How to deal with Imran

How to deal with Imran

In cricket legend Imran Khan Pakistan has a new Prime Minister. He apparently is peeved with our Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has accused Modi of being “arrogant” and “negative”. And that is because after having agreed to Imran’s proposal of a “peace dialogue” meeting between the foreign ministers in of both the countries in  New York on the sidelines of the ongoing United Nations General Assembly session, Modi later backed out by citing “two deeply disturbing developments” — the “brutal killings” of security personnel by Pakistan-based entities last fortnight and the release of postage stamps glorifying Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani ,who was killed by Indian security forces in July 2016. In fact, while cancelling the scheduled talks, the spokesman of the ministry of external affairs justified the decision by saying “the evil agenda of Pakistan stands exposed” and the “true face” of Imran Khan, the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, has been “revealed to the world”.

It is natural that the Pakistani establishment is portraying the cancellation of the meeting between the two foreign ministers as an “excuse” by India. The theory being propagated in Islamabad is that Modi, who is going to face a series of assembly elections, followed by the general elections next year, will not work for peace with Pakistan; instead he will escalate the tensions so as to undertake military adventures closer to the general elections. In fact, Pakistan’s Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry has said that India’s decision to call off talks with Pakistan is an attempt to ‘divert’ people’s attention from the ‘mega corruption scandal’ over Rafael fighter plane and the calls for resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi by opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi.

Has the Modi-government really faltered in its policy towards Pakistan? Modi’s domestic critics think so; some of them, including some Congress leaders,  have gone to the extent of saying that Imran is a man of peace , that he wants genuine  improvement in ties with India and that Modi has been unfair to him by foiling his attempts. Really? Nothing can be more preposterous than such a view. In my considered opinion, parameters of India-Pakistan relations are such that no Pakistani leader, or for that matter Indian leader, can really change the situation until and unless the very nature of Pakistani polity undergoes fundamental transformation.

Forget about Modi for the time being. What did Modi’s predecessor Manmohan Singh, who was born in Pakistan and whose emotional wish was to visit his place of birth as Indian Prime Minister, achieve during his 10-year rule? He, indeed, was prepared to go extra miles to mend fences with Pakistan. Remember how India under his government had taken a series of measures in favour of Pakistan. It helped Pakistan in what was said to be a very tightly fought elections to get into the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member.  Pakistan secured a bare minimum two-thirds majority of 129 votes from the 193 members of the UN General Assembly in a straight contest with Kyrgyzstan for the single Asian seat. India’s vote in favour of Pakistan had surprised many analysts considering the fact  that on issues such as terrorism, disarmament, nuclear proliferation , Afghanistan and expanding the list of permanent members to accommodate India – and these are the priority issues for the Security Council – Delhi and Islamabad had (and have even now) diametrically opposite views. Similarly, many observers just could not believe that in 2011 India did not veto at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) the European Union’s special trade concessions for Pakistan. The offer from the European Union (EU) allowed the import of 75 Pakistani items earning the country more than 300 millions of dollars for a three-year period. The WTO works by consensus and the EU required all WTO members to consent to the EU proposal. Earlier India had objected to this EU move as it flouted the WTO rules for a level-playing field among trading partners. After all, the items on which Pakistan derived concessions competed against the similar items from India, mainly textiles. But, India under Manmohan Singh withdrew its objections. It was said then by so doing the Indian Prime Minister was ensuring that a grateful Pakistan would grant India, in return, the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status, even though “MFN” is a misnomer. But that never happened.  Contrary to the literal meaning, MFN status does not provide for special treatment. Rather, MFN simply means non-discrimination among trading partners sharing the status. That is why in the US and the EU, MFN status is also referred to as normal or third-country trading status. Therefore, Pakistan’s granting of MFN status to India will not confer any special trading rights or privileges on India, though it will give to Indian imports the same treatment as imports from Pakistan’s other trading partners.

In any case, MFN treatment is an obligation in the multilateral trading system put in place by the WTO. Every WTO member-country is bound not to discriminate against other members in terms of both tariff and non-tariff measures. Hence, if Pakistan gives MFN treatment to India, it will not be doing any favour to us but will simply fulfil a basic WTO obligation it had evaded so far. Pakistan has done this by maintaining a positive list for imports from India. The list comprises about 2,000 products, out of the nearly 10,000 products the country imports. Only products on the positive list are importable from India.

