New Delhi: With the caveat that everything new looks promising, it must be admitted that Imran Khan makes for a more interesting prime minister than was thought possible. He has not made a single false move so far which is not a small achievement for a man with no experience of national executive decision-making. And he has taken the giant step of seeking a composite dialogue with Narendra Modi where he has expressed a willingness to discuss India’s pet them of Pakistani terrorism. What’s happening?

Since Imran Khan has been a world-class sportsman, some sporting metaphors will inevitably punctuate this piece. Imran Khan is preparing for a long innings and is working to a plan. It is not necessary that the plan has all been committed to paper. It might as well be in his head which is more than likely. Imran knows his current political handicaps. He is running a coalition government. He is beholden to the army for restricting the power and influence of Nawaz Sharief and his party and of the Bhutto clan.

Above individual and party political considerations, he must have been briefed about the messy economy he has inherited. Pakistan desperately needs an IMF bailout worth some $12 billion. The United States no longer says it will block Pakistan’s loan application to the IMF. But China’s usurious lending to Pakistan remains a source of irritation to the United States. The very first tranche of IMF lending will likely go to settle Chinese debt.

Chinese debt as such bothers Imran Khan. Previously, he was opposed to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor with its certain propensity to land Pakistan in a debt trap. Almost no country which has joined China’s Belt and Road Initiative has escaped the debt trap, Sri Lanka being a prime example in South Asia. Since coming to power, Imran has been less vociferous against CPEC, but reservations persist.

Indeed, one of his aides in an interview to the Financial Times of London spoke of revisiting and renegotiating CPEC. Pakistan’s official denial quickly followed but the Pakistan army chief had to make a trip to Beijing to assuage the Chinese leadership. The CPEC is no longer popular in Pakistan. That it will lead to Pakistan’s colonization by China is less worrisome at present than that it will drown Pakistan in debt. This terrifies Pakistan and China’s evocation of all-weather friendship with Pakistan is no longer music to Pakistani ears. It is against this backdrop that Imran Khan has sought a full-spectrum dialogue with Narendra Modi.

Imran Khan is clearly banking on Pakistani public opinion such as there is to support him in the dialogue efforts with India. Without the Pakistan army’s approval, however, he would not have sought the dialogue. This suggests two possibilities. Firstly, the Pakistan army has veered to the necessity of an accommodation with India. It is too early and mildly risky to detail the accommodation. But the Pakistan army chief who studies India closely is not a hawk.

The second possibility is that Imran Khan has convinced the army leadership that the only way for Pakistan to gain peace, security and prosperity is to settle with India. There is a third possibility which flows from the first two. Believing the current chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, to be moderate and desirous of peace with India, Imran Khan has joined forces with him. Interestingly, India denied a press report that Bajwa had sent peace feelers on his own account.

Whatever the reality, Imran’s quest for peace with India is not for show. As much as he is a Pakistani nationalist, he has also probably come to accept that one of the means to get Pakistan out of the rut is to make peace with India. He is sincere about fighting poverty in Pakistan. He is troubled about Pakistan’s backwardness in healthcare and education. These are not problems unique to Pakistan. India suffers them in equal measure despite the astonishing economic growth since 1991. Often, Imran has spoken on this theme. They likely impel his peace moves with India. The Pakistan army could scarcely quarrel with his understanding.

At the same time, Imran Khan’s understanding of Pakistan’s problems is hardly exceptional. He would also fear that terrorism is dragging Pakistan back to the medieval ages. The unsettled situation in Afghanistan with foreign occupation and rising local terrorism would also underline the urgency of sitting across the table from India. But the dialogue is only a beginning. A million things would have to be settled. And India is in full election mode. Any substantive negotiations with Pakistan would have to await the verdict of the 2019 general election. Can Imran wait so long? Does he have the luxury of time?

With other political notables, these questions would elicit a simple yes or no. Imran Khan, however, presents something of a dilemma. To draw from his sporting successes, he was an extraordinary Test cricket captain. He infused his own confidence in the Pakistan team and made it do wonderful things. He is sincere and passionate. These are rare qualities in politicians particularly of South Asia. His strength would derive from the implicit faith of Pakistanis in his character, integrity, good intentions and unswerving loyalty to Pakistan’s national interests. This would make him stronger than the real numbers he commands in the National Assembly. It could make him a force capable of getting a settlement with India which is honourable to both sides. Life could still cheat him. But Imran Khan’s fundamental goodness could yet make a difference to India and Pakistan.