Monday, September 24, 2018

1 Year of Nirmala Sitharaman: Photo-Ops – and Missed Opportunities

It would be safe to say that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s term has so far been inconsequential. It’s been a year since Prime Minister Modi appointed her to one of the top positions in the Union Cabinet. Considering her indifferent record as Commerce Minister, the appointment was a surprise.
The Defence portfolio is, along with External Affairs, Home and Finance, the most important in the Union Cabinet. Not only does it confer a membership in the Cabinet Committee on Security, but it also comes with a membership in the Political Council of the National Nuclear Command Authority.

Bravery Alone Has Never Won Wars

It has been occupied by heavyweight political or senior party figures like Jagjivan Ram, Y B Chavan, Jaswant Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and A K Antony. Sitharaman doesn’t qualify in either of the categories, though it needs to be pointed out that most of Modi’s Council of Ministers do not fall in these two categories either.
By all accounts, the defence portfolio was in need of a senior figure who could carry his/her weight in the Union Cabinet.
That is because, to be even mildly effective, the defence system needs reform and restructuring, a task that can only be done through the political leadership. Despite their size and lakhs of crores spent on them annually, the country’s armed forces are facing obsolescence, and do not have the ability to fight and win wars. That last phrase needs to be explained: no one doubts that the military will not hesitate to fight a war, but the issue is whether they can prevail.
Bravery alone has never won wars. What is needed is a combination of organisation, equipment and higher defence management, and almost everyone agrees that in India’s case, we face obsolescence in all three areas.
Little Effort to Modernise India’s Force Structure
It is not as though no one knows what to do. Multiple expert committees have recommended a range of steps to reorganise the command system of the three services, as well as measures to restructure its organisation, and reform the defence R&D and production system. They have handed their recommendations to the Ministry of Defence which has promptly shelved them.
The Union Defence Ministry has been hit by a double whammy under the Modi government.
First, it was led by the motor-mouth Manohar Parrikar, who was touted as the boy-wonder by virtue of his IIT background, but he proved to be a talker rather than a doer.
Since not much was expected from Sitharaman, the disappointment has not been so marked. Little has been achieved by way of dealing with the task of modernising India’s force structure. Of course, not much can be achieved in a year. But we have not even made a start.
Sitharaman Could’ve Begun Process of Reforming Armed Forces
She cannot, of course, be blamed for the government’s refusal to provide the armed forces with an adequate budget. Those decisions are taken above her pay grade. Nevertheless, for the record, the Services this year have been seriously shortchanged when it comes to modernisation. For example, they asked for Rs 172,203 crore for the capital outlay (to buy new equipment) in their budget, and all they got was Rs 93,982 crore. This was not even sufficient to meet the commitments of paying for the equipment already purchased and in the pipeline, worth Rs 110,043 crore. As a percentage of the GDP, the share of the defence budget is now 1.49 percent, the lowest in recent decades.
What Sitharaman could have done is to begin the process of reforming and restructuring the armed forces.
That, after all, is her main job. Parrikar, using the time tested technique of politicians, simply created a committee headed by Lt Gen (retd) D B Shekatkar, and then shelved the report.
Sitharaman didn’t get that chance. Instead, she herself has been bypassed by the government’s decision to create a new advisory committee for he, headed by the National Security Adviser. This Defence Planning Committee (DPC) has been asked to do everything the Minister should be doing. The only fiction is that the DPC will make “recommendations” to be processed by her. Presumably her job will be to obtain the approval for the said decisions from the Cabinet Committee on Security.
It is not clear as to what she can do about it now.
A Year of Photo-Ops
The DPC is headed by NSA Ajit Doval, who may formally be of a lower rank as compared to her, but he is much more powerful and experienced. And his DPC now has the mandate to “analyse and evaluate all relevant inputs relating to defence planning… national defence and security priorities, foreign policy imperatives, operational directives and associated requirements….”
They will make the 15-year Long Term Integrated Plan (LTIPP) and prepare the national security strategy for the Union Cabinet’s approval. And all this has been done on the orders of the Minister herself.
As party spokesperson, Sitharaman made her name as an articulate, dogged and hard working person. As Defence Minister, Sitharaman seems to be better known for the numerous photo-ops highlighting her role as India’s first female defence minister. From a lowly spokesperson of the party, she has come to occupy one of the highest positions in the government. That is certainly a great achievement for the women of the country, and for her personally.
Sadly, however, she has done little with that office. In fact, besides the photo-ops, she has gained a reputation for her prickly and difficult ways.
The Quint September 3, 2018

