The real reason why Imran Khan made an offer for dialogue and then called Modi a 'small man'

Doesn't he need to address his own constituency back home?

 |  7-minute read |   27-09-2018
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Okay.

It's normal again.

India and Pakistan. "I am good, you are bad." "We will avenge deaths of our soldiers in Kashmir." "You are a terrorist state." "We will wipe you out." "Hey hey hey! Don't mess with us… we aren't scared… we have our nukes… Beware!"

pak-690_092618030625.jpgHostilities between India and Pakistan show no sign of abetting.  (Source: Reuters)

Ready for a war?

"Oh yes! At all times." (in chorus)

***

Well, you would be living under a rock, fooling yourself (perhaps drugging yourself as well) if you thought sanity is a term that can be used in the context of Indo-Pak relations.

Grow up.

Sanity is not normal, nor is a civilised dialogue. It was never allowed to be. What is normal in Indo-Pak relations is barbarism, hate, poison, warmongering, one-upmanship, choicest of expletives, terrorism, and threats to wipe out each other from the face of earth.

Anything else (especially talks of talks, talks of peace and talks of solutions) is a divergence. A momentary relapse after a heavy hangover. At best, a shower from a cloud passing over a parched land. Nothing more.

You disagree?

Good.

Here is a short timeline for your kind perusal.

September 14

Pakistan's newly elected Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan writes to PM Narendra Modi. He proposes foreign minister-level talks in New York and calls for a dialogue on other contested issues between India and Pakistan. Khan reportedly says terrorism will be discussed separately.

imran-khan-690_092618030522.jpgImran Khan's offer to hold talks with India was a rather calculated move. (Source: Reuters)

September 20

India says: Yes, we can. Yes, we will. Foreign ministers will meet in New York in September end on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session.

(Hopes rise high. Great! Peace talks… great!)

September 21

India says: Oops, sorry! No talks. You are a barbaric country. Your true face stands exposed. (This, less than 24 hours after accepting the proposal. That was quick.)

September 21

"It's time to give it back to Pakistan. No talks [if] terror [continues]," says Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat.

bipin-rawat-690_092618031402.jpgIndian Army chief General Bipin Rawat has talked tough on Pakistan-sponsored terror. (Source: PTI)

September 22

Imran Khan expresses his disappointment at India's "arrogant and negative" response to his call for resumption of peace dialogue. Makes an indirect dig at Modi, says he [Imran] has seen "small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture".

September 23

"Pakistan has decided to bleed India with a thousand cuts. It wants violence in Kashmir," says General Rawat. 

September 23

Pakistan Army spokesperson responds saying the country is ready for a war. "We have nuclear weapons and aren't scared of India."

Agree with me now?

Hang on.

Were you too among those who had high hopes that the newly elected Imran Khan government would be different from the ones from bygone years?

One minute of silence for you.

And two minutes of silence if you were among those who thought the Modi government was serious about improving Indo-Pak relations.

Three minutes for yours truly, because he is guilty of being under the spell of both fallacies.

***

The discourse on Indo-Pak relations has always been and continues to be an important electioneering tool in India. Ahead of a crucial election, no political party can afford to ignore people's sentiments on matters related to Pakistan.

Whether the sentiments are natural, or triggered by meticulously planned strategy, is not anybody's concern. What concerns political parties is that aggressive iron-hand narratives about Pakistan can fetch easy votes.

Votes that would be hard to win by selling dreams of development and demonstrating work done to end poverty and unemployment, among others.

If this is true (of course, it is), then you would have lost your mind to dare think that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be an exception and abandon this guaranteed vote puller in an election year. How naïve of you to venture into the forbidden territory of sanity.

***

Other things aside, timing is the most (and perhaps the only) important and interesting aspect that makes the recent developments worth any analysis. The statements are mundane and cacophonous.

Was Imran Khan's proposal for peace talks genuine? Was its timing strategically chosen? Was Modi genuinely averse to going ahead with the foreign ministers' meet? Was the timing of the overnight decision to take a U-turn strategically chosen? 

