The good news from Pakistan is that the party of Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008, hasn’t been able to win any seats in the recent elections. Both his son and son-in-law have lost.
The fear, therefore, that the army’s ploy of “mainstreaming” the terror outfits nurtured by it and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) by enabling their entry into the national and provincial legislatures has proved unfounded.
The outcome is not surprising, for the Pakistani voters have always been averse to the role of the maulvis and maulanas, viz. the bearded bigots, in politics. This is why the Jamaat-e-Islami, which is the original fountainhead of Islamic fundamentalism, has never been able to get more than two per cent of the votes. Hafiz Saeed’s humiliation, therefore, was always on the cards.
For the army, however, this may be the first indication that the script which it is said to have written for Pakistan may not be followed in toto. It included the sidelining of the supposedly pro-Indian former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, which the army has achieved with a little help from the judiciary because of the fortuitous unveiling of the Panama papers revealing the malfeasance of the Sharif family.
The second act of this drama was the installing of a puppet Prime Minister. But this is where the bad news begins for, although Imran Khan, the army’s favourite, has made it to the Prime Minister’s office, there is no certainty about his adherence to the script.
For one thing, the inability of his party, the Tehreek-e-Insaf to secure a majority means that the new government will have to depend on the Independents for support.
But, as is known, a post-facto coalition of this nature is rarely known to provide stable governance. If the coalition flounders, which it may well do given the country’s myriad problems ~ looming bankruptcy, energy shortfall and the most contentious of all, terrorism ~ then Imran Khan will be hard put to complete his term.
For another, it is not unknown that a puppet does not always respond to the tug on the controlling strings. Once a person ascends to the throne, he or she tends to develop a mind of their own. The army cannot be certain, therefore, that Imran will do whatever it says. The possibility of “disobedience” is all the greater given Imran’s flamboyant personality.
A former famous pace bowler and captain of Pakistan under whom his team won the cricket World Cup in 1992, and an international playboy known for his several affairs and marriages, Imran is not exactly a pushover.
The army may not find it easy, therefore, to manipulate him even if his earlier hardline statements, including a preference for imposing strict shariat laws, gave the impression that he was the kind of an Islamist ~ persuading his critics to call him Taliban Khan ~ which the military was looking for.
However, if his first telecast is a guide, he is not out-and-out a hawk and is a more complex character. Perhaps it was a ruse. After all, he could not be expected to call for a jehad against all infidels straightaway. Even then, both his friends and foes ~ as well as those who want to use him for their own purpose ~ are bound to keep their fingers crossed. They will now expect him to walk the talk.
Foremost among the anxious, expectant groups will be India followed by Afghanistan, the two countries which have been affected the most by terror strikes sponsored by the ISI.
Now Imran wants peace to return to Afghanistan so that Pakistan and Afghanistan can have an open border. But will he be able to rein in the Pakistani Taliban and the Haqqani group? And will the ISI let him do it if he wants to?
The same questions pertain to India. Although, mercifully, there hasn’t been a major terror strike on India in recent months, there has nevertheless been continuous infiltration of the jehadis into Kashmir from Pakistan to add fuel to the state’s incendiary situation.
As India has said, talks and terror cannot go together. If Imran favours a resumption of dialogue, as he has said, along with the resumption of trade, his first job will be to ensure that the ISI doesn’t send in any more militants into Kashmir.
Imran also has to assure India that the anti-India “good” terrorists such as Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and others will be defanged. It is only on the basis of such positive initiatives that a dialogue can take place even on the alleged human rights violations in Kashmir to which he referred.
The need obviously is to bridge the huge trust deficit which now divides the two countries. And that cannot happen unless there is not only a perceptible decline in terrorism, but a clear sign that the terror training camps are being disbanded.
But that is a huge ask considering that the Pakistan army and the ISI regard the jehadis as their strategic assets whose value may have increased in their eyes ever since Pakistan lost the “strategic depth” which a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan once provided in the event of a war with India.
Imran’s first dialogue, therefore, has to be not with India but with the Pakistan army to convince it that he must be allowed to run his own foreign policy.
The writer is a former Assistant Editor, The Statesman.