Lethal in-swinger, deadly outlier - The evolution of Imran 'Taliban' Khan

If the cricketer-turned-politician wins the the blood-soaked Pakistani general election, India will have to raise, not lower, its guard.

 |  7-minute read |   24-07-2018
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If Imran Khan wins the blood-soaked Pakistani general election on Wednesday, July 25, India can expect more, not less, state-sponsored terrorism from Pakistan.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader goes by many names: Taliban Khan and Mullah Khan are the more polite ones. At Oxford University, he was known as “Im the dim”. But his talent as a cricketer emerged early.

I first saw Imran bowling in a Test match against England on TV in the common room of West Buckland School in Devonshire where I was a student. Imran was making his Test debut in the three-Test series against England in 1971. He was 18. But even then he looked every bit the star in the making. A slightly loping run-up, but a smooth bowling action, allowed him to move the ball both ways. Later, he developed a lethal late inswinger.

As we toured the English countryside playing various other schools in cricket matches and an annual game against an MCC youth team, we tried to copy the Imran style: long, flapping hair, whiplash bowling action and piercing gaze. Did we think this 18-year-old would go on to become one of the world’s greatest fast bowlers, a handy all-rounder and Pakistani Test captain? Perhaps.

Did we in our wildest imagination think he would one day be prime minister of Pakistan? Absolutely not.

imdim_072318071922.jpgAt Oxford University, he was known as "Im the dim".

Enough has been written about Imran’s life after a stellar 21-year Test career – as activist, philanthropist and politician. What should concern India now is the real prospect of Imran becoming Pakistan’s next prime minister following the July 25 general election. In effect, that would mean installing the rogue Pakistani army in the prime minister’s office. The army already controls the prime ministership. With Imran, it will control the prime minister. 

Vikram Sood, the former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) recently published a fine book, The Unending Game: A Former R&AW Chief’s Insight into Espionage, in which he analyses the role of the ISI in making Pakistan a haven for terrorism. In an article in The Economic Times on July 21, Sood elaborated on the dangers an Imran Khan prime ministership poses to both India and to Pakistan itself.

Sood wrote: “Imran Khan is the frontman, and he is backed by radical Islamist leaders like Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil of the Harkat-ul-Jihad (banned by the UN). Other (backers) are from the ultra-right wing Milli Muslim League (backed by Lashkar-e-Taiba), Ahle Sunnah Wal-Jamaat, formerly known as the radical sectarian Sipah-e-Sahaba, and the Barelvi Sunni Islamist group, Tehreek Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah. They are all expected to bat for the PTI by drawing away voters from the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). Not for nothing is Imran Khan also referred to as Taliban Khan.”

In an unprecedented move, condemned by most political parties, the Pakistan Election Commission has given the Pakistani army the judicial powers of a magistrate to “hold on-the-spot trials of people breaking the law and sentencing them”. The only political party to support the controversial move? Imran Khan’s PTI.

No Pakistani prime minister has been allowed by the army to complete his or her term. Imran will be no different if the PTI wins the general election. Though he is the army’s candidate (he is already widely dubbed the PM-elect), Imran will eventually outlive his usefulness to the Pakistani army and be discarded or put to pasture. The army does this with all the stooges it picks. Dawood Ibrahim today is a virtual prisoner of the ISI, allowed to continue his various illegal businesses, including match-fixing, smuggling and hawala, but is no longer useful in the ISI’s terrorism strategy targeting India.

The Kashmir question

The Pakistani general election comes at a crucial time for Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). It is now just over a month since the Mehbooba Mufti government fell and governor’s rule was imposed. During the ill-advised PDP-BJP alliance government the Indian army fought Pakistan-sponsored terrorism with one hand tied behind its back. It has now been freed of such political interference.

In the five weeks since governor’s rule came into effect, terror attacks have reduced significantly. Between April 17 and May 16, 2018, 25 terror incidents were recorded, according to the ministry of home affairs (MHA). Between May 17 and June 16 (during the Ramzan “ceasefire” period), 66 terror incidents were recorded – a rise of over 100 per cent.

imran_072318070929.jpgNo Pakistani PM has been allowed by the army to complete his or her term. Imran will be no different if the PTI wins the general election.

Since governor’s rule was imposed on June 20, the number of both terror incidents and stone pelting have declined sharply. As The Statesman wrote on July 21: “Stone pelting at the security forces in Kashmir has to a great extent vanished as Jammu and Kashmir on Friday completed one month of Governor’s rule. Incidents of stone pelting at security forces and waving of Pakistani and ISIS flags had become a daily routine in the Valley during the three years rule of the PDP-BJP government. Stray incidents of stone pelting are now being witnessed at the sites of encounters between the security forces and terrorists where miscreants among residents of neighbouring villages emerge to make attempts for escape of the terrorists.”

Ceasefire violations too have decreased over the past few weeks. They had peaked in May 2018 but after Pakistani Rangers hoisted the white flag and the Pakistani DGMO sought a meeting with the Indian DGMO, Pakistani mortars have fallen largely silent. The abduction and murder of J&K police constable Mohd. Sameer Ahmed Shah last week in Kulgam suggests that terrorists, thwarted by tougher counter-terror operations, are increasingly relying on attacking vulnerable targets like policemen on leave at home.

Those who say a “muscular” strategy alone will not work in J&K deliberately distort India’s current strategy: tough counter-terrorism alongside a strong development agenda. The new power plants in Kishanganga, the Jammu-Srinagar tunnel-cum-highway and other civil projects will deliver prosperity and jobs to Kashmiris when the Valley is no longer held hostage to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism.

The fall of the Mehbooba-led government has also led to a revival of long-delayed cases against separatist leaders by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). If the sources of funding for these conduits of terrorism are choked, violence in the Valley will decline.

The prospect, meanwhile, of a re-alignment of political forces in J&K led by Sajjad Lone and breakaway PDP members backed by the BJP could spell an end to the toxic dynastic duopoly of the Abdullahs and Muftis. Cynics say Lone, who was himself once a separatist and lost his father to terrorism, will be no better than the separatist-leaners he might replace. This is moot.

The three issues that should concern Indian policy-makers now are accelerating funding for development projects in both the Valley and Jammu, rehabilitating exiled Pandits, many of whom live in abysmal conditions in camps in Delhi and Jammu, and continuing an unyielding strategy against Pakistan-abetted terrorism.

If Imran Khan does win what is certain to be an army-rigged general election on Wednesday, India will have to raise, not lower, its guard.

He may have been “Im the dim” at Oxford, but Taliban Khan will owe a debt to the Pakistani army if he becomes prime minister.

Also read: Why Coke Studio Pakistan's 'Hum Dekhenge', and not its general elections, should define Pakistan politics for India

 

Writer

Minhaz Merchant Minhaz Merchant @minhazmerchant

Biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla. Ex-TOI & India Today. Media group chairman and editor. Author: The New Clash of Civilizations

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