Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan has unveiled his 21-member Cabinet. One of the inducted ministers had openly advocated the use of nuclear bombs against India during the Kargil War. India-Pakistan relations have been complex and on a roller-coaster for long. Nevertheless, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s vision has something to offer to the new regime in Pakistan. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is almost following in the footsteps of his mentor. As the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Prime Ministerial candidate, Modi’s speech in Chennai in 2013 on the then UPA government’s foreign policy had made it amply clear that he was going to push the same trajectory which Vajpayee had evolved. That is why he had invited all leaders of South Asian countries during his oath-taking ceremony in 2014. He had made a surprise visit to Pakistan and has repeated his appeal to Pakistan to stop cross-border terrorism. Prime Minister Modi has written to newly sworn-in Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, expressing India’s commitment to a “meaningful and constructive engagement” and recalling their recent conversation about a shared vision for peace to rid the Indian sub-continent of terrorism. Pakistan seriously needs to shun jihad as a tool of state policy. Islamabad cannot expect terrorism and talks to go hand-in-hand; it will have to choose either of the two.
India is willing to carry forward the dialogue process provided Pakistan stops terrorism as a state policy. If Imran Khan has really understood Vajpayee’s doctrine, he should mend his ways. Vajpayee visited Islamabad in 2004 for the SAARC summit despite all odds and convinced General Pervez Musharraf to sign an agreement that said: “Pakistan will not allow any part of its territory to be used by forces inimical to India.” This commitment is a reminder for the new regime in Pakistan.
Vajpayee’s contribution to framing foreign policy was a game-changer. His realistic approach overhauled the fabric and direction of Indian foreign policy—from Pokhran-II to the new mantra of India and the United States being natural allies. However, the “extreme optimism” of his foreign policy was seen in the context of Pakistan. The India-hating military establishment in Pakistan repeatedly betrayed Vajpayee. His Lahore bus yatra was followed by back-stabbing in the form of the Kargil War in 1999. Despite the back-stabbing, he invited Musharraf, who engineered the Kargil attack, to Agra for another round of dialogue. That initiative also failed; the Agra summit of 2001 would have been historic had Musharraf accepted the peace proposal on Kashmir. It was considered an “out-of-box solution” of the Kashmir issue. However, Vajpayee again went to Islamabad for the SAARC summit in 2004.
Imran khan has invoked the Vajpayee legacy to build better relations with India. Vajpayee had gone a step further to bring peace and harmony between the two countries—he had visited the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore, the only Indian leader to do so. This was the site where the All India Muslim League had passed the Lahore Resolution of 1940. Vajpayee offered many opportunities to Pakistan to mend its ways, but all the initiatives were futile. During the Kargil War, Pakistan downed two Indian MiG aircraft. There was enormous pressure on Vajpayee to retaliate, but he did not.
Can Imran Khan follow Vajpayee’s roadmap?
A cricketer-turned-politician, Imran Khan has been a maverick in his style and words. His thoughts on Kashmir emerged during the 1982 India-Pakistan cricket Test match series that saw Khan, in fiery bowling spells, taking 40 wickets for Pakistan in the six-match series in which Pakistan beat India 4-0. During the course of the series, Khan had said, “Let us settle the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan over the cricket match.”
During the general elections, Imran Khan had made a number of statements against India. He had accused Nawaz Sharif as a stooge of India. There are many hues to Imran Khan. The key is to gauge “his foreign policy”. He has said that he is willing to walk two steps if India moves one step ahead. However, it is a mere rhetoric. Pakistan’s foreign policy is entirely the Army’s domain. Imran Khan is not as powerful as his two predecessors Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari. Khan is an offshoot of radical Islam. His overt support to hardcore Islamists and fundamentalists clearly outlines his vision for Pakistan. Khan used to regularly address the gathering organised by Qazi Hussain Ahmad, a sympathiser of Taliban and Haqqani networks. Hamid Gul, former head of the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), who was responsible for training, recruiting and maintaining the strategic assets of Pakistan, the terror outfits, has been Khan’s political mentor. Khan is believed to have inherited an anti-Western attitude from Gul. He has never said anything against the dictates of the army. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Imran Khan can follow on the footsteps of Vajpayee. The fundamental bottleneck is the Pakistani army which still works on the policy of inflicting a “thousand cuts” and retaliation for the 1971 war.
China’s shadow in Pakistan
Vajpayee was very clear about the nexus between China and Pakistan. He had said in Parliament in 1973, “China and Pakistan have colluded to defeat us in the diplomatic field. It is no surprise if the two collude at some time to take joint actions against India.” He was right in identifying China’s evolving nexus with Indian neighbours, especially with Pakistan. That is why, after the Pokhran nuclear tests, he wrote letters to the major leaders of the world, blaming China for being the rationale for India’s tests.
The economic crisis in Pakistan is deepening. The United States has made it clear that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is not going to deliver easy loans to Pakistan and would demand structural adjustments. Pakistan’s current account deficit increased 50% in the past year. Both the IMF and the World Bank have warned that the current account deficit could hinder Pakistan’s economic growth.
Pakistan has once again been placed on a terrorism-financing watch list by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, rendering it ever more internationally isolated. The power of the Deep State has completely controlled the civilian government. The “democratic structure” is dictated by the military. The civil society in Pakistan does not have much of a say. The jihadis are hand-in-glove with the army. The bilateral terms with India are going to be very tough. Imran Khan’s new Cabinet has 12 members who were ministers during Musharraf’s regime. That makes it clear that the Cabinet was also decided by the army. For Imran Khan, the Vajpayee doctrine could work as a magical wand. The Indian government under Prime Minister Modi is willing to work with the new regime in Pakistan, provided it stops infiltrations and terrorism. Vajpayee was lenient, but very clear headed as far as national security was concerned. Modi had said during India’s surgical strikes against Pakistan that bombs and talks cannot happen at the same time. It is up to Imran Khan to decide whether he is swayed by the military or follows the lessons of the Vajpayee doctrine.
Prof Satish Kumar is with the Department of Political Science, CUH