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For more than a month, Pakistan’s political theatrics had become a source of bizarre speculation for the world community. Each day and each hour, Pakistan’s political instability and bitter wrangling among the political parties and even the personal vendetta were exposed on social media. Many irregularities and indiscretions, usually swept under carpet came under the public gaze, reducing the serenity and credibility of a purportedly democratic state to its nadir.
Imran Khan is down but not out. In comparative politics, his strong point is that he is heading a united group and will be the leader of the opposition. Indian experience has shown that a recalcitrant leader of the opposition can be a running nuisance to an otherwise dedicated and people-friendly regime. Imran Khan’s political acumen will determine whether he plays the role of a nation builder or a buffoon to the other opposition leaders in the Assembly.
We in India should look at this episode from various angles according to our national interest. Some Pakistani observers think that India had become morose when the Pakistan President dissolved the Assembly at the behest of the Prime Minister. Indirectly, this suggested that India, too, wanted the ouster of Imran. However, as astute democrats, the Indian ruling party leadership desisted from making a comment
A pertinent question for Indian policy planners is to consider the possible scenarios for Indo-Pak relations after the change of guard in Islamabad. Perhaps this change is not to be probed from the viewpoint of the persons involved nor the values at stake but from the national interests of Pakistan. Pakistan has never given any signal of change in its mindset or acknowledged the need for changing guard whenever it seemed to be on the brink of economic disaster. The government never said a word about the desirable shift from animosity to friendly bilateral relations with India. The Pakistani society is indoctrinated with hate-India and hate-Hindu discourses. This poison has gone deep into the blood of the citizens. Look at their history books and you will find the proof.
The new regime is a conglomerate of many ideologies and perceptions. Kashmir stands at the core of Indo-Pak relations in their chemistry. Whatever regime is in power, its mantra is to give seditious Kashmiris every help they need. General Zia had coined the formula that Kashmir is the jugular vein of Pakistan.
Therefore, India should not expect any major change in Pakistan’s policy. For all practical purposes, General Qamar Jawed of Pakistan chalked the roadmap for the new regime a day before the ouster of Imran Khan. In a statement to the press, he said two important things. One was that Pakistan enjoys a long history of friendship and good relations with the US and that the nation will not do anything that would bring harm to the established level of friendship. Second, he said that Pakistan stands with the US in condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine. This statement sealed the fate of Imran’s premiership and within hours, he had to wind up and go home.
With a strong and united opposition in the National Assembly led by Imran Khan, the new regime has to tread carefully. It must learn from the Indian experience where the Congress and its allies in the Rajya Sabha usually pillory Modi, despite his party’s strong majority in the Lok Sabha. A recalcitrant opposition could be a constant nuisance to whomever is in power.
India would like the new regime to take several steps in the interest of Pakistan even more than in India’s. However, taking into account the environment in which the new government led by Shahbaz Sharif will have to work, it seems very difficult or even impossible for him to take any drastic step. It appears even more difficult when we know that Pakistan will be heading towards general elections soon.
India would like the new regime to take concrete and positive steps to dismantle the terrorist apparatus raised with extraordinary efficiency by Islamabad to make the country the epicentre of world terrorism but given that the terrorist outfits are the creation of the Army and not of political parties in Pakistan, the Shahbaz government will have very little if any say in dismantling that terrorist structure. Any attempt to do so would pose an indirect challenge to the army and to the large and powerful radical sections of Pakistan’s civil society.
Only few days back, the court slammed Hafiz Saeed, the founder of LeTwith a 31-year prison sentence. Immediately he nominated his son to step into his shoes and hold the reins of the Jamat ud Dawa. Pakistani courts sentenced Hafiz Saeed to imprisonment many times earlier but he was never actually in prison. He has lived comfortably in his home all along and the bureaucracy came to him whenever consultations were necessary.
In all probability, the new regime will continue with the deceptive practice of publicly saying he is in prison while keeping him free to operate. The compulsion in Pakistan is not of putting an end to terrorism but of wriggling out of the grey list in which the FTFA has long kept that country. That compulsion does not disappear with a change of regime. Therefore, it is futile to expect the new government to interfere with the terrorist structure.
The Ukraine war has changed the post-cold war scenario and reshaped world power alignments. It is not about democracies arrayed against totalitarianism but rather about the US trying to regain its lost supremacy by inveigling its European proxies. India understands the necessity ofadapting to that world order firstly because she has weathered rough seasons and deepened the roots of her social frame. Secondly, India also understood the basics of the Chinese philosophy about the role of the economy in bringing about ideological changes in society. Among the Quad, it is Japan that comes closest to the Indian perception of contemporary socio-political dynamics. While India abstained from voting on the resolution condemning Russian action in Ukraine, she told the Security Council in clear words that it rejects the policy of sanctions and instead advocates for dialogue and negotiations. That speaks to the temper of the new thinking.
Delhi is more than justified in abstaining from voting in the Un Security Council which took no position on India’s complaint in 1947 that Pakistan had attacked the then-sovereign State of Jammu and Kashmir and that the world assembly should take steps to condemn the aggression. Compare the treatment of India’s complaint by the SC with the way it acted on Ukraine’s complaint and note how the biased character of the UN needs to undergo a radical reform.
India should avoid making any commitment to the new regime in Islamabad and instead wait and see how it can manage its affairs. The new group in power has so far not said a word about India but Imran Khan himself praised India twice for adopting an independent policy. The ex-PM also spit fire while vacating his chair. He talked about Kashmir He wanted to convey to the new regime that the opposition would not allow even the smallest concession on Kashmir.