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Imran Khan and India: Will he flatter to deceive?
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Tarun Basu | Date:01 Aug , 2018 0 Comments
Tarun Basu
is President, Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at

There are two ways to assess the results of Pakistan’s hotly contested elections, whose ramifications lay far beyond the country’s border – whether to see the glass half-full or half-empty.  If it’s the half-full outlook, there are a few takeaways from this election that has seen former World Cup-winning cricket captain Imran Khan as the putative next Prime Minister of Pakistan on the back of a broad spectrum of support – from the Islamists to the young, from the middle class to the powerful armed forces, the latter reportedly giving him their tacit backing and strategic blessing.

His acceptance speech was fairly responsible, offering dialogue to India in the interest of the economic well-being of the people of both nations, but pointedly bringing India low down on his foreign policy priorities – much after he spoke about building stronger ties with China, Afghanistan, US, Iran,  Saudi Arabia, Middle East countries, in that order.  Imran, possibly, wanted to show that, unlike his seasoned predecessors, he was not going to be obsessed with India, though he was not going to give up the fight on Kashmir that will remain a core ideological issue for him. But he would like to resolve the issue through negotiations, not through ‘jang” (war) or “use of army” (alluding to Kashmir) which was not going to solve anything.

Although many a populist leader has moderated his stance and rhetoric, as they graduated from the campaign trail to the seat of power, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, what is notable in Imran’s case is that his language was largely conciliatory and reasonable and showed none of the fire-and-fury that may also have got him a significant amount of Islamist support, at least the more moderate among them. But what has to be noted is that the elections have meant the virtual rout of the jihadists – led by Hafiz Saeed and his proxy band of extremists in political fig-leaf – and like previous elections they were not able to get even 2% of the total vote in the election despite all the anti-India noise they made and the notice they get ergo in the Indian media.

Imran’s rise is important for two reasons – one, he can count on the powerful Pakistan Army’a support if he doesnt go completely off track in his foreign and security policies; two, he doesnt carry any of the baggage of his civilian predecessors, either the Sharifs or the Bhuttos. Hence he can start on a clean slate on many issues and may even get some wiggle room in seeking rapprochement with India, provided he does not cross the army’s red lines on foreign and security policies. But what is important to understand from New Delhi’s perspective is that he may not be in that much of a hurry to talk to India, given the domestic challenges that he is confronted with, least of  all the economy;  his promise to give jobs to the youth; and his commitment to improve the country’s crumbling human development systems.

No Pakistani politician can survive without commitment to Kashmir, which successive generations have been led to believe is integral to their country’s self-belief and nationalist impulses, and Imran has done so too. Also, having once been seen as sympathetic to the politico-religious camp, how he can contain their hostility towards India remains to be seen.  But, as a cricketer, he is known to have always had his eye on the ball and can change his stances to suit his political objectives.

So will Pakistan under an Imran Khan-led dispensation be any different? Its unlikely, given, as many sceptical observers of Pakistan aver, the Deep State’s “visceral hatred” of India, though, from time to time, driven by geopolitical and domestic compulsions, it might seek accommodation from India on some issues. Imran – who has a lot of fan following and friends in India since his cricketing days –    has expressed wish to move forward on trade, perhaps at Chinese prodding, but given the asymmetry in the two economies and the ingrained fear among a section of Pakistanis that opening up trade could result in Indian goods overwhelming their market,  this could also remain a non-starter like so many other issues in the past. And with 2019 elections looming large in India, political risk-taking – unless something dramatic and unexpected happens – may not be a likely policy option in New Delhi.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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