he wouldn't live in the luxurious prime minister's house. He said it wouldn't be appropriate.

CHANG: He's been criticized for adopting some of the policies supported by the far-right and Islamist groups, though, right?

HADID: He has been criticized for that. But specifically what he's been criticized for is being close and aligned to a spiritual leader of the Taliban and for not publicly denouncing Pakistan's blasphemy laws. To be fair, no major party has publicly denounced these laws because it's so politically poisonous.

CHANG: How about looking outside of Pakistan? Has Khan indicated how he might conduct relations with India or China or even the United States?

HADID: So that was very interesting. In his 30-minute speech that he gave to followers today, first he reached out a hand to India and said that Pakistan wanted peace with its neighboring country. He said that Pakistan wanted peace with Afghanistan. He praised China. That's actually Pakistan's most important ally now. And then he mentioned the United States.


IMRAN KHAN: (Foreign language spoken).

HADID: What he said was America gives aid to Pakistan so Pakistan can fight America's wars. Now, that's not quite true, especially since the Trump administration, which accuses Pakistan of harboring militants, cut off most military aid to Pakistan.

CHANG: So did Khan can give any indication of what he is looking for the United States to give Pakistan?

HADID: All he said was that he wanted relations that were, quote, unquote, "mutually beneficial." But it's unclear how that will play out. The Trump administration has shown that it has very little patience for Pakistan right now. The White House has, however, reportedly changed its policy and is now trying to seek direct talks with the Taliban. In that case, Khan actually might be a very useful ally precisely because he is close to one of the spiritual leaders of the Taliban.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Diaa Hadid in Islamabad. Thank you very much, Diaa.

HADID: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Diaa Hadid chiefly covers Pakistan and Afghanistan for NPR News. She is based in NPR's bureau in Islamabad. There, Hadid and her team were awarded a Murrow in 2019 for hard news for their story on why abortion rates in Pakistan are among the highest in the world.
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