If history is anything to go by, it is premature for either the US to trust the Pakistanis or vice versa. Both nations have been known to ultimately succumb to their basic instincts. Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has been walking the tightrope of the genealogical and evolutionary compulsions that characterise his nation. His jazba (passion) of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) had stormed the elections in 2018 and promised an idyll that is historically, Constitutionally and practically undeliverable – a “Riyasat-e-Madina”, where all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law with guaranteed full fundamental rights.
Acknowledging the enormity of his promise and reset, he instinctively suggested reconstructing the edifice of Pakistan and rechristened it as “Naya Pakistan.” The inheritance of an economy in slide with rising debts, falling currency, inflation and depleted coffers had him scurrying to the Arab capitals, Beijing and even to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This to impress upon them an economically-prudent, austere and reformist agenda that would no longer be profligate or reckless with the sanctioned “aid.”
This entailed the toning down of his anti-IMF tirade that he had invoked during the pre-election campaigning, as indeed, personally chauffeuring the all-important Princelings from the rival camps of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. While money has started trickling in bits, it has extracted a severe price from the common citizenry as they reel under spiralling price rises and shortages.
The onerous task of re-setting to “Naya Pakistan” essentially implies the reneging of various Pakistani positions. The opening act of the tenure was lavish in promising such change, including the famous “If India takes one step, Pakistan will take two.” The optics and soundbites emanating from the prime ministerial house were in conformity with the naya way of things and soon the usual ostentatiousness was frowned upon and the all-powerful razzmatazz was supposedly cut.
The world at large waited with bated breath to figure out if it was yet another exercise in political posturing or if Pakistan had indeed evolved to the portents of “Naya Pakistan.” But the cracks showed up almost immediately as Imran Khan succumbed to the nation’s ingrained bigotry and dropped the economist, Atif Mian, from the economic advisory, apparently on account of his belonging to the minority and the persecuted Ahmediya faith.
From the Indian perspective, Imran Khan continued making naïve statements against terrorism while the Pakistani incorrigibility continued in Afghanistan. Then the Pulwama episode happened. The trust deficit between Pakistan and all its irate neighbours (India, Afghanistan and Iran) widened. A certain disillusionment against the built-up hype of “Naya Pakistan” started afresh.
The US was already breathing down Pakistan’s neck for its duplicity and US President Donald Trump famously tweeted that Pakistan does not “do a damn thing” in return for the billions of dollars in American “aid.” Imran Khan retaliated and tweeted back: “No Pakistani was involved in 9/11 but it decided to participate in the US’ war on terror” and added, “Pakistan suffered 75,000 casualties in this war and over $123 billion was lost to the economy.” US aid “was a minuscule $20 billion.” The free-for-all between Pakistan and the US ensured that Islamabad swung even more sharply towards the willing arms of Beijing and almost started behaving like a beholden and vassal state of China.
Providentially, for Imran Khan and Pakistan, the whimsical Trump, who had ranted against the Pakistani establishment, had a re-think on his Afghanistan strategy and realised that he would need the services of its bête noire ie, Pakistan, in extricating itself out of the mess in Afghanistan.
In a move reminiscent of dumping Afghanistan in the lurch after ensuring the Soviet-withdrawal from Kabul, the US is yet again working towards a similar vacuum; with Pakistan rubbing its hands in glee. Suddenly, Islamabad is back in favour as all is seemingly forgotten and forgiven and Imran Khan is back to reverse-swinging his “Naya Pakistan” with revised gusto — this time in Washington, DC.
Both Pakistan and the US are masters of selective amnesia and their dalliances of the past, which included flying and feting of the Afghan mujahideen to the White House and supporting these warlords with weapons, have become a lost memory. Both Imran Khan and Trump now shake hands and the former thanks to the Presidents of the United States of America (POTUSA) with “his understanding of Pakistan’s point of view!”
The incredulity continues with Imran Khan promising, “I want to assure President Trump, Pakistan will do everything within its power to facilitate the Afghan peace process” — a rote statement that has consistently and unfailingly been dishonoured by Pakistan.
The hapless Afghan regime of Ashraf Ghani looks on with shocked bewilderment and New Delhi is left having to deal with Trump’s creative memory of Prime Minister Modi apparently asking him to mediate in Kashmir!
The US President’s statements were rightfully, strongly and unequivocally slammed by New Delhi as outrightly incorrect and the same got acknowledged by other functionaries at the Capitol Hill. However, Imran Khan persisted with his façade of “surprise” at the Indian response to “Trump’s offer of mediation” as he feigned ignorance at India’s unwavering and consistent stand on a bilateral framework on Kashmir.
Today, Imran Khan is on a charm offensive both domestically (flying commercial) and internationally, staying at his Ambassador’s residence to avoid “unnecessary expenditure.” Trump has added one more to his embarrassingly long list of documented inexactitudes, which now “exceed 10,000.”
Both the US and Pakistan are again in a convenient and tactical huddle that suits their individual and topical urgencies, without bothering about the past, present or future with such tenuous underpinnings. Beyond the reality of US-Pakistan sparring openly, just a few months back, this region has not forgotten the murky history of American hand in the bloodshed of the 1980s during the height of the Cold War or indeed in India with the US’ seventh fleet sailing menacingly towards the Bay of Bengal in 1971. It would be premature for either the US to trust the Pakistanis or vice versa as history suggests that both nations ultimately succumb to their basic instincts and while India, Afghanistan and Iran will lick their wounds for now — the “deep state” within Pakistan will ultimately rear its head and both Trump and Khan will end up looking like their predecessors.
(The writer, a military veteran, is a former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)
Writer: Bhopinder Singh
Courtesy: The Pioneer