Ice Melts In Indo-Pak Tie

Bar­ring any kind of for­mal di­a­logue with Pak­istan, there is noth­ing wrong in ex­chang­ing pleas­antries or hav­ing track-two di­plo­macy or NSA-level meet­ings be­tween the two coun­tries

The Day After - - CONTENT - By Shankar Ku­mar

Af­ter crick­eter-turned politi­cian Im­ran Khan be­came Pak­istan’s Prime Min­is­ter, In­dia and Pak­istan held their first bi­lat­eral en­gage­ment in La­hore on Au­gust 29 when of­fi­cials of the two coun­tries met and dis­cussed is­sues on In­dus Wa­ter Treaty. In­dia’s Wa­ter Com­mis­sioner PK Sax­ena trav­elled with his team mem­bers to Pak­istan to hold talks with Syed Mehr Ali Shah, the act­ing Com­mis­sioner for In­dus Wa­ters. This was seen as melt­ing of glacier be­tween the two arch foes to which fur­ther warmth is ex­pected to be given when Ex­ter­nal Af­fairs Min­is­ter Sushma Swaraj is likely to meet her Pak­istani coun­ter­part Shah Mah­mood Qureshi on the side­lines of the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly meet in New York in Septem­ber.

With this, spec­u­la­tion is rife about planned re­ac­ti­va­tion of sus­pended di­a­logue any­time be­tween the two coun­tries. For crit­ics, there is a ba­sis for such spec­u­la­tions and they see it in the let­ter writ­ten by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi to Im­ran Khan on Au­gust 18, the day he was sworn-in as Pak­istan’s 22 Prime Min­is­ter. In that let­ter, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi ex­pressed New Delhi’s re­solve to build good neigh­bourly re­la­tions with Is­lam­abad. This was, how­ever, the sec­ond con­grat­u­la­tory mes­sage to Im­ran Khan from Prime Min­is­ter Modi in the span of 19 days. On July 30, he had tele­phoned the PTI leader to con­grat­u­late him on his party’s vic­tory in the gen­eral elec­tions and ex­pressed hope that both coun­tries would work to open a new chap­ter in their bi­lat­eral ties.

Crit­ics say bar­ring any kind of for­mal di­a­logue with Pak­istan, there is noth­ing wrong in ex­chang­ing pleas­antries or hav­ing track-two di­plo­macy or NSA-level meet­ings be­tween the two coun­tries. Un­less Pak­istan, they feel, stops ex­port­ing ter­ror­ism to In­dia, there shouldn’t be any kind of talks with the former. Even a gen­eral per­cep­tion in In­dia is that the Modi gov­ern­ment should wait to see that whether Im­ran Khan is able to in­vest po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal on Indo-Pak re­la­tions or not, main­tain an in­de­pen­dent for­eign pol­icy or not, keep a dis­tance from je­hadis or not. In the past 71 years of its ex­is­tence, Pak­istan has been ruled by army gen­er­als for around 35 years di­rectly and the rest of the years in­di­rectly. Since 2008, demo­crat­i­cally elected lead­ers are hold­ing on to power in Pak­istan and self­pro­claimed cham­pi­ons of democ­racy are happy to term it as a ma­jor de­vel­op­ment, for­get­ting the fact that Pak­istan Army only played be­hind the scene in ev­ery de­ci­sion that the demo­crat­i­cally elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives took on the pol­icy front.

It would not be dele­te­ri­ous to say that Pak­istan Army has shame­lessly used the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal sys­tem as a façade to rule the roost. If that would not have been the case, former Pak­istan Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif com­ment in May on the coun­try’s non-state ac­tors’ role in the 26/11 in­ci­dent would not have com­pelled Pak­istan Army’s top of­fi­cials to hud­dle to­gether to de­nounce Sharif’s state­ment as rub­bish. “Mil­i­tant or­gan­i­sa­tions are ac­tive in Pak­istan,” Sharif had said in point blank man­ner in an in­ter­view with Dawn, a noted Pak­istani English daily on May 12, 2018. “Call them non-state ac­tors, should we al­low them to cross the bor­der and kill over 150 peo­ple in Mum­bai. Ex­plain to me. Why can’t we com­plete the trial,” he had asked. By rak­ing up the ghastly 2008 Novem­ber Mum­bai ter­ror­ist attack,

the former Pak­istan Prime Min­is­ter had ob­vi­ously pointed his fin­gers to­wards the coun­try’s army and ISI. And this would not be termed as Sharif’s over­re­ac­tion or state­ment given to score points against Army as it played an ac­tive role in hold­ing him guilty in the Par­adise Pa­per case and sub­se­quently, dis­en­fran­chis­ing him po­lit­i­cally.

