G Parthasarathy

A frustrated Imran may step up offensive

G Parthasarathy | Updated on September 05, 2019

Unrelenting: Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan has vowed to continue his campaign against India in the forthcoming UN General Assembly session. File Photo   -  Reuters

With efforts to internationalise the Kashmir issue failing, Pakistan could foment violence in J&K once the curbs are eased

Imran Khan has long portrayed himself to audiences in India, as a suave, sophisticated, Westernised “gentleman”. But, the real Imran is somewhat different from what one sees and hears. He rose in politics through the patronage of former ISI Chief Lieutenant General Hamid Gul, who was largely responsible for the formation of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party.

Imran has, thereafter, been a protégé of the Pakistan army. His victory in the last Parliamentary elections was engineered almost entirely, by the backing of the army establishment. Not surprisingly, Imran has ensured that the army has a strong say today, even in economic policy-making.

While ostensibly accompanying Imran to Washington, Army Chief General Bajwa separately received red carpet treatment from the entire Trump Administration, which all but equalled the protocol honours that Imran Khan received. The Americans are supreme realists, who know that real power rests with the GHQ in Rawalpindi, while the trappings of grandeur are found in Islamabad.

Flying high after Trump’s offer of “mediation” on Jammu and Kashmir, Imran Khan went on a diplomatic offensive, preparing the ground for securing international backing for Pakistan’s ambitions on J&K.

What Imran Khan did not anticipate was the Modi “bombshell” of rendering Article 370 and Article 35 (a) infructuous, while converting Jammu and Kashmir into a Union Territory, and according a similar status separately to Ladakh. Pakistan used this development to get support from China to take the issue to the UN Security Council.

What was heartening for India was the support it received from the US, Russia, France, Germany and virtually all non-permanent members of the UN Security Council. British duplicity in New York, did, however, raise eyebrows in New Delhi.

Imran Khan was infuriated at being outmanoeuvred and exposed by his country’s virtual isolation, during its ill-advised effort to internationalise the Kashmir issue. He appeared to have lost all semblance of sobriety, vital for dealing with the complex diplomatic crisis he now faces.

If Bhutto spoke of a “thousand year war” with India, Imran Khan has resorted to dire threats of nuclear conflict with India. He has condemned Indian policies in the Kashmir valley, warning that Pakistan will go to any lengths “to support the cause of the people of Kashmir”. He has hurled personal insults on Modi and the BJP, accusing them of “ethnic cleansing” in Kashmir. He has warned of again banning Indian over-flights through Pakistan, and ending two-way trade, including transit facilities for India’s trade with Afghanistan.

Campaign against India

Imran Khan has also suddenly become an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, even averring that they had the same ideology as Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He has vowed to continue his campaign against India during his forthcoming visit to New York, for the UN General Assembly session. More importantly, General Bajwa is evidently preparing to keep the situation in the Kashmir valley tense and violence ridden. This effort would gather momentum, once present curbs are relaxed in the Kashmir Valley and normal life resumes.

Pakistan is now realising that there are serious concerns in both Houses of the US Congress, the Pentagon and even the State Department, about a complete US withdrawal from Afghanistan, before the next US Presidential elections, scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Pakistani calculations of an early Taliban takeover after the Americans leave next year are, however, set to go wrong. The Pakistani hope was that under Taliban control, Afghanistan would again become its satellite state, to be used as haven for radical Islamic groups to wage terrorism in Kashmir and elsewhere in India, while providing “strategic depth” for Pakistan.

These expectations are not likely to be fulfilled. Taliban leaders are claiming: “We will continue our fight against the Afghan Government and seize power by force.” There are, therefore, pressures building in Washington to retain a residual force in Afghanistan, primarily of air power. This force will operate out of well-protected air bases, like in Bagram, near Kabul. This American presence will provide support to Afghan armed forces and even ethnic militias, to face the Taliban.

India should use the current situation in Afghanistan to reiterate its support for the wide spectrum of Afghan leaders across ethnic divides with whom, it has been in touch. Much will depend on how the Afghan leadership unites to meet the challenges Pakistan poses.

New Delhi would be well advised to study a report of the US ‘Congressional Research Service’, titled: ‘Kashmir: Background, Recent Developments, and US Policy’. This is a “Background Brief” for discussions in the US Congress. Tracing the course of events in Jammu and Kashmir, the report factually notes, that: “A widespread perception that J&K’s 1987 state elections were manipulated to favour the Central government, led to pervasive disaffection in the Kashmir Valley and the outbreak of an Islamist-based separatist insurgency, in 1989”.

The report also notes: “A bilateral India-Pakistan peace plan for Kashmir was nearly finalised in 2007, when Indian and Pakistani negotiators had agreed to make the LoC a “soft border,” with free movement of trade across it. Its prospects faded largely due to unrelated Pakistani domestic issues”.

There are two factors we should not forget. First, that undermining the democratic process, which we resorted to in J&K in 1987, was ill advised. And, second, that it was Pakistan that was responsible for undermining a reasonable “peace plan” on J&K, in 2007.

Promoting ‘Jihad’

Both Imran Khan and General Bajwa will now be plotting on how to revert to promoting “Jihad” in Jammu and Kashmir. Many of Pakistan’s protégés are now behind bars and should remain there. The ISI will resort to a range of measures, covert and overt, to foment and revive violence in J&K.

The ISI would, however, be circumspect in ensuring that it is not accused of fomenting terrorism. Rawalpindi and Islamabad will spare no effort to see that normal life of citizens in Kashmir is disrupted. It is imperative that a new administration headed by a respected and competent Lieutenant Governor assumes office soon.

With panchayat elections held recently, current efforts to promote grassroots economic development should gather momentum. Elections for the State Assembly can come in due course. It should be established that Jammu and Kashmir can be administered more efficiently by honest, corruption free governance, than through a corruption-ridden, Srinagar-based oligarchy.

The road ahead will, however, be a long and bumpy one. There should be no illusions on this score.


The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

Published on September 05, 2019

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