Scope of Indo-Pak Relations Under New Regime: Will Pakistan Relinquish Terrorism!

After assuming power newly elected Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan attempts to restore talks and bilateral relations with India, the uncertainty remains whether Pakistan be able to put aside the main hurdle, terrorism, and move forward.

By JK Verma

Foreign Affairs

PAKISTAN TEHREEK-E-INSAF(PTI) party emerged as the largest political party in the elections held in the neighbouring country on July 25. Former Pakistan cricketer and PTI Chief Imran Khan with the overt help of few small political parties and covert but powerful assistance of Deep State took the oath of Prime Minister on August 18.

Khan had amiable relations with terrorists and because of his proximity with Taliban, he is also known as ‘Taliban Khan’. Prime Minister Khan always supported terrorists; he refused to condemn insurgents when they attacked Malala Yousafzai in 2012.

Not only this, in 2013 when known anarchist Wali-ur-Rehman and Hakimullah Mehsud were exterminated in drone attacks, he condemned the attacks and mentioned that they were peaceful persons. He also advocated opening of Taliban offices in Pakistan, and is supporter of Madrassa education in the country. His speeches and personal conduct clearly indicate his love for fundamentalism, Shariat and veil for ladies.

In 2018 elections, the Deep State weakened both major national political parties namely PML (N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Pakistani judiciary dethroned Nawaz Sharif, then debarred him and his heir apparent Maryam Nawaz and when the popularity of Nawaz was not diminished much, both he and his daughter were arrested, jailed and prohibited from electioneering for their party, still PML(N) emerged as second largest party.

The military controlled Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) successfully weakened another national party PPP by putting few cases against Asif Ali Zardari and he was forced to leave the country, and at present he is residing in Dubai. Recently Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has summoned him and his sister Faryal Talpur, in Rs 35 billion money laundering and false bank account case.

Pakistan armed forces deployed about 370,000 army personnel and 450,000 police personnel on election duties. The security personnel were deployed outside as well as inside the polling booths and gave the impression to the voters that they would know to whom they casted their votes.

Several PML (N) leaders were threatened not to contest elections and were also forced to defect and join PTI. The electronic as well as print media were managed, and they were forced to show favourable news about PTI while PML (N) and PPP were projected poorly. During election campaign, Khan projected Nawaz Sharif and his party as friend of Modi and accused Nawaz as “traitor”. He continued with anti-India rhetoric during election campaign.

Khan was able to fulfill his lifetime ambition of becoming prime minister, only because of assistance rendered by the Deep State hence he cannot go against the wishes of Pakistan army. Not only this, he had seen the fate of previous prime ministers, as no prime minister was able to complete his tenure so far. Nawaz Sharif became prime minister thrice but shunted out before the completion of five year term.

Imran Khan’s proclamation that he wants to have friendly relations with his eastern and western neighbours is nothing more than diplomatic oratory. Foreign policy towards India, Afghanistan, China and United States is handled by army directly and civilian government only complies with the instructions given by them. Hence Khan is in no position to improve relations with India or Afghanistan. It is the reason that he mentioned to resolve Kashmir issue according to UN Resolution, which became redundant as Pakistan has not withdrawn its forces from Kashmir that was the first stipulation.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi met prime minister of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK), Raja Farooq Haider on August 29 and issued a press statement mentioning that Pakistan “would continue to give full moral, diplomatic and political support to the people of J&K in their legitimate struggle to attain their inalienable right to self-determination”. Pakistan Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa also appreciated the struggle of people of Kashmir at a Defence Day function on September 7.

Pakistan military will continue ruling the country, but will keep the elected civilian government of Khan as a façade and he will have to obey the dictates of the military. Army does not want a popular leader; hence Nawaz Sharif was dethroned, exiled, arrested and imprisoned. Pakistan army has manipulated the elections in favour of Imran Khan but PTI was not allowed to win clear majority, and Khan remains under the control of Deep State.

Khan if genuinely wanted peace with India, he should have mentioned that trade between India and Pakistan would be enhanced. India gave Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to Pakistan in 1996. The latter should reciprocate so that legal trade between both the countries grows.

If Khan wants peace with India, he must curb infiltration of terrorists and should launch massive operations against terrorists and they should be exterminated without making difference between “good” and “bad’ terrorists. Khan is close to Mullas, military and militants hence in the beginning all three will help him to start peace-negotiation but will never allow to have durable peace with democratic India.