Why India should engage in development work with China in neighbouring regions

A year after Doklam, India and China are doubling down on their old Confidence Building Measures and, according to Sushant Singh of the Indian Express, they are planning to sign a new bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on defence exchanges and cooperation. These decisions have been taken during the visit of China’s defence minister Wei Fenghe to India last week.
According to the report, the two sides also agreed to handle Doklam-like incidents with sensitivity and resolve them through greater interaction at lower levels in the military.
This immediately begs two questions.
First, how does one just create a general rule about the Doklam incident where India was able to intervene in what it considers Bhutanese territory, because of the proximity of the Chinese road building effort which was just about 100 metres from the Indian position in Doka La?
Bigger questions
The second is to speculate whether consultation and talks at lower levels could have persuaded the Chinese to turn back at the site of road construction last June.
The Chinese must have known that India is sensitive about Jampheri ridge and had earlier tolerated Chinese patrols going there on foot via the road-head below Doka La.
But road construction was another matter and would have presaged the occupation of a ridge line that would have given the Chinese observation over the entire Siliguri Corridor.
One of the bigger questions, raised about the Doklam incident last year, was whether the Sino-Indian CBM process had run out of steam.
Over the years the two countries had signed a number of measures, beginning with the Peace and Tranquility Agreement (BPTA) of 1993 and ending with the Border Defence and Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) of 2013.
sushma-inside_082718102110.jpgSushma Swaraj with Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi in Beijing in April. (Photo: Reuters)
Yet, there had been incidents, such as the Chinese incursions in Depsang in 2013 and Chumur in 2014. There was talk after the BDCA, that the Chinese would now like to draft a Code of Conduct, but little came out of it and in the run-up to the Wuhan summit.
Officials on both sides emphasised that there would be no more such agreements. However, that still left room for the effective implementation of the older measures, which is what is now being attempted.
Recall, that after the Wuhan summit, the Indian side gave clear instructions to its personnel to observe the older CBMs strictly. The Chinese did not give any public instructions on this, but no doubt the PLA, too, was told to strictly abide by the rules.
Wuhan summit
Though the idea of a hotline between Chinese and Indian commanders is currently stuck up on issues of protocol, it will be untangled one way or the other and will definitely play a role in reducing tensions.
The Wuhan summit has helped unfreeze the ties between the two countries. That, indeed, was the goal of the summit. This has led to a number of meetings between India’s defence and external affairs ministers with their Chinese counterparts, as well as those between the NSA and his Chinese counterpart.
xi-inside_082718102131.jpgChina will continue its steady penetration of the region, but India’s security interests won't be undermined if engagement increases. (Photo: Reuters)
The two countries were able to hold their second maritime affairs dialogue in Beijing in July 2018. The first had been held two years before, in February 2016.
Visits of military delegations have also resumed.
Recently, Lt Gen Liu Xiaowu, Deputy Commander of the Western Theater Command visited New Delhi and India’s Eastern Command headquartered in Kolkata.
This was followed by the visit of India’s Eastern Army commander Lt Gen Abhay Krishna to China heading a four-member delegation in August.
Maintaining balance
The challenge for India is to maintain a balance in the competitive and cooperative elements of our relationship with China. Unfortunately, India’s own performance in the economic and military fields has led to a widening gap between them, requiring New Delhi to reach out to external players like the US to maintain a balance of power.
In recent months, India has also tamped down its criticism of the Belt and Road Initiative. In Wuhan, the two sides took the decision to work on a joint project in Afghanistan, which appears to ignore Islamabad’s concerns about Indian activities in Afghanistan.
It could also form the model of three-country cooperation in the region.
One example can be Nepal where both countries are committed to railway projects and could end up creating a system that links the Tibet Railway to the Indian system.
Engaging China enables New Delhi to prevent or deflect zero-sum outcomes relating to Beijing in its immediate neighbourhood in South Asia and the IOR. China will, no doubt, continue its steady penetration of the region, but engagement can ensure that this process is not used to undermine India’s security interests.
Mail Today August 27, 2018

Persecuted Army? Some officers move Supreme Court, but protection against law of the land cannot be absolute

