B L Saraf
Displaying true statesmanship, PM Narendra Modi posted a congratulatory letter to Imran Khan on his assuming charge as Prime Minister of Pakistan. This comes after his telephonic call to Imran when he emerged a winner in 25th July elections. In the letter Prime Minister Modi has called for “building good neighborly ties for security and prosperity in the South Asian region.” He has expressed India’s commitment to “build neighbourly relations between India and Pakistan and pursue meaningful and constructive engagement to benefit people of the region.” This is one of the many occasions when PM Modi has sought to reach out Pakistan for improving mutual relations. It is for the new Pakistan PM to respond positively with a substantive action. How far will he move in this direction only time can tell ?
It will be fair to recognize certain hard facts. Given that he would be called ‘ Taliban Khan’, many in India may not feel comfortable with Imran coming to the helm in Pakistan. One may or may not like Imran Khan is in the seat. He will be there as long as ‘A ‘ – the Army – allows him to stay on. It is also a fact that rarely an elected PM has lived his full Constitutional life in Pakistan. But then till Imran is in occupancy of the chair GOI will have to do business with the man. As indeed the man himself will have to deal with his neighbors, albeit, within the permissible limits prescribed by the ‘ A’.
It may be a good news that jihadi elements have bitten the dust in the Pak elections.They may be down but certainly are not out of the scene.There is a flip side to their defeat. The more these elements fail at the husting the more rabid they become on the streets. Their nuisance value and mischief potential, both, increase enormously.
The knowledgeable obse-rvers in Pakistan have, in Imran’s rise to the power, started to draw parallels between him and ascendency of late Z A Bhutto to the throne. To them Imran is as charismatic. flamboyant and instinctively upward mover as Bhutto was in his hey days. He owes his political fortune to the Pak Army. Bhutto too enjoyed this privilege till it was withdrawn. In 1972 Bhutto was the ladla ; in 2018 Imran Khan is the pampered child. We hope similarity stops there and doesn’t reach the Bhutto end. It may be recalled that soon after Bhutto won the 1977 elections the sectarian elements, who had failed at the polling booths, were unleashed on him in the streets of Pakistan, actively aided and abetted by General Zia with so ferocity that Bhutto had to pay with his life, ultimately.
PM Modi’s call for good neighbourly relations finds some resonance in various Pakistani circles. It has been a general refrain of their T V discussions which followed Imran’s coronation that while Pakistan cannot give up K Issue it should not detain the new Pakistan administration from working on other matters of mutual interest. They are conscious of the economic perils their country is faced with. The huge debt trap is for all to see where Pakistan is likely to fall in. So, these observers want to have economic relations with India, side by side the cultural and sports links. These days most of the Pakistanis face a serious medical problem which makes them think of having good relations with India, where they can have an expert and cost effective solution to the problem.
May be Imran has heard these voices. We have his statement, made post oath taking ceremony, wherein he has echoed Modis’s sentiments. According to him “best way to alleviate poverty and uplift people in the sub-continent was to resolve differences through dialogue and start trading.” He has characterized dialogue with India as a ‘must ‘.
Pakistan may have its compulsions for normalizing relations with India, latter too will be well served by having trouble free relations with the former. Unsettled Kashmir and hot LOC -IB make it imperative for India to keep Pakistan at a bay from stoking the fire. India must ensure that Pakistan’s propensity to create trouble in Kashmir is kept at a bare minimum – if not completely eliminated. Work towards that end must begin. First thing that could be done is to exercise restraint on the shrill rhetoric. Sanity should mark the discourse usually heard in Delhi T V studios on Pakistan affairs. Ambitions must be kept low. Small steps which are somewhat trouble free may help make some forward movement.
It is hugely important for India that Kashmir remains calm and no life is lost there. To keep that in mind one has to recognize that what brews in Kashmir on Indo-Pak relations has a tremendous traction with the entirety of the issue. Viewed so, it is a positive development that political circles in the Valley (of all hues) are in favor of Indo-Pak dialogue to resolve the issues. It is equally encouraging that this time the separatists do not insist on their participation, for the success of dialogue.
One may note that Imran’s maiden speech did not include Kashmir as was the practice of his predecessors. This along with his post oath taking statement, alluded to herein before, gives hope. Significant is his mention of the words “start trading.”But Imran has the limitations. Almost all Pakistan watchers are agreed that it is the Pak army that determines country’s foreign and defense policies with respect to India and other neighbors. In such a situation we will have to find ways and means to engage the army, directly, without bothering too much for the civil administration. Army and those who matter in civil administration must be told that they should give up terrorism as the state policy.
At the same time we will have to appreciate that from India’s side there will not be much movement on Pakistan front until Lok Sabha elections, next year. But home work must be done and road maps for engagement kept ready, along with the contingency plans.
(The author is former Principal District & Sessions Judge)
B L Saraf