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PM elect Imran Khan and unyielding paranoia: Major roadblocks in Indo-Pak bilateral relations

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Subhajit Naskar |

Pakistan is on the brink of becoming Naya Pakistan under Captain Imran Khan. Pakistanis have reposed their faith in Khan after putting him almost 22years of political struggle. In a nation captivated with Cricket, Khan has incisively engineered his charismatic status to devise a popular anti-corruption narrative against Nawaz Sharif. Imran pursued his anti-corruption narrative throughout his two-decade-long political career until it became a master narrative only before 2018 general election when Sharif had been convicted by the Supreme Court in Panama Papers case.

The stunning political victory of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) has been closely monitored by Indian media and the South Block mandarins. As the results of the General election started showing a favourable trend in favour of Khan’s PTI, some hysterical media groups in India started accusing him an Establishment’s man. Even, Some Pakistani analysts too were suspicious of seeing hands of Khalai Makhlooq (Aliens) in Pakistan but this was rebutted by the Army on various occasion through former press statements by ISPR. Pakistan army chief Gen Bajwa unequivocally set out the tone in his doctrine that Military has left the era of coups and democratic tinkering. The Bajwa doctrine came about vehemently insisted on a peaceful transition of the Democratic process. He refused to involve in political chaos. The doctrine is very unambiguous on the issues of regional peace and stability which promotes the idea of the peaceful coexistence with the neighbouring countries, unlike his ex COAS Gen Kayani.

Though Khan’s slogan of Nawaz, ‘a good friend of Modi’ resonated well across the Pakistani political landscape and ensured the defeat in the PMLN stronghold of Punjab. Since the narrative has ensured astounding victory. India expressed categorical concerns about that. Many Indian media would like to believe Khan is the civilian face of the Army but the Proliferation of Army-Imran Khan nexus narrative does not hold much ground as being propagated. As Imran was offered Prime Ministership by former Martial Law ruler Gen Pervaiz Musharraf which he readily rejected. Subsequently, He was abducted and kept in hostage by Gen Musharraf led govt. So, this plausibly is contrary to calling him an Army invention.

India has already created an unyielding paranoia against Imran Khan so much so that he expressed his anguish terming it ‘Bollywood Villain’ in his first maiden speech to the nation. Khan’s party clearly crafted an India policy for Pakistan in party manifesto and prioritised in its first 100 days work after assuming the post of premier.

On ties with India, Khan in his address clearly stated ‘If leadership in India is ready then I will want to strengthen the relationship between the two countries. At the same time, he reminded Indian establishment that his predecessors pursued a one-sided relationship where Pakistan is blamed for all the violence. He wanted to set aside that blame game a thing of past. He went further in saying that the strengthening of ties between the two nations will be beneficial for subcontinent as well’. “If India comes and takes one step towards us, we will take two steps toward them.’

Kasmir will prevail as the core issue in the bilateral relations and a Litmus Test for Khan’s government. Imran Khan and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi needs to realise that there is a deep sense of alienation among Kashmiris in the Valley and people are yearning for peace to lead a dignified life with honour. Though, PM Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech said that the ‘Kashmir problem could be solved only by embracing Kashmir and not bygaali or goli (abuses or bullets)’. Yet, no substantive progress has been made in this regard.

Prof Partha Chatterjee of Columbia University proclaimed in an article; ‘Over the years, an image has been cultivated in the corridors of power in New Delhi that is profoundly colonial in its denial of any kind of mature rationality to the people of Kashmir. He even goes a step further and explicitly professes that ‘As long as the current attitude prevails in both India and Pakistan of treating Kashmir as a site where the two countries are fighting a war, where every move is judged by whether it would go to India’s advantage or Pakistan’s, and where the lives of Kashmiri people are mere collateral damage.’’

These may be a greater challenge for both the countries to craft a Kashmir policy which will mutually benefit both the countries as well as Kashmiris. Since the dispute over the land of Kashmir involves high stake in the foreign policy-making process of the two neighbouring countries. Prof Nitasha Kaul of the University of Westminister presumes‘Kashmir issue was always a political one until interested parties pushed for a communal conflict’. That said, it may not be overlooked that today Kashmir is under the Governor’s rule after an estrange fall out of PDP-BJP coalition and Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti terming coalition a ‘’A cup of poison’’.

Former  Congress leader, a prominent Pakistan observer Mani Shankar Aiyar thinks ‘it may prevail that the ruling party here looks at Pakistan with a jaundiced, communal eye viewing Pakistan as a good excuse to lynch passing Indian Muslims’. On the other hand, Chauvinist forces may be a major obstacle in crafting a successful India policy for Khan’s government.

Pakistan Tehreek E Insaf (PTI) promised in its first 100 days agenda on National and International security plan to ‘Form a holistic National Security Organisation (NSO) headed by the PM-on the model of National Command Authority (NCA) which will comprise two parts: the Plenary Council (policy and strategy) and the Specialist Working Group.’ This is surely an ambitious project which may possibly clash with expert units working within the Military Establishment.

PTI manifesto which published in the name of the’ Road to Naya Pakistan’ promises ‘conflict resolution approach towards improving relation with eastern and western neighbours. This will include work on a blueprint towards resolving the Kashmir issue within the parameters of UNSC resolutions. For lasting peace within the region, especially with our neighbour India, conflict resolution and the security route to cooperation is the most viable’.

Indian narrative of’ Khan, an army’s protégé and he will strive to be on their right side may create a major roadblock in pursuing a progressive bilateral relationship. PTI has to find a niche in complex national security issues that entails a greater stake of the army. Khan’s vision for stabilising the region by establishing regional peace may be halted by the GHQ. Many Pakistani analysts think Khan’s charismatic personality would put the army on the check. Many fear, Khan’s fondness for Turkish Leader Erdogan might be little troublesome as Erdogan once seen as a model democrat in the Islamic world took a sharp authoritarian turn by centralising the power around him. In hindsight, this may not like to be true with Khan as he draws inspiration from statecraft of Medina Charter.

Let us not forget, Imran has a fresh energetic professional team. His potential foreign minister Shireen Mazari, A Columbia University Doctorate has already hinted future Govt’s nature of the bilateral relations with the major power like the US in a recent interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.

Lastly, Imran is thankfully not a demagogue and known for pulling the punches at the right time and highly ambitious. This might be rather a ray of hope in securing a Kashmir deal between two neighbours.

Subhajit Naskar is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Jadavpur University, Kolkata and an Alumni of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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