Reham Khan on Pakistan politics, the leadership of Imran Khan and the prospects of peace in the neighbourhood

Aveek Sen and Prateek Joshi
Aveek Sen and Prateek JoshiDec 03, 2018 | 12:36

Reham Khan on Pakistan politics, the leadership of Imran Khan and the prospects of peace in the neighbourhood

Even as Pakistan has emerged with a sense of confidence after convincing the international community of the inevitability of accomodating the Taliban, a combination of domestic and external factors continue to embattle the Pakistani state. Issues like the Taliban, the growing presence of ISIS, and even the recent protests by the Pashtun community across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and erstwhile FATA, are all part of the Af-Pak quagmire, which increasingly intensified after the 9/11 episode.

Earlier this year, the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) emerged as a response by the younger generation of Pashtuns to the ill-treatment meted out to their community.

While the Zarb-e-Azb military operation can be said to have played a trigger role, their sufferings date back to 2002, when the Taliban and Al Qaeda, under attack from the US post-9/11, started crossing from Afghanistan into the Pakistani Pashtun belt.

More than blaming the Pakistan Army for its atrocities, the PTM has questioned the army's stance on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The army created the binary of 'good' and 'bad Taliban', in order to use selective criteria to go after these groups.

Contrary to what many Indian strategists have described, the PTM is a civil rights (not a separatist) movement with a strong moral element to it because it questioned the Pakistan Army's dealings with the 'good Taliban.'

Common Pashtun civilians got caught in the midst of the Pakistan Army's politics with the 'good' and 'bad Taliban' - and faced the brunt.

For instance, the Pakistan army's interactions with Nek Muhammad Wazir, Baitullah Mehsud and Sufi Mohammad are well-known. Even after securing initial peace deals with them, the army came under heavy attack from them.

The younger generation of Pashtuns picked up these issues because of the inability of the traditional Pashtun parties like ANP's (of Frontier Gandhi Bacha Khan) senior leadership to articulate the grievances of the Pashtuns.

The charge was taken up by Manzoor Pashteen, who articulated the sufferings of the Pashtuns and collected the names of all the missing persons (i.e., cases of forced disappearances.) He mobilised the people for the cause of human rights and when the Pakistani media completely ignored this movement, he used social media to highlight it.

With the PTM factor dominating the political discourse during the first half of 2018, the PML-N faced challenges on multiple fronts, not only on issues of corruption, but also the accusation of compromising on issues of core national interest, be it the economy, internal security, or even foreign policy.

As Nawaz was ousted, and jailed along with his daughter, Imran Khan's mesmerising speeches and PTI's excellent election campaign strategies convinced ordinary Pakistanis that the road to emancipation was only an election away.

As Imran Khan got elected Prime Minister, he promised to revolutionise governance (if not fix all the problems of Pakistan) within 100 days of taking charge.

However, challenges remain on all the fronts he blamed Nawaz Sharif of faltering on.

From the recent protests by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik party and THE mysterious kidnapping and murder of police officer Tahir Dawar to mounting challenges to the Pakistani economy, the PTI seems to have come to terms with its limitations as well as the "exogenous" elements that govern Pakistan.

The funding to the Haqqania madrassa - whose graduates went on to constitute the Taliban leadership - the PTI-led Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government's monetary support is a prominent example.

It is also worth noting that the dreaded Haqqani Network, known for planning sophisticated suicide bombings draws its name from its alma mater - the Haqqania madrassa.

It is in this context that Reham Khan discusses the political discontent in Pakistan that has emerged out of the unrealistically high hopes in some quarters due to the promises made by the PTI government.

Even though "Tabdeeli" and "Naya Pakistan" have become rallying points for the PTI, we saw same feudal dynasties and elites coming to power in the garb of what Khan termed as "electables".

The difference between the PTI and PML-N is that Nawaz was a well-rehearsed player as the PML-N had been in power thrice. Nawaz's focus on the economic situation and attempts to engage with India did pave the way for Pakistan emerging as a stable player in the Asian region.

There was considerable leeway to radical elements within Pakistani society, given the way the blasphemy issue and the ensuing protests by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik have been handled by the PTI. So much so that when interviewed on the state's lax response on Khadim Rizvi, Federal Minister for Religious Affairs and Inter-faith Harmony Noorul Haq Qadri told journalist Saleem Safi that it was best that the state did not interfere in matters which the judiciary was already looking into.

On the Pashtun issue, Reham Khan says there was some hope, though most weren't optimistic from the new dispensation, but there has been a realisation that there is not much the civilians can do as long as security issues remain under the military's control. Even in the advent of electoral malpractices, vigilant communities in Waziristan ensured the PTM-supported activists defeated the traditional parties, which points towards the simmering discontent among the Pashtun community. There is a silver lining in this struggle as the people in the tribal belt have finally began demanding their rights.

Regarding the Taliban factor, there was a looming fear of the Taliban being accommodated and regional powers have finally ensured space for the Taliban.

The Americans are definitely on board with dealing with the Taliban. Imran too made his pro-Taliban leanings quite apparent.

On the international fora, the dynamic seems to be complicated, even though the Pakistani establishment feels confident of getting the Taliban its share in running Kabul's affairs.

In reality, all the players involved have their own vested interests.

However, this cannot be termed as only Pakistan's victory as there is a quest towards an amicable agreement. The larger issue points towards the vested interests which look at Pakistan as a ripe field for proxy wars.


1) How do you compare the performance of the present government till now with respect to previous governments?


2) What are your views on the Pakistan establishment and official narrative on SP Dawar's killing?


3) The Afghan government has been criticised a lot in Pakistan over the handling of SP Dawar's killing? What are your views on it?


4) To what extent has the Pakistan government acted on its assurances made to the PTM leaders regarding their demands over treatment of Pashtuns in FATA?


5) The way the talks with the Taliban have fared.. There seems to be a consensus between the Pakistan, US and Russian intelligence agencies that the Taliban will be accommodated. Despite the American criticism, this could be a victory for the Pakistan military establishment. What are your views on it?


6) What do you think were the factors behind the removal of Afrasiab Khattak and Bushra Gohar from ANP?


7) Do you think Pakistan and India will have talks anytime soon?


Last updated: December 03, 2018 | 15:43
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