Some 300 army officers have moved the Supreme Court against what they believe is their persecution by the court itself and agencies like CBI. They have issues with the Supreme Court directed CBI investigations of extra-judicial killings by police, army and Assam Rifles in Manipur. A petition by an affected individual would be normal, but this trade union like act by serving uniformed personnel is disturbing.
The petitioners believe, a report says, that the “sovereignty, security and integrity of the nation is at a higher pedestal than even the Constitution of India.” In other words, their actions should be judged by a law higher than that of the Constitution. Actually, the Republic of India was not born out of abstract concepts like “sovereignty” and “integrity” – it is a legal entity created by the Constitution of India.
Why have things come to this pass? Currently, our security forces are not fighting some unusual surge in militancy. If anything, insurgencies are declining sharply. There are three reasons.
First, the petition speaks of the confusion soldiers confront fighting insurgencies and having to cope with the law of the land at the same time. In ambiguous situations in insurgencies, non-combatants are sometimes casualties through cross-fire or accident. But this is why the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (Afspa) is in force in most insurgency prone areas. It protects security personnel against prosecution if their action is in the course of their duty.
But this protection cannot be absolute. It is the state’s duty to protect a soldier who acts in the line of duty, but equally, to punish him if he has done anything unlawful. In both Manipur and J&K there are instances of illegal action and CBI, under Supreme Court’s directions, is seeking to prosecute those involved.
The fault lies within the military itself in not being able to prosecute persons concerned under military law. There is a larger failure of the government in allowing wrong doers to get away by misusing Afspa. For example, since 2001, New Delhi has not given sanction for the prosecution of any military personnel in the 50-odd cases in J&K where Afspa is invoked. It is difficult to believe army personnel were blameless in all the cases.
Second, many in the army, serving and retired, have developed a sense of victimhood, believing that the country is not giving them their due. Many military social media groups promote the notion that veterans have extraordinary virtues and fulminate against those who they feel lack respect for them. The promotion of group self-esteem is a good thing, but when it seeks a pedestal above that of the citizenry, it’s a problem.
The third issue is the poor state of civil-military relations in the country. Military personnel distrust civilian officers and are suspicious of their motives. CBI, which has investigated several cases of extra-judicial killings, is obviously a target.
Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld says that the most successful counterinsurgency campaign of recent times was the one conducted by the British in Northern Ireland. Its key, he says, was “self-restraint”: The forces stayed within the bounds of law, avoided torture, illegal killings and arbitrary punishment, and took heavier casualties than the militants. He has contrasted this with lack of restraint, and consequent failure, of the Israeli military in dealing with the Palestinians.
As in Israel, it would seem that the long insurgency is taking a toll in India as well, not only in terms of men, but morale and attitudes. The leaderships seem to have lost their moral compass, and the effect has travelled down the line.
Honour is prized as a special military virtue, but clearly there is no honour in committing or shielding illegal acts like murder, abduction and rape. Morale is best served when the military sets and maintains high moral standards, not when it condones illegal actions.
Times of India August 18, 2018

