Mani Shankar Aiyar on Imran Khan's victory

July 27, 2018 12:36 PM

So, it's all over bar the shouting. Imran Khan is the Pakistani Prime Minister for the next five years. The principal lesson to learn is that serial infidelity is the passport to power in both Trump's America and Imran's Pakistan. When Imran was hospitalized after falling off a fork-truck lift in the last election, it was the only battle he ever lost in bed! Now he has had his revenge.
More significant than who won is who lost. Hafiz Saeed's Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek (God is Great Movement) fielded 50 candidates. All of them lost. Great indeed is God! The self-styled "Islam-pasand" parties - the Jama'at-e-Islami, the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan, the Milli Awami League, et.al. - banded together in a new political alliance called the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (United Implementation Alliance) - under the formidable Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the veteran Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (NWFP) cleric-cum-neta who has even chaired the Senate External Affairs Committee - and lost almost all the seats they contested, not just in Punjab but even on their home ground in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (KP). Even the Brahelvi Tehreek-e-Labaik-e-Pakistan (Pakistan 'Allah Be Adored' Movement) has bitten the dust despite fielding close to 200 candidates in about two-thirds of the parliamentary constituencies. Equally, the factional breakaway groups from the principal Islam-pasand parties have uniformly failed to fulfill Pak Senator Sherry Rahman's nightmare, revealed on election night on one of our TV channels, of terrorists filling the ranks of the Pakistan National Assembly (parliament).

For us in India, the near-universal rejection of Pakistan's religion-based parties is perhaps the most significant outcome of this election - for it demonstrates (once again) that far from being partisans of fanatical Islamic terrorists, Pakistanis, by and large, reject religious extremism and terror politics. The mainstream of Pakistan's public opinion is remarkably like India's: deeply religious but very wary of basing politics on religion, and wedded to the ballot rather than the bullet.

If India and Indians would learn that key lesson, it might open the door to meaningful discussion with Pakistan on some via media to sort out our issues with them. I seriously doubt that the BJP (or, for that matter, any major Indian political party) is willing to pick up the thread that Dr. Manmohan Singh left behind, for ever since Sharm-el-Sheikh 2009, the consensual chorus has been that "talks and terror can't go together", with little acceptance of the statistically proven fact that without talks, terror only goes up, and that to end terror, talks are of the essence. Since Havana 2007, we have barely taken any constructive steps to operationalize the Indo-Pak agreement to jointly establish an Anti-Terror Mechanism.

The current juncture, that is, the proven juncture when the Pakistan electorate by overwhelming majority has rejected terrorism and religion-based politics, is surely the right juncture at which to engage with an Imran who, anti-Indian rhetoric aside, has won this election even while pledging in his manifesto to work towards resolving matters with India.

Indeed, we should welcome, rather than be apprehensive of, Imran Khan's espousal of the Kashmir cause, for it was only by frontally addressing the issue of Kashmir with none other than the 'Butcher of Kargil' that Dr. Manmohan Singh succeeded in injecting so much realism and good sense into the India-Pakistan discourse between 2004 and 2007 that it was Pervez Musharraf, none less, who articulated and labeled the "four-point" programme for J&K that, but for dotting some of the i's and crossing some of the t's, was all but concluded when Musharraf began falling. We have never since resumed the dialogue in all of the last ten wasted years.

As for Imran harping on UN Security Council resolutions, let him harp on - provided we get down to talking with him, for only then can we irrefutably point out to him that no one in the UN has, over the last half-century and more,been in the least interested in stirring this particular witch's brew in the UN; that, in any case, Pakistan is bound by the inter-governmental agreement signed by Bhutto with Indira Gandhi in July 1972 at Simla (as it was then spelt) to bilaterally resolve outstanding issues specifically relating to J&K and not resort to multilateral forums unless accepted by both parties to the Simla Agreement; and that whether Imran likes it or not, our starting point would be the unfinished business of what the Pakistan President of the day called the "4-point formula" for J&K.

