Thursday, 1 December, 2022
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5 reasons why Imran Khan can offer only empty talks & no resolution on Kashmir

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Imran Khan knows that any Pakistani prime minister is powerless when it comes to striking a deal with India, especially on Kashmir.

In his first televised address after the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) emerged as the single largest party in Pakistan elections, Imran Khan raised Kashmir. The K-word in Imran’s politics signals what is old in ‘Naya Pakistan’.

“The unfortunate truth is that Kashmir is a core issue, and the situation in Kashmir, and what the people of Kashmir have seen in the last 30 years. They have really suffered. Pakistan and India’s leadership should sit at a table and try to fix this problem. It’s not going anywhere,” he said.

He then goes on to make a clear point and an offer: “We are at square one right now. If India’s leadership is ready, we are ready to improve ties with India. If you take one step forward, we will take two steps forward. I say this with conviction: this will be the most important thing for the subcontinent, for both countries to have friendship.”

While there are many who felt hopeful after hearing Imran’s speech, these words mean nothing for the sceptics. My bet is that five years from now, if he manages to become the first elected prime minister of Pakistan to complete a full five-year term, Imran would have little to show as far as resolving the Kashmir issue is concerned.

Yes, he may have meant each and every word that he uttered Thursday evening but even Imran would know how powerless the prime minister of Pakistan is when it comes to striking any deal with India, least of all on an issue that is simmering since Partition and over which the two neighbours have fought two full-fledged wars – 1947 and 1965 – and one localised conflict – Kargil.

Here are some of the reasons why, despite the brouhaha over Imran’s statement, nothing concrete is likely to happen on Kashmir anytime soon.

Pakistan army won’t allow it

The raison d’être for the Pakistan army is Kashmir. The ISI, the infamous spy agency of Pakistan, is mostly clueless when it comes to controlling the terrorists who roam the streets of Pakistan with impunity, but has been playing its part in fomenting trouble in Kashmir.

It isn’t exactly a state secret that Imran was backed by the army and the ISI. This was even made public by a senior Islamabad high court judge Shaukat Aziz, who accused the ISI of being involved in manipulating judicial proceedings so as to not allow Nawaz Sharif to win the elections.

There are many who believe Nawaz lost his job not due to the corruption cases against him and his family – isn’t almost everyone in Pakistan politics corrupt? – but because of his attempts to break the ice through his outreach to Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.

It is in the interest of the Pakistan army’s self-serving generals and the ISI brass to not allow Imran to work on any major deal with India because that would affect their own standing in the eyes of the gullible public.

Imran owes his impending job as prime minister to the not-so-covert manipulation of the judicial and electoral processes by the army and the ISI, and won’t do anything to upset the applecart.

But, one thing that he will certainly continue to do is make public pronouncements about his government’s commitment to end India-Pakistan tension. Whether these statements will lead to any substantial forward movement is anybody’s guess. Imran simply doesn’t have the stature to cut a deal with India on any issue, leave alone Kashmir.

Does BJP-led NDA government want Kashmir issue settled?

One of the three things, apart from Hindutva and Ram Mandir at Ayodhya, that define the BJP is the so-called muscular approach in dealing with “anti-national” Kashmiris. The BJP has no real political base in the Kashmir region but did very well in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region in the last elections. It even hard-sells Kashmir for votes beyond Lakhanpur, the gateway to the state.

Keeping the issue alive rather than resolving it peacefully seems the more politically expedient thing to do for the BJP. Listen to Prime Minister Modi’s election speeches to understand why he brings up Pakistan so many times.

Is there a quick-fix solution to Kashmir?

No. There can’t be a band-aid solution to the issue that has been festering since Partition. When Imran talked about the leadership of India and Pakistan sitting “at a table and try(ing) to fix this (Kashmir) problem”, he was well aware of what the possible solution could be.

Pakistan continues to illegally occupy a big chunk of our territory that its leaders proudly refer to as “Azad Kashmir” and which we know as Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir. Another part of our land, which Pakistan had illegally occupied, was later given by it to China.

While India wants the same back, the truth is no Pakistani leader can afford to even talk about it unless s/he wants to end up in jail or be exiled for life. To expect the Pakistan army and the ISI to agree to any deal that would entail stopping all activities in Kashmir can only be wishful thinking. It will never happen.

Involving Kashmiri separatists

Any India-Pakistan talks on Kashmir will eventually have to involve Kashmiri separatists. The Modi government will never accept that. Such a step will go against the 56-inch, larger-than-life, tougher-than-anybody-else persona that Modi and his branding team has assiduously built in the last few years. Modi’s core votebank expects him to jail all Kashmiri separatists and throw away the keys. And, Modi is no Vajpayee who can walk the talk on Kashmir and not ruffle his supporters.

Role of Pakistani terrorists

The foundational DNA of several frontline terrorist groups – directly or indirectly stoked by the Pakistani deep state – is to destabilise India through Kashmir.

In the run up to the election campaign, Imran was seen as coming close to several of these terrorist groups. Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, founder of Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the group that had a role in the 1999 Kandahar hijacking, was inducted into the PTI.

These groups hold considerable sway in several parts of Pakistan and won’t allow Imran to negotiate any deal with India on Kashmir. The political front of Lashkar-e-Taiba founder and Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, involved in 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks, may have not won a single seat out of the 265 it contested, but Saeed remains a force to reckon with in Pakistan. He would never allow Imran to strike a deal with India on Kashmir.

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  1. Although Pakistan insists Kashmir is the core issue, without whose resolution no progress is possible on other fronts, a sincere effort could be made, sometimes even a little unilaterally, to pluck some low hanging fruit. Restoring calm along the LoC, liberal grant of visas, facilitating an enlargement of bilateral trade, perhaps even routing it through UAE, the effort should be to create outcomes that benefit Pakistan, create a constituency for peace, however tenuous. 2. Nothing is gained by hassling each other’s diplomats. Small traditions of soldiers exchanging mithai along the border on Eid and Diwali, prime ministers sending basiketd of mangoes should not be discontinued. We could resolve to stop naming and shaming Pakistan in global fora, often using the word terrorism as shorthand. There should be formal talks, as envisioned under the Simla Accord, however slender the outcomes. Our rancour should be deposited outside the entrance to the SAARC meeting hall; the summit itself should never be cancelled or postponed because the relationship is having one of its bad hair days. 3. For what it was worth, the serious talks during the time of Dr Singh and General Musharraf showed that, in their heart of hearts, both sides recognise and respect each other’s red lines. That foundation is worth building on.

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