Winning the 2019 election is make-or-break for Narendra Modi. But until then, Imran Khan’s focus can be on resurrecting Pakistan, while India finds ways to modify the conditionalities for reconciliations.
Imran Khan is expected to be sworn in as the Prime Minister of Pakistan before its Independence day (August 14) on August 11. He is the Army’s gift to the people of Pakistan. His meteoric rise is the result of an elaborate operation with military precision to dump and defeat Nawaz Sharif who had dared to challenge the custodians of the country’s core values and national interest thrice as a popularly elected Prime Minister. That its mastermind would be Army Chief Gen Bajwa was no surprise. Under his command, in the words of several Pakistani commentators, 2018 elections were the “dirtiest, most highly rigged and massively manipulated” in the history of Pakistan. Despite this monumental theft, the beneficiary, PTI, is 25 seats shy of a majority in the National Assembly as at least eight seats will have to be vacated since Khan fought from five seats and so did others contest additional seats. Khan is likely to secure support from MQM-P, PML-Q, AML, GDA and independents (with Jeep symbol who were forced to defect from PML-N) to reach the magic number of 137, making it a weak and wobbly coalition: Precisely what the establishment sought. The jihadists who were being infiltrated into Parliament fortunately did not make it but acted as spoilers by stealing votes from mainline parties. Religious parties also failed to better their usual poor performance. In short, passage of legislation in Parliament will involve trade-offs even as PML-N enjoys a majority in the Senate.
The history of this election will be incomplete without the fairy tale from Khan’s third wife, Bushra Riaz Wattoo (overshadowing his second wife, Reham Khan’s tell all book), a married woman with five children and endowed with Sufi spiritual powers. She prophesied that if the superstitious Khan married her before January 5, he would not only become Prime Minister but also bring in a golden era in Pakistan. The Naya Pakistan is blessed by Prophet Muhammad in Bushra’s dream. In his presumptive victory speech last week, Khan spoke about the socio-economic transformation of Pakistan — pro-poor, pro-farmer, healthcare, rule of law, a Medina model welfare state and rooting out corruption. He sounded confident though sometimes confusing though, overall convincing in his message which was laced with contradictions. On corruption, there is this anecdote. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where his party ruled for five years and where he has been re-elected, Khan had set up a state accountability bureau headed by the upright retired Lt Gen Hamid Khan, a former Peshawar Corps Commander. When he began investigating Imran Khan’s cronies, he was gently advised to stick to his passion of gardening in Charsadda. Pakistan’s broken economy is a multiplying liability.
Khan’s enunciation of his foreign policy goals was along expected lines. He cited China not just for the game-changing CPEC, over which his party has expressed misgivings, but also about its strategy of eliminating corruption and poverty. The Chinese were the first to congratulate him and ironically commend the democratic process of elections. On Afghanistan, Khan hoped for open borders (existing Durand Line is not even acceptable to Taliban). He could catalyse the reconciliation process, especially after the US has engaged Taliban directly in Qatar as sought by them. President Ghani phoned Khan to congratulate him on his victory. Improving relations with the US was welcomed in Washington though it expressed reservations about the legitimacy of the electoral process. Saudi Arabia and Iran were mentioned as historic friends and allies.
India figured last. Having attacked New Delhi in his election campaign by targeting Nawaz Sharif — India’s ‘ladla’ — for not responding to surgical strikes and undermining the Pakistan Army (he calls Gen Bajwa the most pro-democracy man we have ever seen), Khan changed tune seeking trade and good relations but underscoring human rights violations by the Indian Army against the freedom struggle in Kashmir. India was the last to react with a crafty statement: It desired a prosperous and progressive Pakistan at peace with its neighbours…and hoped for a South Asia free of terror and violence. Khan had said he wanted to fix ties with India adding: “You take one step forward, we will take two”. India will judge Khan on deeds not words. Prime Minister Modi has made the obligatory call to congratulate him and has hoped democracy will take ‘deeper roots’ in Pakistan.
Given the history of India-Pakistan relations, the declining unrest in Kashmir is due to Pakistan sought ceasefire which is holding and drop in infiltration. Still the situation could change overnight as Pakistani troops are redeployed from election duties to the LoC. The Modi Government will probably have established the dubious record of no Track One dialogue in its entire term in office. No previous Government has achieved such a distinction. This is the longest spell of silence since talks were suspended by the previous Government after the beheading of Naik Hemraj on LoC in January 2013. But to be fair, the Government’s lack of success is not for want of trying but is part of the internecine battles between the establishment and elected Government in Pakistan . The civil-military equation cannot be changed in the former’s favour as two steps forward ultimately lead to four steps backwards.
With this eternal ground reality, at best Modi can call up Khan to congratulate him but leave other overtures till after the 2019 election. The 2014 election campaign was about Modi’s muscular foreign policy defined by his vital statistics. With China after a dogged stand by the Army at Doklam, Modi displayed nervousness and sought to defuse the China front with the Wuhan summit which was preceded by substantial concessions to Beijing. For Modi, winning the 2019 election is make or break for his party. He will not risk taking one step forward at this juncture. Nor will he accept an invitation to Khan’s swearing-in at Islamabad if invited. He will avoid any meeting on the margins of UNGA in September if he goes to the UN and even wriggle out of a SAARC summit in Islamabad which has already been postponed twice. At the Kathmandu SAARC summit in 2014, a handshake between Sharif and Modi was its zenith. Khan will have to wait till mid 2019 for any opening on the dialogue process with India. Till then Khan can concentrate on building Naya Pakistan and India find ways to modify the implausible conditionalities for resumption of dialogue.
(The writer is a retired Major General of the Indian Army and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the revamped Integrated Defence Staff)
Writer: Ashok K Mehta
Courtesy: The Pioneer