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Posted at: Dec 1, 2018, 12:10 AM; last updated: Dec 1, 2018, 1:47 AM (IST)

Imran’s googly takes a wicket

Lt gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)

Lt gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)
The presence of Pak army chief and a Khalistani leader gave the game away
Imran’s googly takes a wicket
Off the mark: The Pakistan army chief should have kept away from the ceremony.

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (retd)
Chancellor, Central University of Kashmir 

Prime minister Imran Khan just completed hundred days in office. His pre-power utterances did not inspire much confidence as he mouthed only words that the security establishment of Pakistan (the Deep State) was happy to hear. However ever since coming to power, he has been trying too hard to draw India into a dialogue, even as there is no let-up in the proxy war his country relentlessly pursues in J&K. Either he is not smart enough to appreciate India’s concerns or the Deep State hopes to escape some of the vilification which comes its way time and again from the international community, by forcing an Indian refusal. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s subsequent mischievous statement that Imran Khan delivered a googly and India sent two ministers to Pakistan reveals the immature attitude of the Pakistan government promoted by the deep state.

While yet a cricketer, Imran was popular in India. He seems to think that the same popularity has accompanied him into the murky world of politics. The relationship of his country with India is on a different plane than what it was in the 70s and 80s. The terms then too were not friendly, but people-to-people contact existed. The LoC was quiet except for an odd infringement of the ceasefire agreed in 1971. The Siachen issue was beginning to heat up relations. But there existed an accepted idea that the military domain involving trans-LoC exchanges should not come in the way of bilateral relations. It was only after 1987 that things started to change in J&K and came to a head in early 1990. Imran was then captaining his team for the World Cup in 1992. Navjot Sidhu played for India and a goodly relationship had developed between them and other team members. The friendship continued, unmindful of the changes. This is what the two bring to the table today, frozen in time. Both are idealists while the time today is of realists. 

Evidence that Imran has not been able to shed the sportsman’s persona comes from his utterances about Sidhu in his recent speech. Referring to the possibility of peace with India if and when Sidhu would be the PM of India exposes his naivety. If it was a  statement at the behest of the Deep State, it is even worse because Gen Bajwa must know that evoking a positive response from India won’t happen by instigating the BJP. Perhaps that was the intent; irritate the Indian leadership to such an extent that even with a goodwill gesture such as the Kartarpur corridor, it would be forced to respond negatively and thereby hopefully remain open to international criticism. 

In the sensitive world of India-Pakistan relations, every gesture is under the scanner for potential negativity, howsoever positive the intent. The moment Imran learnt that the Indian Government was playing ball up to a point and had no intent of treating a religious-cultural initiative as a political initiative, he should have changed tack. He should have spoken of the event being a major one in the people-to-people field which hopefully would transform to the political field. Mentioning the futility of war was fine, but implying mutual assured destruction due to the nuclear capability of both countries was like baiting India. 

We are at a stage in the mutual relationship where to break the negativity in the political diplomatic sphere, sensitivities have to be kept in mind. Pakistan’s general election is over, India’s general election is away, but crucial state elections are on. This is a sensitive time for the ruling dispensation. A major decision in foreign policy would surely not be taken now. Even the acceptance of the corridor by India at this stage surprised many analysts. 

But getting a Khalistan protagonist to attend the ceremony was inappropriate. India’s major concern about the corridor has been about the potential influence by Khalistan separatist leaders on pilgrims who may visit the shrine. This aspect by itself appears to cast a doubt on the eventual success of this initiative.

Was Gen. Bajwa’s presence at the ceremony necessary? Gen. Rawat was nowhere near the Indian ceremony. Our Army kept itself away from it. Since the Indian event preceded the Pakistani event, someone on the Pakistan side did not do his homework. Its officialdom has some very smart people, but my impression gets diluted with the unnecessary presence of their army chief. Bajwa’s presence reinforced the perception that Pakistan army is the key controller. Sending a local commander to attend it would have conveyed a positive message. Someone who is looking to improve a political relationship from a position of relative weakness (in this case in two domains, the economic and international opinion) does have to bother about public perception across the border. 

Sidhu is a superb speaker, but it seems he chooses the wrong themes to speak about. He was aware that his Chief Minister was conveying an important strategic message by staying away from the Pakistani event. Very few have actually complimented him for that. He was expressing a national concern without any political baggage. Sidhu could have won brownie points for the nation, for his Chief Minister and himself by conveying to his hosts, in the sweetest way that only he can convey, that India had concerns and addressing those concerns was important in order to make the initiative work. He should have thanked Imran profusely, but also cautioned him appropriately. These are times when political parties come together to play a strategy, as did the BJP and the Congress in 1994. Captain Amarinder Singh’s gesture smacked of the maturity of 1994. Unfortunately, Sidhu’s gesture communicated exactly the opposite.

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