Calling Imran Khan’s bluff: India needs to realign its Pakistan policy

Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Minhaz MerchantUpdated: Jan 17, 2019, 10:31 AM IST

File photo: Pakistan PM Imran Khan. Photograph:(AFP)

Story highlights

Pakistan wants talks with India without stopping abetment of terrorism against India.

Political leaders come in all shapes and sizes. United States President Donald Trump was a real estate developer. Former British prime minister David Cameron was a public relations executive. And Iceland’s former prime minister Johanna Sigurdardottir was an airline stewardess.

So we shouldn’t dismiss Imran Khan, Pakistan Prime Minister, as a lightweight just because he was a cricketer. Khan’s background isn’t the problem. His credibility is. Shortly after being elected PM, Khan promised to build a ‘Naya Pakistan’. India has reacted cautiously. Old wine in a new bottle is the consensus.

Khan has done nothing to stop terrorist infiltration. His writ stops at the outskirts of Rawalpindi. Pakistan’s army generals are a law unto themselves. Though Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa has declared that Islamabad wants peace with India, Pakistan’s rogue Border Action Team (BAT), acting under Bajwa’s overall command, continues to attack Indian targets in the Kashmir Valley.

The Indian Army is eliminating Pakistan-abetted terrorists at the rate of roughly one a day. Over 300 terrorists were killed in 2018, a 50 per cent increase over 2017. But the Indian Army estimates that 280-300 terrorists remain active in the Valley. More are being pushed in by the Pakistani Army across the LoC’s porous terrain of forests, rivers and hillocks.

There have, however, been notable changes. Ceasefire violations across the LoC have fallen significantly since May 2018 when the Pakistani Army, bludgeoned by Indian retaliatory mortar fire, sued for peace. The Indian Army, CRPF and J&K police have meanwhile tightened the tourniquet around Pakistani terror modules in the Valley.

Ever since governor’s rule was imposed in June 2018, followed by President’s rule, Indian security forces have succeeded in targeting the leadership of several Pakistan-backed terror groups active in the Valley.

On former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s watch, the security forces often operated with one hand tied behind their backs. Mufti, along with the other dynast in the Valley, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference (NC), spoke from both corners of the mouth. In Delhi, they spoke of a robust anti-terror strategy. In Srinagar, they spoke the language of separatist appeasement.

It is telling that tourism is again flourishing in the Valley. Over 8 lakh tourists (including 50,000 foreign tourists) holidayed in Kashmir in 2018. The PDP-NC narrative that the Valley is in the throes of its worst crisis plays into the hands of Pakistan. The ISI funds stone-pelters, Hurriyat separatists and a hoary cabal of journalists, ex-army officers, former intelligence operatives and activists to further the narrative of Kashmir under military siege.

Part of the blame lies with the Indian government. Its Pakistan policy has oscillated from conciliatory in 2014 to intransigent in 2019. Is it though a propitious time now to change the status quoist strategy on Pakistan? The conventional wisdom is that nothing will change before the May 2019 Lok Sabha election. Imran Khan has said much the same. He could be wrong.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known to make unpredictable policy moves. Pakistan is today in a particularly vulnerable position. Its treasury is bankrupt, kept afloat by loans from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and China. Islamabad is under severe pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) over terror financing and could be blacklisted in September 2019 when a final decision is taken by the Paris-based global anti-terror body.

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, the Taliban, Pakistan’s outsourced terror group to keep Kabul in Islamabad’s malign grip, has developed sub-Taliban groups. Many of these are outside the control of the main Taliban leadership. If the Taliban joins a “peace” coalition and the Afghan government following negotiations begin shepherded by the US, the sub-Taliban groups could attack the Pakistan State itself.

Khaled Ahmed of Newsweek Pakistan conceded in a recent column: “The mood in India is punitive. In contrast, the mood in Pakistan is cautiously submissive. For the Pakistan Army, some options are closing, especially one of “championing the Kashmir cause”, but it doesn’t know how to roll back the old agitprop. It is facing a new situation in next door Afghanistan, where India is now firmly entrenched. The Taliban is no longer willing to play ball, and is more inclined instead to listen to India and its patrons in the Gulf. A return to Taliban rule in Kabul will be dangerous for Pakistan because of its jihadi underground.”

Hemmed in on all sides, Pakistan is running out of options. It is an opportune moment for India to realign its Pakistan policy by continuing tough anti-terror operations in the Valley and talking directly to Pakistan Army chief General Bajwa. Talking to Imran Khan, who fantasises about fomenting trouble in Punjab through Khalistani separatists, is a waste of time.

Pakistan is a schizophrenic country. It wants trade with India but won’t grant it reciprocal MFN status. It wants talks with India without stopping abetment of terrorism against India.

Global think tanks project that India’s economy, already nearly 10 times as large as Pakistan’s, will within a few years put it in a different league, well out of Islamabad’s reach. Pakistan too has belatedly realised that its window to gain false equivalence with India will soon slam shut. India’s new policy to deal with ‘Naya Pakistan’ should be based on this hardnosed reality.

(This article was originally published on The DNA. Read the original article)

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)