As Pakistan was at the tail-end of its contentious election campaign, Coca-Cola Pakistan announced the 11th consecutive season of Coke Studio, releasing its opener, Hum Dekhenge, the revolutionary poem of celebrated progressive Pakistani poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Hum Dekhenge had attained immortality in the early 1980s as an anthem of protest against the military regime of General Zia ul-Haq, sung by Iqbal Bano in a black sari in a full stadium. While releasing the current version, in the voice of over 70 artistes, Coke Studio said it was celebrating the message of “unity, hope and peace” through a “song, sung by the people of Pakistan, for the people of Pakistan”.
But the latest rendition had some portions from the original song missing, the most jarring being the iconic lines “Sab taaj uchaale jayenge, Sab takht giraye jayenge (When the crowns will be tossed, When the thrones will be brought down)”. That is significant not because Coke Studio eschewed any reference to a call for a revolution but because whoever would have gone on to win the election, the crown and the throne — at least when it comes to issues that matter to India — would remain with the Pakistan army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi.
This has been gaining ground in New Delhi as a fundamental truth but has now been drilled home after the manner in which the Pakistan army has actively manipulated the elections, in connivance with the judiciary and by controlling the media.
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Imran Khan perhaps would not have been on course to becoming the next prime minister of Pakistan if he was not the chosen one of the generals. Unlike a Nawaz Sharif or an Asif Ali Zardari, who could attempt reconciliation with India despite the Pakistan army’s reservations — though eventually they too succumbed to opposition from Rawalpindi — Imran is unlikely to even attempt those moves. Any private lines of communication that the elected government in Delhi establishes with the elected government in Islamabad would now have even lesser value than they had earlier. The diplomats and politicians would be completely subservient to the generals, be it the issue of Kashmir or of any other peace initiative with India.
The obvious temptation in India would be to open direct channels with the Pakistan army, something Rawalpindi has been actively seeking, without reciprocation, from India. New Delhi was more dependent on established diplomatic channels and the lines opened by National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval with his Pakistani counterpart.
Even during the election campaign, whenever Imran talked about the rest of the world, it has been in a strongly adversarial manner, wherein he blamed the Trump administration and the “international establishment” for a conspiracy against him and Pakistani democracy. But politicians, as the saying goes, often campaign in poetry and govern in prose. He is unlikely to continue to act on his tirade as he looks to repair Pakistan’s broken foreign policy.
Notwithstanding Imran’s relationship with the Pakistan army, and his dependence on Independents in Parliament, there is always a chance that the unexpected level of popular support across Pakistan may lead to Imran asserting his independence from the generals on the India front. In the best-case scenario, he could try and take advantage of his honeymoon period and boldly push for some initiatives with New Delhi. But India has already moved into poll mode, as the next general elections are only a few months away. There is going to be little appetite in the Narendra Modi government for any bold move on Pakistan in the midst of an acrimonious election campaign. The windows of opportunity on the two sides are clearly not opening in the same temporal space.
The ‘core issue’ between the two countries, as Pakistan likes to assert, is Kashmir. Just for the record, the PTI manifesto had proposed a solution on the Kashmir issue as per the UN Security Council resolution. It is also true that India or Kashmir did not have a prominent place in Khan’s poll campaign, but not much should be read into it. It only means that foreign policy with respect to India should remain in the hands of the military. That has the been the course of Pakistan for most of its seven decades of existence — and it is unlikely to change under Imran.
But stranger things have happened, and in Faiz’s immortal words, “Hum dekhenge (we will see)”.