Trading on the basis of a negative list means that all products are importable save those on the list. But if the negative list for India contains some 1,000 products or more, it will again deny India the MFN status, because no such list exists for the other trading partners of Pakistan. If India is to have MFN status, imports from India must not be discriminated against in any manner. But Pakistan is not prepared for it.

Similarly, it is not insignificant in the last four and half years that the Modi-regime had extended peace-gestures to Pakistan too. When Modi was sworn in , all heads of the state from South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation , including the then Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were invited and in attendance. Modi and Sharif held talks in Delhi and expressed willingness to begin a new era of bilateral relations. Subsequently their national security advisors met at Bangkok. In December 2015, Modi made an unscheduled stop in Lahore to attend Sharif’s granddaughter’s wedding and the two leaders agreed that their foreign secretaries will resume stalled bilateral talks in January 2016. But everything got derailed with terrorist attacks on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in January 2016. Since then, there have been series of border clashes, including beheading of Indian security personnel and a major attack on the Indian Army base in Uri, killing 19 Indian soldiers. India retaliated with “surgical strikes” in the PoK.

The point is that whenever, civilian leaders of Pakistan have tried for peace and normalisation, Indian soldiers faced attack from their Pakistani counterparts. Remember Kargil, after the historic bus-ride to Lahore by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 and the grand reception he received from Nawaz Sharif, who was also the then Prime Minister?

Let us not forget that Pakistan is an essentially an “Army with a country”. It is the army that decides Pakistan’s policy towards India. There are three lakshman rekhas (limiting lines) that the army has drawn for the civilian prime ministers and presidents. One, they would not interfere in any manner with the organisational and administrative work of the Armed Forces or for that matter do anything that adversely affects the image of the army. Two, they would abide by the advice of the army chief on matters of foreign and defence policies. Three, they would not interfere with the army-controlled nuclear weaponisation and missile programmes

But then this is not all. The worst part is that the Pakistani Army is increasingly getting “Islamised”, both directly and indirectly (through connivance with the Islamic fundamentalists).It may be mentioned here that the beheading of our soldiers are usually carried out by a joint team of the Pakistani soldiers and fundamentalist terrorists (the so-called Border Action Team or BAT comprised of the regular army and terrorist LeT or Hizbul cadres). In fact, in all its wars against India, Pakistan has always used the “militant Islamists”. In the first Indo-Pakistan War in 1947, the Pakistan Army used militant Islamists as a potent weapon – it used Islamist rhetoric to mobilise Pashtun tribesmen from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and urged clerics to issue fatwas ordering their clans into Kashmir.

There has always been a perpetual patron-client relationship between the Pakistan Army and militant Islamists. General Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s first military head of state always used Islamic rhetoric against even his political opponents, let alone against India in the 1965-war. His successor General Yahya Khan did the same – he unleashed Deobandi mujahideen against his own citizens in the then East Pakistan. And things deteriorated further when General Zia-ul-Haq came to the scene – he changed Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s original army motto from “Unity, Faith, and Discipline” to “Faith, Piety, and Jihad for the sake of Allah”. Zia described himself to be “a soldier of Islam”.

It is indeed a real irony that of all the rulers of Pakistan if anyone tried to control the menace of “Islamic fundamentalism” in the armed forces or for that matter in the rest of the Pakistani society, it was General Pervez Musharraf. That he did not succeed fully is a different matter. The point is that in all the wars that Pakistan is likely to be involved in future, its army will fight ostensibly for the cause of Islam. That explains why it is hyper now in promoting and arming the Islamists in the valley, and all of them happen to be separatists. And, incidentally, Imran Khan’s victory in the last elections was primarily due to the wholehearted support from both the Army and Islamists.

But then, it is a huge myth that Pakistan will shed its hostility to India if Kashmir issue is resolved on Islamabad’s terms. Even if Kashmir joins Pakistan, Islamabad will find out another issue to trouble India. Because, Pakistan’s antipathy towards India is deep-rooted. In fact, Pakistan’s very existence as an entity depends on hostility towards India. Take India away and Pakistan’s justification as a separate country in the map of the world will hold no water.