Vajpayee's Foreign Policy May Be His Most Enduring Legacy

The foremost striking thing about Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s foreign and security policy was its clear-headedness. He knew what he wanted to do from the day he first became the prime minister in May 1996 and through his two truncated terms and a full third term, he pursued his goals tenaciously.
In retrospect, it is clear that those goals were not only far-sighted but are essential even today for the peace, stability and prosperity of India and its neighbourhood.
The first thing Vajpayee knew was that he had to order the nuclear weapons test, which he did on his very first day in office on May 16, 1996. The shafts in Pokharan were readied and weapons to be tested wired up by the DRDO team under K. Santhanam. But it was not to be, as his first government fell in just 13 days.
Vajpayee took office again in March 1998 and re-ordered the tests. Within two months, the sites were readied and the tests carried out. The tests took India into a new security paradigm, one that was more oriented to dealing with China’s strategic challenge rather than just Pakistan’s; in any case, the latter had tried and tested Chinese weapons in its arsenal.
Vajpayee had honed his ideas and views on India’s foreign policy in the long years he was in the opposition, but the key to his foreign policy was his term as external affairs minister from 1977 to 1979. It was during this period that he took two important initiatives – normalising relations with Pakistan and with China.
As a member of the Jana Sangh, a constituent of the Janata Party that ran the government during the 1977-79 period, Vajpayee should have been the quintessential hawk; that he was not is a tribute to his ability to transcend his background and pursue goals shaped by his own understanding of the situation. But it also reflected the reality that, given his background, no one would question his ‘patriotism’ if he reached out to the two countries.
Weaning Pakistan off terrorism
On February 20, 1999, Vajpayee journeyed to Lahore in the inaugural trip of a new bus service. The following day, in a dramatic gesture, he visited the Minar-e-Pakistan, the monument to the founding of the state. The Lahore Declaration issued that day summed up the outcome, which was to put forward a transformative vision of India-Pakistan relations. Besides agreeing to “resolve all issues including Jammu & Kashmir”, it also, for the first time, addressed the issue of their nuclear status and the need to reduce the risk of war. But this bonhomie did not last long.
Unfortunately, Pakistani generals had not bought Sharif’s agenda and plotted to undermine it. Just as Vajpayee was reaching Lahore, Pervez Musharraf gave the go-ahead for Operation Badr, to covertly occupy areas of the Indian side of the line of control in the Kargil area. The Indian and international response to the Kargil adventure undid the Pakistan Army. Vajpayee overcame criticism of intelligence failure to get the Indian Army to clear out the intrusion, albeit at a high price of over 400 deaths. The warmth of the Sharif-Vajpayee bonhomie was lost in the snowy heights of Kargil. It was given its final burial with Sharif being soon overthrown by Musharraf in a bloodless coup.
Later that year the Vajpayee government had to face the ignominy of releasing three top terrorists, including Masood Azhar, when the Indian Airlines flight IC814 from Kathmandu to New Delhi was hijacked and flown to Kandahar. Azhar and the other terrorists were exchange for the passengers, who were held hostage by Azhar’s associates.
Vajpayee now sought to ignore Pakistan and deal directly with the Kashmiri militants. But considerable efforts and a ceasefire could not yield expected results.
Former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee with former US President Bill Clinton at Rashtrapati Bhavan in 2000. Credit: Reuters
So, Vajpayee reached out to Islamabad again through the July 14-16, 2001 summit in Agra with the Musharraf, now with the additional title of ‘Chief Executive’. Though the summit failed, it helped both sides in getting a better measure of each other’s perspective.
That year, things only went from bad to worse. A terrorist attack on India’s parliament in December 2001 led to a near-war with Pakistan. Violence in the border areas intensified despite commitments not to support terrorism. The year-long military face-off did not provide any answers.
But Vajpayee knew what he wanted. In April 2003, he made a visit to Jammu & Kashmir and spoke of the need for a harmonious relationship with Islamabad. He once again publicly extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan. A few days later, making a statement on that visit to the Lok Sabha, Vajpayee made his famous statement about resolving the Kashmir issue through the principles of insaniyatjamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat.
