Between Imran Khan and India hangs the shadow of Pakistan Army
India once again finds itself staring at the reality of the Pakistan army, and how much authority it would give Imran’s government to deliver an outswinger or go for an out-of-the-box shot as far as bilateral ties are concerned.
With Imran Khan set to become the “captain” of the Pakistan government, the country’s politics will enter realms it has never explored in the last three decades.
However, India once again finds itself staring at the reality of the Pakistan army, and how much authority it would give Imran’s government to deliver an outswinger or go for an out-of-the-box shot as far as bilateral ties are concerned.
Imran is as much an untested entity for India as it is for the Pakistani electorate. After all, Pakistani politics has finally moved beyond the axis of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
For anybody analysing Imran the person and Imran the politician, what comes as the most striking is the change he has undergone.
The 1992 World Cup-winning captain who plunged into politics four years later as a rock-star liberal was an idealistic icon who wanted to be an iconoclast. Today, one sees that it is politics in general and his country’s version of the same that has changed Imran considerably over the last 22 years, instead of the other way round.
For one, the liberalism in Imran was greatly tempered in the years gone by. During this election campaign, the country found him speaking on issues such as blasphemy laws like the devout of any right-wing religious party. He displayed his flamboyance on occasion, but mostly indulged in conservative and shrewd politics by luring PML-N and PPP leaders into his fold.
India, incidentally, was not a big campaign issue in this election. All Imran did was parrot Pakistan’s standard line that the Kashmir issue should be resolved in keeping with United Nations Security Council resolutions.
But the biggest threat comes from the looming spectre of the Pakistani army over its politics. Historically, this is how big political changes have always taken place in the neighbouring country. Former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif had also enjoyed the army’s support for long, and that was necessary, given the prominent role it plays in the nation’s defence and foreign policies.
“How much authority the elected prime minister will have in taking India-related decisions is the big question,” says TCA Raghavan, India’s former envoy to Pakistan.
For the Indian government, ties with Pakistan are fraught with risk in an election year. It requires a lot of political capital that an elected government in India is averse to spending in its final days in office.
But the only truism that guides the India-Pakistan relationship is that nothing happens unless it has happened. The reality of Pakistan that its army is the arbiter of its ties with India will hold true for the new innings Imran pads for at 65. After all, as the prime minister of a nuclear power with 200 million people and the sixth-largest army in the world, he has quite a responsibility to shoulder.