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Posted at: Aug 25, 2018, 12:10 AM; last updated: Aug 25, 2018, 12:10 AM (IST)

Taking Imran out of army’s grip

Alone, the new Pak PM can do little to build bridges with India
Taking Imran out of army’s grip
The India-baiters in the Cabinet should be checkmated with a liberal visa policy.

G Parthasarthy
A former diplomat 

There has been speculation in India about how to deal with a Pakistan government headed by Imran Khan. It is futile to speculate but one should look at future developments, which will shape his reaction towards domestic and international challenges Pakistan faces.

Imran founded the PTI together with a former ISI chief, Lt Gen Hamid Gul. General Gul invited worldwide attention for his support for radical Islamic outfits in Pakistan, Afghanistan and even Bosnia. Imran himself has supported the Afghan Taliban and other radical Islamic outfits in Pakistan. The PTI provincial government in Peshawar has been forthcoming in funding Maulana Samiul Haq, who is an electoral ally of the party. Samiul Haq, better known as the ‘father of the Taliban’, runs Darul Uloom seminary, which hosted the former Taliban (Haqqani Network) leader, Jalaluddin Haqqani. It has also hosted the local head of the Al Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, Asim Umar, as well as Akhtar Mansoor who succeeded Mullah Omar as the Taliban chief. The seminary has a cozy relationship with Maulana Masood Azhar, chief of Jaish-e- Mohammed, who was responsible for several attacks on India, including the attack on Parliament in 2001.

Imran’s connections with the military are an open secret. Less than two years back, he sought to destabilise the Nawaz Sharif government, staging a protest to close down the capital Islamabad, with another ISI asset, the Canada-based cleric, Tahir-ul-Qadri. While Imran may ostensibly keep some distance from these radical outfits after assuming office, the contacts of his party with them will continue. He will inevitably back the army’s favourite jihadi outfit, the Lashkar-e-Taiba. These outfits operate against both India and Afghanistan, necessitating close cooperation with Afghanistan and the Trump administration, especially in forums like the Financial Action Task Force. 

 Imran is going to immediately face two major challenges: Pakistan’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves, now valued at around a mere $10 billion, and the reality that IMF assistance may not be forthcoming, unless details of Pakistan’s total repayment liabilities to China on CPEC (estimated at around $90 billion) are furnished and examined. US Secretary of State Pompeo has made it clear that no money will be forthcoming from the IMF, if it is used to repay Pakistan’s debts to China. Moreover, Chinese banks appear to be reluctant to pour money into a bottomless pit. The Saudis will keep a close eye on Imran’s explicit desire to build bridges to Iran, though some Saudi banks have expressed their readiness to extend credits up to $4 billion.

With the advent of winter, infiltration in the Kashmir valley will naturally fall. The real test will come after the winter snow melts. There are enough jihadi cheerleaders in Pakistan for Imran’s PTI to keep up the anti-India tirade for jihad against India and for Taliban rule in Afghanistan. There are three noted India baiters in Imran’s cabinet: foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureishi, ‘human rights’ minister Shireen Mazari and railways minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. Imran’s comments on India have generally been moderate. But, he will be given little space by the army to do or say anything that comes in the way of the army’s ‘bleed India with a thousand cuts’ approach. 

India should not rush into uncharted waters by hurriedly engaging in any ‘composite’ or ‘comprehensive dialogue’, wherein terrorism receives scant importance. We should make it clear that the framework for a dialogue already exists under the high-level foreign ministerial-led India-Pakistan Joint Commission set up in 1983, where all issues, including Kashmir, can be discussed. But, no serious dialogue can be held unless Pakistan fulfils the assurance that General Musharraf gave PM Vajpayee in 2004 that ‘territory under Pakistan’s control’ would not be used for terrorism against India. Dialogue with Pakistan was resumed only after verifying that Musharraf was abiding by this assurance. A serious ‘back channel’ discussion on Kashmir followed only after terrorism ended. 

In the meantime, discreet official contacts with Pakistan can continue. We should be prepared to upgrade the present conversations between the DGMOs, which discuss prevailing ground issues, to meetings at a higher level between India’s Vice-Chief/Army Commander and Pakistan’s Chief of General Staff, who wields clout in GHQ Rawalpindi. These contacts can be used to end infiltration and craft CBMs to ensure peace across the border and the LoC (Pakistan’s DGMO is a relatively junior ‘two star’ General). We have such mechanisms with other neighbours like China and Myanmar. Like in Myanmar, the army plays the predominant role on security issues and the army’s chief of general staff wields far greater clout than its National Security Adviser on security issues, in Pakistan.

Imran is keen on hosting the next SAARC Summit in Islamabad. There is little point in the summit before Pakistan fulfils its obligations on free trade with India under the Free Trade Agreement and provides transit facilities for trade between India and Afghanistan. Since there is no question of China, which is not a South Asian country, becoming a member of SAARC, there should be prior agreement that Pakistan will not raise the issue of China’s membership. 

When the Indian Consulate-General was being set up in Karachi, then External Affairs Minister Vajpayee decreed that visas for those wishing to visit India should be liberally issued. This policy paid remarkable returns in ending the hostility of those brainwashed for three decades. We need to make it clear that our aim is to be unwavering in responding strongly to those who promote terrorism, while keeping the doors open for those who seek understanding to visit India.


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