Tryst with democracy – Najam Sethi


According to his never-say-die supporters, Imran Khan has returned from New York a “conquering hero”. There were even endorsements of one loyalist suggestion that the commercial plane carrying him back from Jeddah to Islamabad should be escorted by a fleet of F7 Thunder jets as a mark of honour. Imran bravely spoke “straight from the heart”, they say, and swept all Doubting Thomases before him, highlighting the critical issues facing the world today: climate change, Islamophobia, safe havens for money laundering and the Kashmir lockdown. Never mind that the hall was only half full. Never mind that he admitted Pakistan’s culpability in germinating Al Qaeda. Never mind that he raised the world’s hackles by brandishing nuclear weapons and threatening Armageddon. Never mind that the vicious Indian lockdown in Kashmir persists. Never mind that the prospects of Indo-Pak dialogue are dimmer than ever before. Never mind that a territorial state conflict has been relegated to a clash of fierce ideologies representing “Islamic” Pakistan and “Hindu” India.

There were some unintended consequences of the trip too. Inexplicably, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, was so alienated by some dimensions of the Pakistani prime minister’s diplomacy in New York – he couldn’t have been happy at the prospect of Imran Khan, Recip Tayyib Erdogan and Mahathir Mohammad planning to jointly represent the Islamic bloc, nor with Pakistan’s interlocution with Iran without his explicit approval — that he visibly snubbed Imran by ordering his private jet to disembowel the Pakistani delegation. Significantly, too, Pakistan’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Maleeha Lodhi, lost her job (did Khan’s cronies have anything to do with it?) before the dust of “victory at the UN” had settled.

Regardless, a besieged and floundering Prime Minister has been given a lease of life by his foreign sojourn. Upon his return after scoring this “great victory”, Imran Khan has taken a “fresh stance”, as they say in the cricketing parlance so dear to him, and ordered a reshuffle of the confederacy of dunces surrounding him. We may recall his inflated sense of importance after his trip to Washington earlier this year in which he said he felt he’d won a second World Cup by charming President Donald Trump to death! In the event the US is still asking Pakistan to “do more” by leveraging the IMF and FATF.

Pity the nation that is so forlorn of substance, support and leadership that it must clutch at empty nationalist rhetoric to redeem some self-respect.

One is reminded of the hero’s welcome Zulfikar Ali Bhutto received after his address to the UN on the night of December 15-16, 1971, when Dhaka fell. “I will not be a party to it”, he thundered. “We will fight; we will go back and fight….Why should I waste my time here in the Security Council? I will not be a party to the ignominious surrender of a part of my country”. And it came to pass that Mrs Hasina Wajid, the daughter of the “traitor” Mujibur Rahman who led the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan, spoke at the UNGA after Imran Khan and “reminded” the world how many “millions” of Bengalis died and how many “hundreds of thousands of women” were “raped” by the Pakistan Army, an affront no less outrageous than the one caused by Narendra Modi’s naked annexation of Kashmir.

The truth is that the world doesn’t give a damn about the UN resolutions on Kashmir. The truth is that Pakistan’s intelligence and diplomacy failed to anticipate Modi’s moves and devise appropriate pre-emptive policy. The truth is the world is now ready to live with India’s annexation of Kashmir. The truth is that Pakistan is internationally isolated. The truth is that Pakistan is bankrupt and desperately dependent while resurgent India is globally wooed.

But we are fortunate that some more powerful truths are eclipsing these realities. Narendra Modi has internationalised the Kashmir dispute by an unprecedented lockdown and violation of human rights, something that Pakistan’s civil-military leaders failed to do in seven decades of conflict, four wars and loss of half the country. Mr Modi has sown the seeds of irrevocable alienation of 200 million Muslims in India that is bound to engender greater violence and bloodshed. He has blotted the secular spirit of the “biggest democracy in the world”, abandoned its pluralist tryst with destiny and eroded the pacifist spirit of Gandhi that begat India’s great romance with the world. And he has brought the subcontinent to the brink of war, death and destruction like no other Indian leader has done in the past.

General Qamar Bajwa, the Pakistani army chief, tells everyone he wants to positively “reset” relations with the West, in general, and the US, in particular. That is a welcome dose of “strategic realism” long missing in Islamabad. But he must not forestall a national consensus to achieve Pakistan’s own tryst with democracy. That is not possible so long as Imran Khan remains obsessed with his brand of divisive, confrontational politics that weakens Pakistan.