Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is getting a bitter taste of power in the hot seat which he now occupies. It was all very well to take on the Opposition and fire broadsides at his opponents when Imran was not in the saddle. But now he is finding himself at the receiving end of criticism. The country’s opposition is engaged in tearing him apart on his Kashmir policy while he stands isolated on the international stage but for token support by all-weather friend China in pursuit of its own partisan goals. Relations with neighbour India have never been at such a low ebb for a long time and the blacklisting of Pakistan by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has embarrassed the Imran Khan government to no end. All this has prompted Imran to lash out at India in a bizarre, shrill way which is evoking its own adverse reaction from many quarters. Imran’s saving grace has been the army but with the latter expected to look at identifying a scapegoat to pass all blame on, the Pakistan premier may in due course have no one to turn to.
Warmongering has become a pattern for the beleaguered leader with the express intent to ward off public criticism of his handling of Kashmir in the wake of India’s revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution which granted it special status. In the national parliament Pakistan People’s Party chief Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of late prime minister Benazir Bhutto and former president Asif Ali Zardari said the country had “lost Kashmir” due to the incompetence of the Imran Khan government. Bilawal said Imran knew that the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was on the BJP’s election manifesto but he did not take any action. Maryam Sharif, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s daughter accused Imran of so obsessively ‘fixing’ political rivals that he has been oblivious to the challenges that have engulfed Pakistan. With Imran’s sole prop being the army, he is becoming increasingly dependent on it, with grim consequences for the country. The moment the army chooses to dump Imran, he would lose the fig leaf that he is clinging to.
In seeking to project a radical posture towards India, Imran has downgraded diplomatic ties with India, suspended bilateral trade and is reviewing bilateral arrangements like stopping the bus and train services with India besides threatening to stop Indian overflights across Pakistan. Both Imran and one of his ministers have threatened a nuclear war with India to which India has given sharp reactions. The test firing of a nuclear-capable surface-to-surface ballistic missile is a clear escalation too which India has taken note of. What all this would lead to is difficult to say but the portents are grim indeed. Some de-escalation is necessary in the interests of peace but Pakistani incursions into Indian territory are continuing. It is indeed time that better sense prevails between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. Pakistan must accept the reality of complete Indian sovereignty over Jammu and Kashmir and return to the negotiating table to re-build ties with India brick by brick. There is much that the two countries can gain by meaningful co-operation.
These are hard times for the world with recession engulfing it to varying degrees. While India is facing a slowdown, Pakistan is in dire straits with huge debts piling up and the economy in a shambles. Rather than fuelling a renewed arms race, Pakistan must concentrate all its energies in salvaging a shattered economy. By taking its case on Kashmir to the International Court of Justice and to other forums where its record of fuelling terror against India is well known, it must mend fences with India and forge a workable relationship which could then be built upon. A nuclear war would devastate and kill millions and would help the cause of neither. Threats of action against each other can only cause dangerous escalation. It is indeed incumbent on Pakistan to halt all training, arming and infiltrating of terrorists into India as a first step to de-escalation. It would be in the fitness of things if the two countries were to build up their economies and to forge a relationship of nurturing their relationships in the interests of peace and progress.