Why I am convinced Imran Khan's Pakistan stands for peace

Mehr Tarar
Mehr TararAug 26, 2018 | 14:37

Why I am convinced Imran Khan's Pakistan stands for peace

Khan has never been known to endorse an armed solution to address an issue that requires a diplomatic approach

On the eve of July 26, 2018, Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, in his first televised speech after what by that time could be seen as a clear electoral victory, thanked the nation for their vote, and presented a general guideline about his future government. At the end of his speech, while mentioning foreign policy, and improvement of relations with all neighbouring countries, one of the most noticeable statements Khan made was about ties with India. “If Hindustan takes one step, Pakistan will take two,” he said.


The most prominent guest in Khan’s prime ministerial swearing-in ceremony in Islamabad on August 18, 2018, for reasons beyond the vibrant hue of his turban, was Khan’s old cricket associate and friend from India, Navjot Singh Sidhu. Like all Indians in Pakistan, Sidhu would have received warmth, and returned home with stories of the famed Pakistani hospitality that all visiting Indians take back as the most memorable memento of their time in Pakistan. Sidhu, in addition to all that, had a very friendly interaction and a warm hug exchange with Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Bajwa.

Pakistan and India cannot be enemies while there is much that unites the two. ( File photo: Reuters)

The few-minute interaction about cricket, peace, opening of a religious corridor, and “doing better things” may have elicited myriad emotions — ranging from naked hatred, unmitigated hostility, hyper nationalism to amusement, optimism and graciousness on both sides of the border–has a huge symbolic significance to a glass-half-full optimist like me with a keen interest in the workings of Pakistan-India relationship.

As is the norm, everything untoward that happens between Pakistan and India, the blame from India is invariably placed on the military establishment of Pakistan, and all overtures of civilian leaders are pooh-pooh-ed as nothing more than cosmetic gestures insufficient to diffuse the thick air of mistrust that denotes Pakistan-India relationship at any given time. To me, the hug of Pakistan’s COAS Bajwa and Indian cricketer-turned politician Sidhu during the swearing-in of the hugely popular, recently elected prime minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, a much-viewed ceremony in Pakistan, India and across the globe, set the groundwork for a new chapter in Pakistan-India book of conflict, wars, cross-border firing at the LoC, and accusations of terrorism (in Kashmir and Balochistan).


In the backdrop of belligerent machismo of General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf, the civilised dialogue General Bajwa had with Sidhu spells the following to me: Pakistan’s elected civilian prime minister is receptive to having a better relationship with India. Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff wishes to have better ties with India. And people of Pakistan have shown nothing but positivity toward this overture of peace.

Interestingly, Prime Minister Khan tweeted a condemnation of the negative political and media reaction in India to Sidhu’s “anti-national” hug as an impediment to a realistic prospect of peace. And while many people labelled it as an unnecessary comment on the internal phenomenon of a neighbouring country, Khan’s tweets have a very significant symbolism vis-à-vis diplomatic steps that his government may take to change the status quo of what is at best a barely civil, and at worst, an openly acrimonious relationship.


The next thing that I noticed that other than being commendable and neighbourly was something I had never seen a Pakistani prime minister do before: Khan’s tweet in commiseration of destruction in Kerala, and an offer “to provide any humanitarian assistance that may be needed.”

Pakistan and India share a border, and geographical proximity of two countries that were one less than a century ago. Pakistan and India cannot be enemies while there is much that unites the two. Prime Minister Khan may just be the person to pursue a new policy regarding India, which may stand the test of time, and opposition from traditional naysayers on both sides. One of Khan’s most consistent narratives has been his stance of being anti-war, anti-aggression, pro-dialogue and pro-peace within and outside Pakistan. His support for the stance of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government not to be part of the Saudi alliance against Yemen is recent and documented.

Khan’s anti-drone stance earned him the unsavoury epithet of Taliban Khan ( A 2013 photo of a protest rally to stop NATO supply routes : Reuters)

Khan’s anti-drone stance and insistence on opening a dialogue with Taliban in Afghanistan earned him the unsavoury epithet of Taliban Khan, but Khan, to date, has not given up on the need to have a dialogue instead of bombing and droning a huge number of people who despite having a militant ideology and regressive ideals can still be influenced. Today, the US acknowledges dialogue with Taliban to be the most viable option to end the war in Afghanistan.

Throughout his public life, Khan has never been known to endorse an armed solution to address an issue that requires a diplomatic approach, and a long-term strategy to tackle all issues that stemmed from the original dispute. Deeply concerned and empathetic of the suffering of Kashmiris and internationally lamented human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir, when Khan talks about addressing and resolving the Kashmir issue, the principal issue of contention between Pakistan and India, it must never be forgotten that the solution proposed by his government would not involve any kind of armed aggression or endorsement of proxy warfare. Evident in his words and actions is his wish to see Pakistan and India as peaceful neighbours who can have a bilateral relationship with an emphasis on finding solutions for issues that affect millions of people on both sides of the barbed, bloodied border.

People-to-people interaction, travel for religious purposes, and bilateral cultural and sports activities are not mere superficial measures that are mocked and discarded whenever things get bad between Pakistan and India, but are real, tangible steps to familiarise people of the two countries with one another. What Khan’s government in collaboration with government in India can do is make it all official, sustained and sustainable.

The most important aspect of a future relationship can be an increase in bilateral trade: money talks and bullshit walks. Strengthening of trade between Pakistan and India would introduce the idea of real monetary stakes on both sides. That, in time, could be substantiated by long-term building of a relationship that is mutually beneficial, and is immune to short-term hiccups.

No prime minister is better suited to do the impossible than Prime Minister Imran Khan (Photo: Twitter)

Terrorism, alleged or proven, the issue that India demands must be the first topic of discussion in any Pakistan-India composite dialogue would become an act of a fringe section that still seeks hegemony in Kashmir through chaos and bloodshed. And Pakistan’s demand that India stops its alleged or proven terrorist activities in Balochistan would be tackled with a dialogue, not bombast and threats. Khan is one of those few elected leaders in Pakistan who is vociferously expressive of the price Pakistan has paid in myriad ways being part of the US war on terror; loss of civilian lives as a consequence of operations of Pakistan army against militants in the area previously known as FATA, and US drone attacks within and on Pakistan’s borders; and because of the existence and functioning of militant groups within Pakistan that have wreaked havoc within and outside Pakistan.

While being focused on setting Pakistan on a course of progress and prosperity, and being focused on governmental, institutional, and economic well-being of Pakistan on the micro and macro level, Prime Minister Khan is one leader who is fully aware that the third P is an absolute necessity for a Pakistan that is stable internally, and has a solid standing in the neighbourhood and globally: peace.

Peace within Afghanistan and peace with India will bring peace within Pakistan, and as someone who has been observing his political and ideological stances for years, I am certain that no prime minister is better suited to do the impossible than Prime Minister Imran Khan. There will be peace.

Last updated: August 28, 2018 | 18:32
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