Former cricket star Imran Khan declared victory Thursday in Pakistan’s parliamentary election and vowed to run the country “as it has never before been run” by fighting corruption, seeking regional cooperation and forging a new relationship with the U.S. that was not “one-sided.”
Media stations reported Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaf party, or PTI, maintained a commanding lead from Wednesday’s balloting. But his leading rival, Shahbaz Sharif, rejected the outcome, citing allegations of vote-rigging.
Pakistan’s election commission struggled with technical problems and had to revert to a manual count, delaying the announcement of final results until Friday. That left unclear whether the PTI will have a simple majority in the National Assembly or have to form a coalition government.
But that didn’t stop the 65-year-old Khan from proclaiming his triumph in an address to the nation, in which he pledged to create an Islamic welfare state to provide education and employment for the poor to fulfill a campaign promise to create 10 million jobs.
While Khan’s appeared casual and conciliatory in his speech, his words were laced with passion. He said the United States treats Pakistan like a mercenary, giving it billions of dollars to fight the war on terrorism in a region beset with terrorists.
“Unfortunately, so far our relations were one-sided. America thinks that it gives Pakistan money to fight for them. Because of this Pakistan suffered a lot,” said Khan, who has been critical of the U.S.-led conflict in neighboring Afghanistan.
Seeking good relations with his neighbors, Khan addressed Pakistan’s rival, India. The two nuclear powers have had a long-running conflict over the disputed region of Kashmir.
“Take one step toward us and we will take two steps toward you,” he said in a peace offering while still decrying widespread human rights abuses in Kashmir.
Khan also advocated an open border policy with Afghanistan, even suggesting the two countries embrace a “European Union” type relationship. The plan seems unlikely, with Pakistan’s military already building hundreds of border outposts and an accompanying fence along its western frontier with Afghanistan despite often-violent opposition from Kabul.