All told, India was partitioned in 1947 to create a homeland for Muslims under the name of Pakistan. But it so happened that more Muslims stayed back in India than those who joined Pakistan And this explains why the Pakistan Army promotes fundamentalist mullahs in the country and uses them in tirades against India through terrorist organisations like the LeT. This fundamentalist Wahabi Islam negates the Sufi tradition that promoted Hindu-Muslim amity and coexistence in the subcontinent for centuries. So much so that many Pakistanis now suffer from some identity crisis – they are not sure whether they should retain their age-old cultural roots (that are obviously influenced by Hinduism) or develop totally new “Arab identities”.

Oblivious of India’s size, population and potentials, Pakistan’s obsession right since its inception has been seeking “parity with India”. And how to seek parity? One has to do everything that India does. If India has nuclear weapons and missiles, Pakistan must have them even if in the process, as late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto said, “The Pakistanis have to eat grass (to survive)”. The other thing to do is to work towards the disintegration of India so that India comes down to the size of Pakistan. This policy, as Bhutto said, was “essential for Pakistan’s national survival and unity”. Therefore, he further elaborated, Pakistan’s policies against India should be closely coordinated with China so as to balkanise India by cutting off the country’s northern, eastern (North East) and southern (Kerala) wings. In fact, Mushahid Hussain, once a former information minister under Sharif, had argued that Pakistan should work towards the division of India into three or four independent countries. Simultaneously, Pakistan’s ISI machinery will concentrate on widening the Hindu-Muslim divide, spreading hatred and destroying India’s inherent ethos of communal harmony.

In other words, India will remain Pakistan’s eternal enemy as long as one can see. Imran Khan is not going to make Pakistan a friend; he cannot even if he wishes so.  It is against this background that one has to review the rationale behind India’s traditional position that it wants a stable, secure and prosperous Pakistan. At least there should be a debate on this position, something our media, think tanks, let alone the government, tend to avoid.

In my considered view, there are there are three options. Option one is covert or overt support for attempts at the disintegration of Pakistan, for which highly conducive atmosphere exists in Baluchistan and Sindh. But this will be problematic for India’s growing international profile as a democratic, peaceful and responsible nation.

The second option is a full-fledged war to settle the bilateral irritants once and for all. This needs an emphatic victory for India, to be followed by a peace agreement that includes giving up all its roles in Kashmir and a verifiable pledge to end the fundamentalist religious activities on its soil against India. This is an option India can justify internationally. However, the point here is whether India is capable enough to win the war decisively, that too when there is a possibility of China coming to Pakistan’s rescue. This is something no one can be sure of, and hence there is a serious question over the efficacy of this option.

There is a third option, which, to me, is worth attempting. And that is to annul the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) of 1960. The IWT is the only treaty of its kind in the world where the upper riparian state (India) makes all the sacrifices for the lower riparian (Pakistan). As Brahma Chellaney, one of the country’s leading security experts, has argued, “The Indus treaty stands out as the world’s most generous water-sharing arrangement by far, in terms of both the sharing ratio (80.52 percent of the aggregate water flows in the Indus system reserved for Pakistan) and the total volume of basin waters for the downstream state (Pakistan gets 90 times greater volume of water than Mexico’s share under a 1944 pact with the US). It is the first and only treaty that goes beyond water sharing to partitioning rivers. It drew a virtual line on the map of India to split the Indus Basin into upper and lower parts, limiting India’s full sovereignty rights to the lower section and reserving for Pakistan the upper rivers of Jammu and Kashmir — the so-called ‘western rivers’.” And the irony here is that if any state that has been deprived of the Indus Water the most, then it is Jammu and Kashmir!

As the Indus river is the lifeline of Pakistan, the most credible lesson that India can teach to Pakistan is to dissolve the IWT and negotiate a fresh one by drawing a clear linkage between Pakistan’s right to water inflows more than what a lower riparian gets by international standard and its responsibility not to indulge in anti-India activities.

By Prakash Nanda

(prakash.nanda@hotmail.com)

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