India-Pakistan peace under Imran Khan an elusive desire

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New Delhi:

Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan has begun his innings with an expressed desire for durable peace with India, but how much he would be his own master is a big question mark considering that he has been propped up by the Army.

The Pakistan Army’s hostility towards India is well known especially since 1971 when over 90,000 Pakistani troops in Bangladesh had surrendered to the Indian Army in the largest peacetime surrender in history.

Yet, 47 years is a long time and the new generation of Pakistani Army must ponder whether it is worthwhile holding grudges that create perennial bad blood between the neighbours.

Imran’s inexperience gives him both an advantage and a disadvantage. He is in the saddle because his predecessor Nawaz Sharif had fallen foul of the military establishment. Unless he breaks out of the Army’s stranglehold, he will continue to be viewed worldwide as a man without a spine who is remote-controlled by the men in uniform.

Pakistan’s economy is in abysmal shape and its credibility as a country of peace and fighter against terror is in smithereens. This is a time when the country can re-establish its credibility if only the Army would let it.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s letter to Imran expressing India’s commitment to a “meaningful and constructive engagement” could be a good starting point for a new relationship.

While Modi has fallen short of suggesting a comprehensive dialogue in hinting so, Imran can take this forward without raising the eyebrows of Army bigwigs too much.

It would indeed be imprudent for Imran to jump straightaway into trying to address the Kashmir issue in which there would be crossed wires between the Army and his government (if he works for peace) and between him and the Indian decision-makers.

The Pakistan economy requires immediate attention and a boost in bilateral trade can only be to mutual benefit. Resumption of cultural exchanges and interaction among experts in various fields would be a win-win for both.

India has much to offer in terms of medical treatment and expertise which can be of value to Pakistanis. In the scientific arena, there can be much benefit if there is a genuine give and take. In the sports arena, cricket and hockey are not the only areas that the two countries play with gusto and a do-or-die approach.

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But all said and done, the past has shown that when it comes to Kashmir, all the goodwill dissipates and hostility takes over. If there is any hope of reconciliation it can only be on the basis of the Simla Agreement that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Indira Gandhi signed in 1972.

In a speech claiming victory in Pakistan election before he was sworn in, Imran Khan said: “if India takes one step forward (on peace with Pakistan) we will take two”, but maintained Kashmir was a ‘core issue’. Yet, it is easier said than done.

India would return to the negotiating table only when Pakistan dismantles all terror training camps and stops infiltrating terrorists into India to cause disruption and mayhem. That perpetration of terror is an activity with blessings and active help from the military in Pakistan makes the task that much more difficult.

Pakistan is facing a serious balance of payments crisis. And it will have to approach the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout which will come with strict conditions that would predictably include no diversion of funds for terrorist or extremist activities. That should motivate Pakistan to not fan terror, but with the Army being all-powerful such logic hardly ever works.

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The Pakistan cricket board chief has said that Imran is very keen on resuming Indo-Pak cricketing ties. But India would insist that this can only be one of the confidence-building measures, and understandably, control of terror has to be the first.

As things stand, Imran can hardly sell dreams while he flirts with the Army. Yet, the Nawaz Sharif experience has shown that flirtation with the Army is the first condition in the current dispensation in Pakistan.

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