Talking to Imran

Talking to Imran

Delhi must set aside scepticism, prepare to welcome and engage with Pakistan’s new PM.

The Pakistan results have not been a surprise in India. Imran’s framing of the Kashmir issue in the manner he did should also not surprise.

Despite the unusually slow pace of counting that has delayed the official declaration of election results in Pakistan, there is no doubt that Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf have won the 2018 election. The PTI may be some seats short of a majority, but Imran’s deep pocketed confidantes are already at work among the independents and others who could bring up the rest. Delhi has greeted the election outcome cautiously. The Ministry of External Affairs has expressed the hope that the new government “will work constructively to build a safe, stable and secure South Asia free of terror and violence,” and said that “India desires a prosperous and progressive Pakistan at peace with its neighbours”. The remarks came after Imran’s first post-election statements that he was ready to take two steps if India took one towards bilateral peace, but underlining that Kashmir remains the “core” issue between the two countries. The Pakistan results have not been a surprise in India. Imran’s framing of the Kashmir issue in the manner he did should also not surprise. This is boilerplate Pakistani foreign office-establishment language on Kashmir. The friendly Nawaz Sharif too has said this, but that never prevented the two countries from trying, at some junctures in the not too recent past, to find a way of addressing this “issue”. Imran Khan’s manifesto talks about resolving the Kashmir issue as envisaged in the UN resolutions, but that was also the refrain in the manifestos of the PPP as well as the PML(N).

The suspicion with which Imran Khan is being viewed across sections of the Indian establishment, and the sudden nostalgia for the PML-N, might give an impression that there was a robust dialogue with the Nawaz Sharif government. The truth is that by 2016, and as matters in Kashmir worsened, Sharif had stopped reaching out to Delhi as it was getting him minus points with the Pakistan Army and the security establishment, along with all his other troubles. India justified its own lack of inclination to reach out by citing the dual power centres, amid much handwringing about “but who do we talk to”. Look at it this way — now, at least there isn’t that. What Imran says about the Mumbai attack trial in Pakistan, and what his views as PM are about terrorist groups such as the Jamat-ud-Dawa and Jaish-e-Mohammed, will be part of the emerging big picture. The point is this: If India wishes to normalise relations with its neighbour — and there is no other choice in the long run — it has to engage, irrespective of who is in government, taking into account the peculiarities or aberrations of the power structure of that country. This was a lesson that India learnt only too quickly after the Musharraf coup.

Once the Election Commission of Pakistan declares the final results, it would not be out of place for the government to make the first move and invite him to visit as PM the country he has toured widely as a cricketer, speaker and friend of many Indians several times. The next step would be up to him.