Using this back-channel and capitalising on Pakistan’s desire to host a successful SAARC summit, Vajpayee pressed ahead. Pakistan responded by calling for a ceasefire along the LOC in November 2003, which India accepted.
On January 6, 2004, just a few months before he lost the general elections, Vajpayee finally made a key breakthrough. A meeting with Musharraf on the sidelines of the SAARC summit yielded a joint statement through which Pakistan agreed not to support terrorism while India agreed that the two sides would begin a composite dialogue on a range of issues affecting them. Significantly, this meeting also committed SAARC to create the South Asian Free Trade Area, a common market that could, over time, become something more than that.
Stabilising the border with China
In his letters to several heads of state, Vajpayee had attributed India’s nuclear tests of 1998 to the fear of China. Not surprisingly, Beijing did not take kindly to this and sought harsh sanctions against India along with the rest of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.
But Vajpayee outflanked the Chinese by his momentous move towards repairing ties with the US. Planned by his ‘Hanuman’ Jaswant Singh, an intense dialogue resulted in a major US shift that saw President Bill Clinton, who had arguably taken the harshest stand on the nuclear test in 1998, arriving in New Delhi to a rapturous welcome.
By 2003, it was clear that the official-level joint working group talks were not working. The notion that the two sides could ‘stabilise’ their border by creating a mutually acceptable line of actual control was not working either.
To break the logjam, India proposed that the issue of resolving the border be kicked up to an even higher ‘political’ plane. So when Vajpayee visited Beijing in 2003, the two sides agreed to appoint special representatives to do the job. India nominated its national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, and China named Dai Bingguo, a powerful state councillor.
File photo: Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (C) looks at a gift named “Portrait of the Qing Emperor Qianlong Reviewing” given to him by the Forbidden City in Beijing, China June 24, 2003. Credit: Reuters/Guang Niu/File Photo
Vajpayee and Mishra had hoped that the new process would lead to a quick movement to resolve the border. In fact, Mishra told this writer in 2007 that he had expected that India and China could have worked out a border settlement “in a few years.” But the Vajpayee government lost power and was out of office by May 2004.
Vajpayee’s legacy
We can only speculate what would have happened if Vajpayee had won the 2004 elections. Fortunately, Vajpayee’s successor, Manmohan Singh, seamlessly worked along his agenda. The January 2004 summit in Islamabad led to the phase of good relations between India and Pakistan and yielded a four-point formula for resolving the Kashmir issue. Had this been clinched, history may have been different. Unfortunately, though Singh pushed forward on Vajpayee track, his counterpart Pervez Musharraf’s government came apart due to a host of internal problems in Pakistan.
In the case of China, there was a rapid progress in the special representatives talks  and  in early 2005, during the visit of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, the two sides signed an agreement on the ‘political parameters and guiding principles of a border settlement’. Any common-sense reading of the agreement will show that it virtually spelt out the contours of a border settlement, which would have essentially ratified an “as is, where is” arrangement – the Chinese would end up keeping Aksai Chin and India would retain Arunachal Pradesh.
But the Chinese went back on this. And the reason was another of Vajpayee’s legacies—relations with the US. Building on the Jaswant-Talbott dialogue, the two countries agreed on a far-reaching nuclear deal through which the US would lift its wide-ranging sanctions on India in exchange for an Indian commitment not to test nuclear weapons. By swallowing the nuclear pill that had been stuck in the Indo-American throat, the two countries set the stage for a rapid entente which has seen them build a quasi-alliance in recent years.
Of course, there was a larger shift of Chinese policies as the country gained economic heft and prestige following the 2008-2009 global economic crisis. However, looking from the vantage point of 2018 – and considering the multiple failures of Modi’s policies in Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan and China – the wisdom of the Vajpayee course becomes manifest. It was not laziness that persuaded Manmohan Singh to double down on Vajpayee’s policies but simply that they represented the best options before the country, realities that remain unchanged even today.
The Wire August 19, 2018