What was the message(s)? Who were the respective target audiences? How much of the message(s) has been conveyed? What remains to be conveyed?

***

The proposal for talks from Imran Khan came less than a month after he became Pakistan's PM. In his first speech after his victory, he had made a similar pitch.

The proposal also comes at a time when Pakistan's economy is crumbling, and the US has stated clearly that it is in no mood to approve any bailout by the International Monetary Fund, and in August cancelled military aid worth $300 million.

Pakistan's PM and foreign minister have gone on record to say that the country is almost bankrupt. As a promising leader, who demonstrates traits of Western exposure as well as shades that find approval in Pakistan's conservative sections, Imran Khan, after assuming office, had to project a statesman's image to different audiences - in the West, in Pakistan, in India and elsewhere. An image that says: Look, here is a 'modern' leader who intends to do good and have peace; a leader who can rise above the mundane and see beyond the foggy horizon. 

The proposal for talks provided him the perfect opportunity to do this.

In 2014, after becoming India's PM, Modi did the same.

On May 27, 2014, on his first day in office as India's PM, Narendra Modi met the then Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif in New Delhi for talks. Modi had invited him and other SAARC leaders for his swearing-in ceremony.

nawaz-sharif-690_092618031017.jpgTo start with, Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif appeared to be sharing great bonhomie. (Source: India Today)

Sharif described the meeting as "good and constructive" and something that can be built upon. India's former foreign secretary Sujatha Singh said Modi has accepted an invitation to travel to Pakistan, but the date is yet to be decided.

A year-and-a-half later, in December 2015, Modi visited Sharif in Pakistan on his birthday, greeted and hugged him — projecting an image, of course, along with some message delivery.

Like Imran Khan in 2018, Modi could do this in 2014 and 2015. He had just won a historic mandate. He needed to show to the world that he too is a statesman — exotic stuff like peace, talks, shared future et al. 

In 2018, he can't do the same. He won't do it even if he wants to.

Reason?

Five Assembly elections, followed by the 2019 Lok Sabha election, are banging at his door.

modi-690_092618031750.jpgNarendra Modi has his eyes firmly set on 2019 general elections. (Source: PTI)

***

The decision to cancel the foreign ministers' meet, especially after announcing it in the first place, was clearly an afterthought. It was a decision taken with the upcoming elections in mind.

Since the terror attack on the Pathankot airbase, the Modi government (and the BJP) has maintained that talks with Pakistan can be held only if Islamabad takes concrete actions against terrorists based in Pakistan and acting against India.

Had Modi gone ahead with the foreign ministers' meet in New York, the BJP would have found itself in a tight spot for compromising on its stand. Not only would the Opposition use it to score political points, its own ally — the Shiv Sena — would have attacked it, as it has done on multiple occasions in the past four years. 

khan-690_092618032746.jpgBoth Imran Khan and Narendra Modi are following the same script. (Source: Twitter)

Modi realises that September 2018 is not a politically auspicious month for him to again prove his statesmanship. He knows that this projection can wait for another 10 months because the task at hand for him is to ensure that he continues to be India's PM after May 2019.

Does Imran Khan not know about this? He is smart, he surely does. Why did he then send the proposal when he knew that Modi is headed for key elections?

Don't be naïve.

Doesn't he need to address his own constituency back home?

This explains the entire political tamasha that we saw last week. The proposal, its acceptance, its overnight rejection, call for action against Pakistan, and a counter threat of nukes.

In the end, Imran Khan scored his points, Modi his. Both gained arguments to support their decisions. Both are victors in their own right for their own audiences. Who cares about anything else?

Was the end result known already? Yes. Maybe no. Take your pick.

The two PMs are dancing on the same song, exhibiting similar moves.

Also read: Why talking to Pakistan is futile

Writer

Mukesh Rawat Mukesh Rawat @mukeshrawat705

A nomadic vagabond by passion, the author is trying to understand things and people that are here, there and in-between. He works with IndiaToday.in.

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