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Posted at: Feb 10, 2019, 7:34 AM; last updated: Feb 10, 2019, 7:34 AM (IST)

For better ties, Imran is the best bet

Shahzad Raza
ACROSS THE BORDER
Shahzad Raza
Given his sports background, Imran Khan understands India better than his contemporaries. Striving hard to resolve the country’s economic crisis, he knows resuming trade relations with India would resolve half of his problems
For better ties, Imran is the best bet

Shahzad Raza

KEY federal ministers in Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Cabinet are proud of having the so-called ideal relations with the military establishment. Voted and supposedly supported into power, they believe the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government would complete its five-year term. They intend to resolve a host of sensitive issues and bring about structural reforms to recover the ailing economy, revamp the system, de-politicise bureaucracy and eradicate corruption. Settling disputes with India is one of the agendas on their priority list.

The strategic shift vis-a-vis Pakistan’s relations with India was echoed from within the military establishment when former army chief Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani had announced that an internal threat was more detrimental to Pakistan than the external threat. The war on terror had then entered a decisive phase.

Later, his successor Gen Raheel Sharif spearheaded a remarkable campaign to root out the militancy, especially after the Peshawar school attack. And the current army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, has told his audience at several occasions how important it was to develop trade relations with the neighbouring countries to help ameliorate the plight of poverty-striken people.

Taking a lead from the army chief arguments, the civilian leadership felt encouraged and weighed in. They began highlighting the benefits of bilateral trade between Pakistan and India which, according to them, would diminish the perils of any future conflict. If two countries are economically dependent on each other, they will keep the option of escalation off the table. And that will ultimately create a congenial atmosphere to discuss the sensitive issue of Kashmir.

However, they have failed to decipher if the military establishment was shifting its longstanding position on the Kashmir dispute. The two countries have fought direct and proxy wars to bleed each other. Their so-called achievements might have offered short-term gains, they have not yielded long-term results. For decades, the two countries have been trapped in a useless zero-sum game. Only a win-win situation could guarantee sustainable peace and prosperity.

Background interviews with policy makers in Islamabad revealed the two countries have established a back-channel to agree upon broad parameters of a future dialogue process. They hope dialogue would resume after a few months from the installation of new government in India.

Every leader, whether military or civilian, wishes to leave a legacy which people remember with reverence and respect. Ending the Afghan conflict in accordance to the wishes of all stakeholders is one important objective the Pakistani leadership is striving hard to achieve before the top guy's retirement.

Since the resolution of Kashmir dispute would not be possible within such a short span of time, the idea is to put a derailed car back on track and leave the rest to the wisdom and will of the successors.

Given his sports background, PM Khan understands India and Indians better than any of his contemporaries. Striving hard to resolve the country's economic crisis, he knows resuming trade relations with India would resolve half of his problems. However, neither he nor others would let it come across at any stage that Pakistan was desperate to gain access to Indian markets or providing a strategically key corridor to Afghanistan and Central Asian countries to earn through transit trade.

PM Khan lived a well-documented life. He is probably the cleanest politician the people of Pakistan have voted into power since Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto had several baggages, PM Khan does not. The people who matter in Pakistan have faith in his will, sincerity and vision. His government hit several bumps in the first few months, but he still has a long way to go to prove himself. 

This is what the upcoming government in India must realise. They have a man on driving seat who is supported by a good navigator. They both can drift and steer through devious terrains to reach the finishing line. All they need is some sort of reciprocity. It is to be seen how the new Indian government would respond.

Kulbhushan Jadhav and Hafiz Saeed are mere characters to sensationalise each other’s stance. The Pakistani establishment has abandoned the policy of sponsoring non-state actors. Indians too have realised that their dream of becoming Asia’s second-largest economy would never materialise if they keep fighting proxy wars with Pakistan.

The only problem is that the two countries are not just ready to trust each other. They are too cautious to hit the reset button. Victims of their past, they are squandering great opportunities.  Whatever they say for public consumption is not important. What’s relevant is how they behave with each other behind the stage. 

— The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist

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