IN A carefully crafted message Thursday, Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan, poised to become the next Prime Minister of Pakistan, made a nuanced outreach to India while making clear that New Delhi’s response would hold the key.
Stressing that the blame game needs to stop between the two countries over Kashmir and Balochistan, 65-year-old Khan addressed his nation: “If India takes one step towards us, we will take two steps toward them…but at least (we) need a start. Right now, it is one-sided where India is constantly just blaming us.”
Khan’s public statement, sources said, follows India’s engagement with his team through the High Commission in Islamabad. Although his statement has not been officially reciprocated by New Delhi, official sources are hopeful of “a greater policy coherence” under him as “he would be on the same page as the Pakistan Army”.
Sources told The Indian Express that the Indian High Commission in Islamabad “has been in close touch with Imran’s people for months,” as the government was preparing itself for any election outcome. Khan’s statement that “we want to improve our relations with India, if their leadership also wants it” seems to be born out of that engagement.
Sources said Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar, former member of the British House of Commons, who served as Governor of Punjab from 2013 to 2015, is most likely to be named Foreign Minister. He resigned as governor in 2015 after terming US President Barack Obama’s visit to India as a failure of the government of Nawaz Sharif. He later joined Khan’s PTI and is currently a member of the Pakistani Senate.
Khan’s PTI, which won 76 seats and was leading in 43 according to Pakistan’s TV channels, is widely perceived to be the Pakistan Army’s choice, and has been christened by the Opposition as the “laadla” (favourite son).
Aware of that image and apprehension in New Delhi, he said, “As far as India is concerned, I was a little disappointed with how the Indian media portrayed me in the past few weeks, as a villain in a Bollywood film…like everything that would be disadvantageous for India would happen due to me.”
And then, he struck a familiar note, echoing the military establishment’s thinking that Kashmir is the “core issue”.
Khan, however, also expressed his desire to “increase trade” with India — a popular sentiment among the business community in Pakistan, especially among the influential business class in Punjab.
“I am that Pakistani who believes that to improve economics in the sub-continent, trade between India and Pakistan is important. This will be beneficial for both the countries,” he said.
“Our priority should be to increase trade, but the sad part is that the core issue is Kashmir. We should sit across the table to solve this issue, instead of indulging in a blame game. The Kashmiri people have suffered a lot of human rights violation. Let’s not continue this blame game over Kashmir and Balochistan. We are stuck at square one,” he said.
The PTI’s election manifesto had said that they will “work on a blueprint towards resolving the Kashmir issue within the parameters of UNSC resolutions. For lasting peace within our own region, especially with a neighbour India, conflict resolution and the security route to cooperation is the most viable”.
In his address, Khan also tried to strike a conciliatory note, noting his ties with India. “I am that Pakistani who has travelled through India because of my cricket,” he said.
What was interesting to note was that he covered almost every important bilateral relations from Pakistan’s point of view, starting from China, and came to India only in the end.
Making a strong mention of improving ties with China, Khan said, “We will strengthen and improve our relations with China. We want to work towards success of CPEC. We also want to send teams to learn poverty alleviation from China. How to lift our most poor who can’t even eat two meals a day.”
Emphasisng that foreign policy is a “huge problem” for the country now, he said the country needs better relations with its neighbours so that it can focus on nation building.
Throughout Thursday, South Block mandarins were poring through various elements of PTI’s election manifesto, which has some aspects that have got Delhi worried.
One of the key paragraphs is to “expose links between active and passive terrorists (who provide logistics support but are not part of the fighting force) and seek to win over the latter so as to isolate the hardcore elements who rely on local populations for support — the local population acts as the rear of the terrorists. By separating the passive supporters, the state deprives the terrorists of an important component of their support structure.”
South Block sources, who analysed the PTI manifesto, said: “This distinction between active and passive terrorists sounds somewhat like good and bad terrorists. That’s something which goes against the fight against terrorism.”
Sources said Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Sohail Mahmood, had gone to Islamabad earlier this month and had briefed the caretaker government and Foreign Secretary Tehmina Janjua about Indian government’s approach towards Pakistan.
Another name being mentioned as Foreign Minister is Shah Mahmood Qureishi, who served in that capacity in Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s cabinet but was replaced mid-way with Hina Rabbani Khar.
While Khan’s pre-election campaign rhetoric had been fiery, it had largely been devoid of India bashing, barring a few occasions when he had tried to paint former prime minister Nawaz Sharif as pro-India.
At his last election rally in Karachi on July 22 at the Jinnah Masouleum grounds, Khan had said, “His (Nawaz’s) whole fight against the Army, it’s not about democracy. It is about telling the international community that look, I can control the Army so that Pakistan can accept India’s thaanedaari. This is the whole game. Pakistan establishment wants to balance India with China. India wants that like Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan should accept its thaanedaari. Standing in the way is the Pakistan Army. And [India] wants that Pakistan Army should be weakened and defamed.
In September ‘2016, after India’s retaliatory “surgical strikes”, Khan had said, “Listen, Narendra Modi, not every Pakistani is Nawaz Sharif. Not every Pakistani is so fond of money as Nawaz Sharif is. Not every Pakistani who goes to India, goes to meet Narendra Modi with his son, and has tea with (businessman) Jindal. Not every Pakistani is more fond of his business than his nation, like Nawaz Sharif. And not every Pakistani is a coward like Nawaz Sharif.”