Imran Khan’s Litmus Test

The slogan of Naya Pakistan that promised end of corruption and establishing a welfare state on the model of Madinah of the times of the Prophet Mohammad (SAW) made his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to victory.
File Photo
File Photo

On Saturday, August 18, 2018, there was a change of guard in Pakistan. This was not a simply passing the baton from one political party to another. It was a paradigm shift inasmuch it brought to end   rotating leadership between the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan People's Party after decades. In fact, transferred power from the fiefdom of the family rule to a third political party without any trappings of the past. 

It took more than twenty-two years struggle for Imran Khan, country's cricket star to make this change to happen. The slogan of Naya Pakistan that promised end of corruption and establishing a welfare state on the model of Madinah of the times of the Prophet Mohammad (SAW) made his party  Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to victory. 

In his maiden speech, without expediencies and politicking, he informed his people about the challenges faced by their country. The looming economic crisis that include paying back Rs. 28000 billion debt which is highest in the history of the country, dealing with militant extremism, water shortages, breathing new life in education and health sectors are some of the immediate issues waiting the new government. In his 70 minute speech that was aired by all channels in Pakistan spelling out his plans, he exuded confidence of taking out his country out of the economic mess it has been pushed by corruption at the top. But, he made no mention about the foreign policy challenges his country was confronted, and there was similarly no mention about Kashmir on which hinge country's relations with its neighbor. It seems that the party was yet to evolve one.  It was evident in the first press conference of the Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi after he took oath of office and visited Foreign Office of the country. 

In a dispute like Kashmir that has caused three full-scale wars and a few limited wars between the two countries, the phrases used in describing the disputes also have an impact on the resolution.  "The very vocabulary used for the dispute has become the means and justification for non-engagement," wrote M. Yusuf Buch, former advisor to UN Secretary-General.   Two adjectives, he said, used routinely in describing Kashmir even by US officials are "historical" and "longstanding." "What, is "historical" about injustices that are being inflicted every day?" he asked and "What is "longstanding" about unarmed teenagers pelting stones to express their opposition." 

Shah Mahmood, in his press conference, chose to describe Kashmir an 'issue' when his foreign office call it a dispute and New Delhi describes it as a 'problem.'  In his speech, Imran Khan stated that 'his role model was Qaeda-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who conducted politics for a mission.' 'Jinnah did not write a book or monograph but his speech that glimpses of his thinking about the type of country he wanted Pakistan to be and the type of relations he wanted his country have with the world in general and neighbors in particular.' 'He wanted cordial relations with India. He wished past must be buried and the two countries to start afresh as sovereign states.' But, how he wished the relations between the two countries is better explained by General Ismay Chief of Staff of the Viceroy in a recorded interview. Jinnah had explained it to him by quoting a case he had pleaded as a lawyer: 

Ismay writes, 'He quoted me the case of two brothers who had hated each other like poison as a result of the portions allotted to them under their father's will. Finally, they could bear it no longer and took the case to the court. Mr. Jinnah defended one of them, and the case was fought with utmost venom. Two years later Mr. Jinnah met his client and asked how he was getting on and how was his brother, he said: Oh, once the case was decided, we became the greatest friends.'  

The views on relations with India as illustrated to General Ismay by M. A. Jinnah are as relevant today as they were seventy years back. That the two countries should resolve their dispute either in the court were Kashmir   has been waiting  adjudication since its birth  or engage themselves in meaningful and purposeful dialogue for its settlement in keeping with the principle for the resolution of the dispute agreed upon by the two countries before the comity of nations. 

Since the new government took over, there is a pep talk about the four-point formula in a section of media on both the sides. 

The much-touted four-point formula of General Musharraf's during and even after end of his rule betrayed the principle laid down for good relations between the neighbors by the founder of the country. The four-point formula was brainchild of one person; it had support of a section of journalists, but there was no consensus on it even amongst various arms of Pakistan government. No opinion was sought from people of the state on it.  Such formulas, which don't have nation's consent and are not rooted in the history of the dispute, moreover are not in tune with the urges of the people it directly concerns are bound to fail. A New Delhi based journalist rightly observed 'Sharif, who promised so much when he was elected as the prime minister   delivered very little beyond handshakes and hugs. Instead of an upswing, relations between the two countries touched a new nadir in the past three years.' The reason for this was not only that he did not have foreign minister, but also he had no foreign policy.' It were his business interests that guided his relations with India- it was for his business interests that no effort was made to repair the ruptures caused to the 2004- Cease Fire Agreement. Otherwise having put Kashmir on backburner, it was but for 2014, Intifada and blinding of Kashmir children with pellets that Kashmir figured in his UN General Assembly speech.   

Immediately, after it became apparent that the PTI was forming government, Imran Khan set ball rolling for taking out relations with immediate neighbor out of inertia by stating that he wanted good relations and trade ties with India. If India takes one step towards us, his country will take two.' Such statements don't grow beyond rhetoric unless supported by a well-defined Kashmir policy and foreign policy. A comprehensive policy on Kashmir grounded in history and relations with India will be a litmus test for the PTI government. 

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