In reality, after PTI emerged as the largest party in National Assembly elections, ISI has increased infiltration of terrorists in India. It has also augmented assistance to Pro-Khalistan secessionist outfits. Sikh For Justice (SFJ), a separatist outfit, organised a seminar in London on August 12 on the behest of ISI.

Analysts mention that now ISI has support of military as well as of civilian government hence its aid to Kashmiri terrorists, Sikh separatists and other terrorist organisations including Naxalites, Islamic extremists would enhance manifold. Indian security agencies should enhance the security of vital installations and of important persons. Reports have also emerged that ISI agents are trying to cultivate Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and in Jammu to carryout terrorist activities in India.

Khan has no experience of administration, and large number of ministers and advisers of his cabinet served under Pervez Musharraf, who is a known India baiter and mastermind of Kargil attack. Musharraf in his numerous statements and interviews defended terrorists and also mentioned them as “Heroes”. Hence Pakistan government’s assistance to terrorists would continue unabated.

Pakistan army claims itself as the saviour of the country from India’s imaginary assault, it has also assured the masses that they will snatch Kashmir and would also take revenge from India for the dismemberment of the country. The army is enjoying several benefits to fulfill these obligations; hence it will never allow cordial relations with India. Pakistan army has launched low intensity war against India, and now depending on irregular warfare. Beijing which is ‘all weather friend’ of Islamabad and considers Delhi as its potential rival also supports Pakistan in carrying out terrorist activities in India. There are intelligence reports that ISI is also trying to interfere in the forthcoming 2019 general elections in India. Pakistan army is discontented to see that Indian economy is strengthening and it is being isolated as India has been able to convince other countries that Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism. Hence ISI will make efforts so that the present Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) does not come to power again.

ISI may instruct its support agents (sleeper cells) to carry out some terrorist activities in various parts of the country before general elections so that opposition parties can claim that BJP government is failed to control terrorism. ISI may also try that few extremist Muslims issue Fatwas against BJP but Indian Muslims are not extremists hence there will not be much impact of these Fatwas.

The Trump administration is convinced that Pakistan abetted terrorist outfits are attacking US forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan has capability to force Taliban to negotiate with Afghan government but not doing so, as it wants to install a puppet government in Afghanistan. However, the present US administration has taken a stringent view and suspended aid to Pakistan twice in 2018. In the latest visit US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defence James Mattis, not only gave stern warning to Pakistan but signed Communication, Compatibility, Security Agreement (COMCASA) with India, which Pakistan also considers against its interest.

Khan will improve relations with China as Pakistan is getting not only the arms and ammunition, but Beijing is also helping the rogue nation financially. Islamabad projected that China will be pumping huge amount under China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and it will generate massive employment opportunities. However it is a myth and CPEC will prove a debt-trap to Pakistan.

At present Pakistan is on the verge of defaulting on international economic obligations and its economy is in shambles. Besides financial problems Islamabad should also solve scarcity of water, population explosion, increase of Islamic extremism, isolation in international arena just to name a few. Khan should try to redress basic problems faced by Pakistan and should not involve anti-India activities and statements just to distract the attention of masses. In India few human right activists, pro-Pakistan apologists beseech that India and Pakistan should solve their differences through negotiations. Nonetheless they forget that Pakistan is determined to weaken India and will utilise the negotiation time in strengthening the multiple terrorist outfits in India.

Imran Khan who became prime minister because of assistance from Deep State is not empowered to conclude any peaceful agreement with India. Negotiations are only waste of time for India. In India also elections are just a few months away, hence BJP government will also not like to waste time in negotiations with Pakistan as everybody is convinced that talks are bound to fail.

India should chalk out a long term strategy to control ISI assisted terrorist outfits, and should also exploit the weakness of Pakistan. There are human right violations in Balochistan, Gilgit and Baltistan, Pakistan Occupied Kashmir just to name a few. Shias Muslims and Sufis are slaughtered and there are several cases of suicide bombings in their religious places. India should adopt pro-active policy instead of reactive policy towards its eastern neighbour.

Therefore, the scope of improvement in India-Pakistan relations under Imran Khan-led new civilian government seems futile as the earlier ones, courtesy the influence of Pakistani army and the ISI. That aside, Pakistan has never ever been successful in curbing terrorism emanating from its soil. Since terrorism and talks cannot go hand-in-hand, it has to come to the negotiating table with India without any pre-conditions.

– The author is a Delhi-based strategic analyst and a retired senior intelligence officer. He is also member of United Services Institute of India and Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. The views in the article are solely of the author.