Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement in support of Narendra Modi for a second term could well be a Congress ploy, according to India’s Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. But this claim of a conspiracy adds to the woes of Imran Khan, whose words are not being taken as very smart back home in Pakistan.
Academics, lawyers and journalists of Pakistan are calling Imran Khan’s remark a diplomatic blunder while leaders of Islamist parties have started dubbing him as ‘Modi ka yaar and ghaddar’ (friend of Modi and traitor) – a slogan Imran Khan had repeatedly chanted to taunt his main political opponent Nawaz Sharif during the election campaign of July 2018.
With no let-up in criticism, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had to clarify that Imran Khan was quoted out of context, but this has failed to produce the desired effect on Khan’s political opponents.
Perhaps, this is why the Sindh Assembly (Pakistan’s second largest provincial assembly) Monday passed a resolution against PM Khan, less than a week after his pro-BJP statement, declaring him an “election agent” of PM Modi.
“If someone expects that the BJP government will be helpful to resolve (the) Kashmir issue, then he lives in fool’s paradise,” says Dr Hasan Askari, a leading political scientist.
But Askari is quick to dispel notions that Imran Khan’s statement will create any domestic trouble for the BJP. Askari knows that the BJP enjoys the support “mostly of Right-wingers”. “You know, this kind of vote-bank remains intact in almost all cases,” says the former caretaker chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan.
Khan was ‘led’ by global players
The matter, however, is not quite as simple as people have made it out to be. Abid Saqi, the former president of Lahore Bar Association, claims PM Imran Khan did not seem to assert the ‘conventional wisdom’ that Right-wing parties take bold steps to resolve domestic and international issues — the ‘Nixon goes to China’ argument — and nor did he make an abrupt statement similar to his past record.
Saqi said that Imran Khan made the comment based on the sense of assurance provided by the international powers.
In a private conversation with me, the senior lawyer clamed that Islamabad was assured by global powers during the recent face-off between India and Pakistan following the 14 February Pulwama attack that they will help resolve the Kashmir issue after NarendraModi is re-elected as India’s prime minister.
“A settlement on the lines of much debated Musharraf-Vajpayee formula could be agreed between India and Pakistan if the BJP again comes into power,” Saqi said.
Then there are some who say Imran Khan acted immaturely by making a statement that seasoned politicians would always steer clear of.
“Since he is not acquainted with diplomatic wisdom and norms, he voiced his opinion about Modi openly. Pakistan and India are presently in a state of war under Modi’s regime and wishing him another tenure is manifestation of confusion on diplomatic front,” says Shoaib Saleem, another senior lawyer and writer.
Saleem points to the political obstacle a statement like this creates for Imran Khan. “What if (Rahul Gandhi’s) Congress-led alliance wins the elections?” The lawyer’s question imagines the scenario where, after endorsing the BJP, Imran Khan is in a situation where he might have to initiate a dialogue on the Kashmir issue — but with the Congress instead of the BJP. In a political advice of sorts, Saleem tells Imran Khan to “learn at the earliest” that it’s the state, and not individuals, that matters. “Modi’s alleged friendship with Nawaz Sharif was detrimental for Pakistan but Imran Khan’s longing for him will cure our core issue… this is nothing less than a paradox.”
Religious leaders weigh in too
Imran Khan has similarly irked the Islamists who lashed out at him, saying there was ‘zero chance’ of any resolution of the Kashmir issue if Modi’s BJP wins the election for the second term.
Jamaat-e-Islami central leader Ameerul Azeem says that at a time when the BJP was bent upon repealing Article 370, Pakistan’s prime minister wished for the party to come into power.
Azeem says Imran Khan’s endorsement of Modi came on “the directions of the international lobby and business tycoon who wanted to see Modi in power”.
The condemnation of PM Khan’s statement by Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, which emerged as the biggest religious party in terms of vote-bank in Pakistan’s general election of 2018, comes with Indian and Kashmiri Muslims in mind. Spokesperson Ijaz Ashrafi flaysKhan for ‘rubbing salt on (their) wounds by issuing statement in favour of Modi”.
Supporters say ‘avoidable’
But such widespread condemnation doesn’t mean Imran Khan is left all alone in Pakistan. Some like Sohail Warraich, a leading journalist and TV anchor, reiterate PM Khan’s statement verbatim because they were “timely and accurate”, while some like Iqtidar Gilani, a journalist from The Nation, say the PM was “right in his claim” but could have avoided voicing it out nevertheless.
According to Warraich, Khan did not intentionally issue the statement to create some damage to the BJP’s poll campaign.
“A party like the Congress will not go to the extreme due to fear of backlash from the Right-wing parties. The past experience strengthens this idea. The Congress ruled India for such a long time and during that period, we saw meaningless dialogue. It was during the BJP’s rule that Pervez Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee reached close to an agreement on the Kashmir issue,” says Iqtidar Gilani.
Samiullah Randhawa, a journalist from Daily Times, also hoped that Modi and Khan could better resolve the disputes between the two nations.
The author is a Lahore based journalist. He writes on religion, politics, culture, agriculture and Partition. He can be reached @imiftikharalam. The views are personal.