Pak­istan watch­ers say that even if Im­ran Khan, on the face value, may look in­de­pen­dently think­ing po­lit­i­cal leader, he will ac­tu­ally tread path shown by Army or the coun­try’s deep state. They rather con­sider the PTI chief as Pak­istan Army’s stooge as months be­fore Na­tional Assem­bly elec­tion on July 25, the world was served with in­for­ma­tion that Im­ran’s vic­tory was sure. And this came true as, de­spite hue and cry raised by op­po­si­tion par­ties about poll rig­ging and Euro­pean Union ob­servers’ un­hap­pi­ness over the con­duct of the polls, the PTI was made to see that it re­mained the largest party in the Na­tional Assem­bly. Hence, to ex­pect that Im­ran Khan would be able to de­frost In­dia-Pak­istan re­la­tions would be fool­hardy.

Then it should not be for­got­ten about his as­so­ci­a­tion with Mus­lim hard­lin­ers and the Tal­iban. Over the years, he has earned ‘Tal­iban Khan’ moniker in Pak­istan pol­i­tics. He de­scribed Tehreek-e-Tal­iban Pak­istan (TTP) com­man­der Wali-ur-Rehman as ‘pro­peace,’ when he was killed in a drone attack in 2013. “The drone attack that killed pro peace Wali-ur-Rehman led to our sol­diers be­ing killed/ in­jured in re­venge at­tacks! This is to­tally un­ac­cept­able,” he tweeted. Later in the same year, the PTI chief sug­gested that the Tal­iban should be al­lowed to “open an of­fice” some­where in Pak­istan. He ar­gued that if the US could open of­fices for the Afghan Tal­iban in Qatar, why couldn’t the Pak­istan Tal­iban do the same? In Novem­ber 2013, when Tal­iban leader Hakimul­lah Mehsud was killed in the US drone attack, Im­ran Khan said it was “ab­so­lutely de­lib­er­ate—this was a de­lib­er­ate tar­get­ing of the peace process.”

It is not that the PTI chief’s love for the Tal­iban is one-sided af­fair. In Fe­bru­ary 2014, the Pak­istan Tal­iban nom­i­nated five per­sons, in­clud­ing Im­ran Khan to rep­re­sent them in the me­di­a­tion talks with the gov­ern­ment. Though, the PTI chief re­fused to do so, the in­ci­dent showed the ter­ror­ist out­fit’s trust in the crick­eter-turned-politi­cian. In an in­ter­view to BBC’s HARDtalk pro­gramme this year, he de­fended the Tal­iban’s jus­tice sys­tem. Ear­lier in Jan­uary this year, his party gave a grant of 550 mil­lion Pak­istani ru­pees to madrasas run by Sami-ul-Haq, who is well rec­og­nized as ‘Fa­ther of Tal­iban.’ And then just ahead of the Na­tional Assem­bly polls, he joined hands with Maulana Fa­zlur Rehman Khali, who is on the US ter­ror watch list. Just re­cently, con­tro­versy erupted af­ter Im­ran Khan-headed gov­ern­ment flatly de­nied that dur­ing tele­phonic talks with US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo, there was ever any talk on ter­ror­ism even as the US stood its ground on the is­sue, stat­ing that there was in­deed men­tion of ter­ror­ism in their con­ver­sa­tion and that the US Sec­re­tary of State sought “de­ci­sive ac­tion” against all ter­ror­ists op­er­at­ing in Pak­istan. Im­ran Khan’s re­fusal speaks of his stead­fast abil­ity to de­fend any­thing re­lated to Pak­istan-spon­sored ter­ror­ism. In this back­ground, would it be jus­ti­fied to be­lieve that Pak­istan’s new Prime Min­is­ter would ever come to In­dia’s ex­pec­ta­tions? Cer­tainly not. His pro­posal to hold talks with In­dia on all is­sues, in­clud­ing Jammu and Kash­mir, would serve no pur­pose un­less he shows that he is com­mit­ted to fight against ter­ror­ists and their back­ers.

Pak­istan’s Com­mis­sioner Muham­mad Me­har Ali Shah with In­dian Com­mis­sioner Pradeep Ku­mar Sax­ena for a meet­ing to dis­cuss In­dus Wa­ters Treaty in La­hore

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