Pakistan: Is the leopard changing its spots?
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 30 Jul , 2018

The July 25 elections in Pakistan has led to a change in the government with Mr. Imran Khan, a playboy cricketer, emerging victorious with more than little help from the ‘deep state’. Mr. Khan has claimed that he wishes to usher in a ‘Naya Pakistan’.

Lazy Indian analysts have been quick to label Imran Khan’s victory as triumph of the Pakistani army. There is no doubt that with the help of judiciary, the Pakistani deep state had made sure that Nawaz Sharif’s party starts with a handicap. But if seen the in the Pakistani context, Imran Khan’s victory is less than complete. In the all-important province of Punjab, Nawaz Sharif’s party has still emerged as the largest single party. This goes to show that the army’s control over Pakistan is slipping and that Nawaz’s party reaped the benefit of massive infrastructure development undertaken by Shabaz Sharif (the former CM of Punjab) has paid good dividends.

Even on earlier occasion, Benazir Bhutto had managed to get a mandate despite Army’s dislike. That she was circumscribed in her role does not negate the fact that her Peoples Party had won elections. It is indeed a sign that the green shoots of genuine democracy have begun to emerge in Pakistan. A deeper analysis goes to show that Pakistani reality is not all black and white, but shades of grey!

When one takes a position of the army’s domination in Pakistan, one must not forget the role played by a peculiar mix of religious and ethnic ideological cocktail that has come to infect Pakistani society. While Pakistan was created on the premise of Muslims as a separate nation, post 1947, Pakistan has added a factor of unique ethnicity to its nationhood. Let me share an anecdote with the readers. It was in December 1997 that I got an invite to a one day seminar in Delhi, sponsored by the Asia Foundation based in the US.

The unusual happened as our small Pune based group (Inpad) led by late Lt. General Eric Vas, had been carrying out a campaign in favour of overt nuclearisation by India. The theme was nuclearisation of the subcontinent. Many eminent scientists from India and Pakistan were present as well as the whole gamut of ‘Uncle Toms’ from the Delhi’s seminar circuit. This was the period when the American establishment was in an overdrive to convince India to stop going for nuclear weapons. Just a few months before this event in Delhi, Ms Madeline Albright, the American Secretary of State had anointed China to take to care of the Indian subcontinent.

As we were being introduced to each other over a cup of coffee, a Pakistani scientist Mr. Butt asked me if I was from the ‘Frontier Province’. Taken aback, I had responded that no I was an Indian and from Maharshatra. It was one of those moments that laid bare the racist basis of Pakistani nationalism- a person with fair complexion ‘must’ be a Pakistani!

The reason to remind this episode is that the newly elected Prime Minister in waiting of Pakistan, Imran Kahn, has expressed his racist attitude many a times in the past. Be it the fate of Indian women at the hands of ‘Gazi’ Pakistanis or general air of superiority vis a vis the dark, short and fat Indian Bania. The stereotype of average Indian in the Pakistani mind has become almost a part of that nation’s DNA.

When Indian analysts put the entire blame for Pakistani hostility on their army, we tend to forget that the civil society there has constructed a unique Pakistani identity that sees the country as populated by descendants of Arabs, Turks, Afghans and Iranians.

Over the last 70 odd years, Pakistan has consciously cut itself off from its own historical roots. Pakistanis do not realize that if this was the reality then it is they who are in occupation of ‘Hindustan’! The constant description of J&K as Indian occupied Kashmir is contradiction in terms since Pakistan itself is a part of India that has been occupied by foreign invaders, as per Pakistan’s own self-image.

Given all these factors where does one sees the evidence of a Leopard changing its spots? There are many such signs. Despite the heavy hand of the army, in Sindh, the People’s Party has won a clear mandate. Amongst the present political set ups in Pakistan, People’s Party comes closest to accepting its South Asian roots. One of the factors that led to the breach between the Pak Army and Nawaz Shairf’s party was that he was seen to be keen on peace with India. The election results on 25 July 2018 shows that both the Sindhi regional nationalism and Punjab’s desire for peace with India continues to enjoy sizable public support. This is a far cry from the referendum held by Zia UlHaq on 19 December 1984, when he won 98% vote!

But more than anything else it is uncertainty over the American policy that seems to have driven the Pakistani army to moderate its stance. Pakistan finds itself in dire economic straits. With foreign exchange reserves sufficient only for a 15 days imports. Unpredictable Mr. Trump may well turn his gaze in the direction of Pakistan after dealing with Iran. As per old saying Pakistan was run by three ‘A’s. Allah, America and the Army, in that order. The second A has now been recently replaced by C for China. But Chinese through their several pronouncements have shown that they are not going to be giving a blank cheque to Pakistan.

It seems the combination of internal factors, economic weakness and changes in international environment are forcing Pakistani Leopard to change its spots. One should not be surprised if Imran Khan apes PM Modi and invites SAARC leaders to his sweating in.

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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.

About the Author

Col Anil Athale

former Joint Director War History Division, Min of Defence. Currently co-ordinator of Pune based think tank 'Inpad' that is affiliated with Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan.  Also military historian and Kashmir watcher for last 28 years. He has authored a book ‘Let the Jhelum Smile Again’ and ‘Nuclear Menace the Satyagraha Approach’ published in 1996.

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4 thoughts on “Pakistan: Is the leopard changing its spots?

  1. Sir, I agree with your observation of the Pakistani’s racist attitude. However, I don’t agree that leopards can change spots. This happens every time a new guy comes. There is bonhomie and then attack on Indian soil. Please don’t be fooled by them. They are good at subterfuge.

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