Coming together of Imran and Robin

B L Saraf
It may sound odd to put Imran Khan and Robin Raphel together for analyzing how Indo-Pak relations will unfold on Imran Khan assuming charge as Pakistan’s Prime Minister. His electoral victory has generated a great deal of interest in the Indian political circles and people have started to speculate how his position at the top in Pakistan will impact the country’s relations with India
Imran delivered a victory speech as it became clear, on 25th July, that he will soon be at the helm of affairs in Pakistan. He made some positive noises about good neighbourly relations with India. That speech continues to be in dissection here among various circles. Knowing who is the de-facto ruler in Pakistan, most of the analysis could be based on the false assumption that PM in Pakistan determines the country’s defense and foreign policy affairs towards India. They lie in the exclusive domain of the military high command. Former PM Nawaz Sharif tried to deviate from this position only to come to a serious grief. Not only had Sharif to quit his PM seat but presently he, along with his daughter Marriam Nawaz and son-in-law, is cooling heels in Adiala Jail, near Lahore. He is just paying for his ‘sin’ to normalize relations with India and keep army in its place
Imran Khan being military’s man knows well how far can he go in normalizing relations with India. Army has made it amply clear to him by halting his victory march well short of the half way mark, so as to render him incapable of calling shots on his own. Pakistan’s Deep State has ensured that Imran’s Government formation and its survival is dependent on smaller parties whom it can effectively use to rein in the P M, should he dare go ‘astray ‘.
India must take note of the process that is going on across the Durand line, in Afghanistan. Back channel talks are going on between America and Afghan Taliban. According to the media reports emanating from the US, Robin Raphel the first US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs and former U S army colonel Chris Kolenda had successfully created back channel to the Taliban, in 2017, to find a way out for America to come out of the Afghan war Raphel is no India lover She is known for her anti India position and pro Pakistan sensibilities In 2008 Raphel even worked in America as a lobbyist for Pakistan
Nawaz Sharif had the realization that the terrorists, whom Pak establishment called non- state actors, were trouble makers and, therefore, their activities need to be curbed Presently, Imran Khan may not have such compulsion to rein in those destructive elements roaming free in his country, causing death and mayhem everywhere These hard core terrorists,now masquerading as the political activists,may not have won a single seat in the recently concluded Pak elections but Pak army has succeeded in mainstreaming them They have a political party and a flag to march under as genuine political activists
Imran Khan being army’s man – euphemistically called ladla in Pakistani political – common discourse, will use the mainstreaming of these elements to ward off the American threat to throttle IMF and World Bank’s attempt to bail out Pakistan from the impending financial crisis He may also find mainstreaming of the terrorists’ as an alibi to wriggle out of the FATF’s grey listing It is interesting to note that a FATF team is visiting Pakistan, shortly
Imran’s ascendency to the Pak throne comes at a time when America has opened up a back channel to the Taliban in Afghanistan Robin Raphel being in charge, U S may find it convenient to be soft on Pakistan After all, in absence of Pakistan’s support America cannot walk out of the Afghan war without paying a price in terms of men and material This is a real possibility because in America there exists a company comprising some elements in the administration, trader and the military, which Larry Presller calls Octopus, ready to come to the aid of Pakistan when needed
For India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi it would be a waiting game He has shown statesmanship to congratulate Imran Khan on his success at the husting Given the dominant mood in Pakistan that Nawaz Sharif had to pay for his closeness to Modi Imran would be scary to venture too soon in the Indo- Pak business Otherwise also, he is not enamoured of such a relationship Everyone, here and in Pakistan, would like to wait till 2019 Lok Sabha elections are over Till then Indian political leadership will be loath to take any serious position on the issue
The interregnum, between now and the May 2019, is good time for both the countries to assess the developments which will unfold in Pakistan Imran will also have a feel of the situation, seeing it within the power playing arena Well meaning observers in Pakistan are cautioning him that peace within Pakistan and on Eastern and Western borders is important. But then Imran has the limitation. He must be remembering that Nawaz Sharif also started his political carreer as a Ladla He was brought up in the Army’s cradle, thanks to General Zia Pak army has devoured its one time pet child.
Hope sustains life. We see a glimpse of it Despite speculation that Khan may end up toeing army line on it, India has given enough signals that it will not hesitate in engaging Imran. Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan Ajay Bisaria has called on the Pak PM designate He is one among the few envoys to do so, so far. The visit follows PM Modi’s congratulatory phone call to Imran Khan wherein he talked about evolving a ” joint strategy to ensure progress in bilateral ties that the two countries could enter a new era of relations”
PM Modi has shown the way. It is for PM Khan to walk the road for the better of all South Asians
(The author is former Principal District & Sessions Judge)