From Kartarpur to Pulwama

February 22,2019

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Pakistan’s new leadership under Prime Minister Imran Khan has taken some bold initiatives for the way forward with India without getting any positive response from across the border. Opening of Kartarpur Border was one of them, dialogue is another.

What India needs to understand is that ‘talk, not war is the option’ between the two nuclear states. Pakistan is ready for meaningful dialogue on ‘terrorism’ to begin with.

However, before the Indian election as incidents like Pulwama suits extremist mindset and to BJP’s anti-Pakistan narrative, which also reflected from its post Pulwama election campaign as it became their focal point.

Imran Khan more than once offered India meaningful dialogue on all outstanding issues and advised it to come out of the past. So there are reasons to believe that Pakistan was not involved in the attack.

“It’s new Pakistan. We will neither allow our soil to be used for terrorism nor allow any terrorist attack in our country,” he said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan last year surprised many Indians, not only with his back-to-back offer for dialogue with India. In his oath-taking, he had invited India’s cricket legends like Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and Navjot Sidhu and then offering the opening of ‘Kartarpur Border’. Even the present Indian team sent special bat to IK, as a goodwill gesture. So he made a good beginning for his tenure with a clear policy of dialogue both in case of India and Afghanistan.

For the first time, the ‘civil-military’ leadership also looked on one page and ‘Kartarpur offer’ first came from the army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Imran is always a popular figure in India and these moves made him even more popular. Even Sidhu shared these views as he attended his oath-taking while the other two did not reject the invitation but cited pre-occupation as reason for not attending the ceremony.

Imran’s back-to-back gesture brought lot of goodwill in India and some of the leading Indian journalists also advised their government to renew dialogue with the new Pakistani leadership. PM Imran Khan in his very first speech even cited poverty as common reason why Pakistan-India must talk. He then wrote a letter to his counterpart Narendra Modi, and repeated his pledge.

The response from the other was not positive but even then the cricketer-turned-politician of Pakistan was not disappointed and kept his cool, saying ‘Indian elections could be one of the reasons as why the BJP government was avoiding talks. While Sidhu faced criticism in Indian media but he defended both Imran and Gen Bajwa in a bold manner which led to the debate in India and even divided opinion within ruling BJP as well.

Later, when a ceremony was held at Kartarpur, Pakistan invited Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj. However, she did not attend the ceremony and instead sent a junior minister but she welcomed the initiative.

All these measures also helped in building a positive image of Pakistan and Prime Minister Imran Khan not only in India but even at the international level.

So when Pulwama incident occurred which killed 44 Indian soldiers in a suicide attack, first of its kind in Held Kashmir, Pakistan’s Foreign Office not only condemned the incident but also offered cooperation in the investigation.

In his six-minute policy ‘video’ statement aired Tuesday, Pakistani premier went ahead and offered India talk on ‘terrorism’, rejected allegation of Pakistan’s involvement, advised New Delhi to introspect, asked them to seriously review its Kashmir policy and in the end said in clear terms that in case of any military adventure, Pakistan will not even think to retaliate, but will retaliate. India’s response was disappointing as it asked Pakistan for ‘credible and visible’ action but did not share any evidence. Now what else Pakistan could have done other than IK had said in just six-minute message.

The Indian media which is playing a key role in building the ‘war hysteria’ in India and hate against Pakistan, picked only the last option of Pakistani premier and termed it ‘warning and insult’.

It is important that many of Imran’s critics thought his approach towards India would be more hostile as in the past he had been branded ‘Taliban Khan’. But he proved his critics wrong through his action which even surprised India.

At present, Imran is under attack in India, not only as a Pakistani leader, prime minister, but even as a cricketing hero and this one aspect need to be analysed as he began his tenure as premier by inviting Indian legends Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar and Sidhu on his oath-taking.

More than once he has said, “I know India and Indians well as I have played against them. I have huge following in India”. Sidhu shared these views as the two had played cricket together.

There could be more than one reason why India was avoiding ‘joint investigation’ into Pulwama incident and not ready to talk. Indian election and the BJP’s anti-Pakistan narrative could be one and secondly in case of any joint probe, India needs to provide evidence of Pakistan’s involvement.

So far its investigation revolved around two points. (1) Jaish-e-Mohammad had taken the responsibility and (2) Jaish’s leader Masood Azhar is based in Pakistan. But so far the BJP government could not even convince its own media and Opposition as how it all happened.

Pakistan has come a long way in the fight against terrorism but still face challenges of combating extremism. Its present as well as previous leadership have consistent view of resolving issues with India through meaningful dialogue including the core issue of Kashmir. Now the PM is even ready to discuss terrorism. It appears that the rising extremism in India, which also enjoyed electoral support, is the main hurdle in talks.

The writer is the analyst of Geo,

The News and Jang

Twitter: MazharAbbasGEO


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