With respect to Pakistan's future relations with India, there were two contradictory trends in evidence in the Pakistan election. For almost all of the campaign, foreign affairs and Indo-Pak relations figured hardly at all. The three principal contenders stuck to their manifesto line to engage with India. It was only at the fag end of the campaign, when the "neck-and-neck" nature of the pre-election polls indicated that both Imran's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice) and the Sharifs' Pakistan Muslim League-N needed to draw away some of the fringe extremist voters to overtake their rivals that both abandoned reason and decency to out-bombast the other by raking up anti-Indian and even anti-Hindu sentiment. That was more in the nature of electoral one-upmanship than serious policy as these end-of-the-campaign slurs were quite out of sync with the more carefully thought out manifesto pledges. In any case, the only way to find out is throuTo go by most commentary on our media, it appears that the point being most laboured is that the Pakistan elections have proved once again the hold that the Pakistan army has over the political process in Pakistan. True - but hardly breaking news. Over the last 70 years, the army has directly ruled Pakistan for about 35 and manipulated civilian governments from behind for the remaining half. The fact is that although the Pakistani army is not a political party, it is the most well-entrenched, deeply-rooted, nation-wide political entity in that unfortunate country. That is a fact to be taken for granted, not a conclusion to be repeatedly established. Moreover, there is nothing we can do about it.

Indeed, almost all the countries we deal with are petty vicious dictatorships of one kind or the other, backed by or run by the military. In the diplomatic service, I served one year in Hanoi under the dictatorship of Ho Chi Minh (we all loved Uncle Ho), then two years under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein (who just loved our Emergency and even held a rally in Baghdad supporting it), and three years in Pakistan under the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq (who so adored Morarji-bhai that he conferred on him the highest Pakistan honour). So, why are we so sententious about a semi-democracy, semi-dictatorship like Pakistan? If we are so solicitous about them, then let us remember that if anything will help them break out into a genuine full-fledged democracy, it would be a modus vivendi with India that would rescue them from the imperative, as they perceive it, of remaining a national security state.

The question is not whether Imran is more of a hawk or the army is less of a dove than Nawaz. If, indeed, Nawaz was such a soft option, why were we not taking advantage of that instead of wasting four years in tu-tu mein-mein? The real question is whether we in India are hawks or doves when it comes to Pakistan. Kunwar Natwar Singh famously answered that question by riposting: "I am running a foreign policy, not an aviary!" And his counterpart, Mian Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri, replied, as the title of his years as Pakistani Foreign Minster puts it, that he was "Neither a Hawk nor a Dove". So, before getting tangled in the question of whether Imran is a hawk or a dove, perhaps we, as Indians, should be asking ourselves whether we are hawks or doves? If our answer is, as Kasuri's, that we are neither hawks nor doves, merely realists, then surely we have to first engage with Imran to discover whether there is any give, in his view as much as in ours, that enables us to reconcile their national interest, as Imran sees it, with our national interest, as we see it.

That would be the rational way to go. But I doubt that we will take it. For both our political and diplomatic establishment are so set in their smug sense of superiority to the Pakistanis and so predisposed to prejudice in their approach to that country that Imran, Shehbaz, Bilawal or Hafiz Saeed, they are keener to show up Pakistan than do a Vajpayee-Manmohan Singh and just talk to the other side, Kargil or no Kargil.

The ruling party here looks at Pakistan with a jaundiced, communal eye viewing Pakistan as a good excuse to lynch passing Indian Muslims. Others highlight Hindu secularism in juxtaposition to Islamic fanaticism to explain why talking to Pakistanis is akin to banging your head against the wall. While they extol Hindu secularism, they do not admit the possibility of a counterpart Muslim secularism that we could tap into in Pakistan although the civilizational story of composite India is the story of a pan-South Asian heritage to which every community - Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, even agnostics and atheists - irrespective of today's national boundaries have made their signal contribution.

It is only when the fact of 21st century Pakistanis being largely comprised of secular-minded Muslims is conceded that the boundless possibility of replacing majoritarian communalism in our region with an inclusiveness that ends the emotional fracture of India and Pakistan becomes feasible. However, we are, I fear, aeons from that happy consummation.

(Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)

This article originally appeared on NDTV's website 

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