ISIS is not finished. Why South East Asia is now under a greater threat

The ISIS may have been defeated in Syria and in retreat elsewhere, but there is serious danger that it could expand its activities in South East Asia. The region is home to 40 per cent of the Muslims in the world, with majorities in Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei, and significant pockets in Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines and there are hundreds of erstwhile IS fighters who have returned to the region after the outfit’s defeat in Syria.
marawi_081318105800.jpgA part of a bullet-riddled mosque is seen in the Islamic city of Marawi, southern Philippines on April 19, 2018 (Reuters)
Past record
South East Asia was once known for its moderate brand of Islam and its secularist politics. But this is now under severe stress.
Most western analysts think that the IS is essentially finished.
But security forces in South East Asia feel that they may have entered into a new phase of expansion in their region which has had pockets of Islamic extremism going back decades.
There have been a slew of terrorist incidents across the region for the past two decades, but the most serious incident since the Bali bombing of 2002 was the occupation of Marawi city in Mindanao island of the Philippines in May 2017 by three jihadist groups that included the IS.
The ensuing battle lasting five months led to the town being razed and the deaths of a thousand people.
jakarta_081318105601.jpgPeople attend a candlelight ceremony in the memories of the victims in the recent attacks at police stations and churches in Jakarta and Surabaya (Reuters)
More recently, in May 2018, three churches were bombed in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city.
The fourth bombing happened when the terrorists accidentally detonated bombs in their own apartment killing three of them and the fifth happened outside the police headquarters when the bombers were being searched at its entrance.
These attacks have been attributed to the Jamaah Andharut Daulah (JAD), a local affiliate of the IS, and has featured the use of difficult-to-detect family cells.
In June this year, a five-judge bench sentenced radical cleric Aman Abdurraham to death for his role in inciting terrorist attacks in Indonesia. He is considered to be the leader of the JAD and has been operating from jail since 2010 when he was imprisoned for running a paramilitary training camp in Aceh for the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network. The JI was the one behind the Bali bombing that killed 202 people.
Since then, he had inspired several attacks especially those targeting Christians.
On Friday, Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that a Moroccon terrorist allied to the Abu Sayyaf group, linked to the IS, was most likely behind a suicide bomb attack that killed 11 persons, including five militiamen at a military checkpoint.
Pandering to Islamists
Governments of the region, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia, have been trying to ride the Islamist tiger by pandering to the orthodox Islamic parties. In Malaysia, the Parti Islam Se Malaysia is the main Islamist party and the Barisan Nasional coalition, that ruled Malaysia for over six decades till its shock defeat in May, believes they would have fared much better, had they collaborated with the PIS. In Indonesia, the main Islamist political formation is the Prosperous Justice Party, though it is the Front Pembela Islam, a vigilante group that is responsible for the violent promotion of Islamic causes.
joko-widodo_081318105544.jpgIndonesian president Joko Widodo (L) and his running mate for the 2019 presidential elections, Islamic cleric Ma'ruf Amin (Reuters)
Last week, as a matter of abundant caution, Indonesia’s president, Joko Widodo, who again confronts the establishment candidate Subianto Prabowo, has decided to draft Maruf Amin, the 75-year-old head of the Majlis Ulema Indonesia (MUI or Indonesian Ulema Council) as his running mate.
In 2016, the orthodoxy demonstrated its strength in Indonesia when it targeted Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the then governor of Jakarta who went by the nickname Ahok. A Christian of Chinese origin, he was accused of blasphemy and is currently serving a two-year sentence in jail after being convicted on that charge.
Need of the hour
In Indonesia, Islamist parties like PJP and the FPI target Christians, Chinese and other minorities and the attack on Ahok who was an ally of Joko Widodo was a manifestation of a trend.
The success of this attack was a signal to the Opposition to hop on to the Islamic bandwagon, and to prevent being outflanked, Widodo has taken the step of allying himself with the custodian of the orthodoxy — the MUI.
India is more familiar with the Rohingya issue, which arises out of the crisis created in Myanmar when Muslim militants attacked Buddhist communities and triggered a backlash that has seen hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas expelled from the Rakhine province on Myanmar to Bangladesh.
The plight of the Rohingyas has led to groups like the al Qaeda and the IS and other jihadist groups to call for attacks on Myanmar and its leaders.
Preventing further spread of violent religious extremism is the most important task before the governments of the region.
But as the siege of Marawi indicated, the challenge is not merely one of prevention, but of an active counter-terrorism policy to eradicate the threat of jihadism to the region.
Mail Today August 13, 2018

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Imran Khan has talked about fixing India-Pakistan ties. The first step should be a reality check

There is little need for deep analysis as to why Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, commonly known as PTI, has emerged victorious in the Pakistan National Assembly elections. 
The leader of the main political party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and his heir-apparent were in jail at the time of the elections, and the party had been discredited in the past five years through a systematic campaign of violence and protest. In other words, the pitch was carefully prepared to favour Imran’s bowling.
The result of the elections may not be entirely fair, but it would be wrong to say that they don’t reflect the will of the Pakistani people. If indeed the results are rigged, they show that the riggers have a certain sophistication in:
  1. Ensuring that Imran Khan’s party is short of a majority (and will not get too big for its boots) 
  2. Allowing Nawaz Sharif’s party to win a significant number of seats in its Punjab stronghold to enable it to remain a coherent entity, regardless of who eventually goes on to form a government there.
  3. Ensuring that not one out of the 460 odd jihadist candidates won.
  4. Showing the jihadi extremists their place by allowing them to contest polls and then crash to utter defeat.
The results in the five provinces and the performance of the four principal parties, including Pakistan People’s Party and Baloch Action Party, make this a perfect outcome that ensures no one party develops any conceit about its standing.

Indian expectations

The election does not give us any reason to believe that we will witness some change in Pakistan’s foreign policy hereafter. The Pakistan Army is not about to give up its right to shape Pakistan’s foreign policy just because someone it favoured has come to power. The country has been at that place before and the Army usually found the civilians wanting, so this time around, there will probably not even be a pretence of providing any autonomy to the man in power in Islamabad. And this time around, not only is the man an untested politician, but the office of the prime minister has been so badly battered that it retains little credibility.
This broadly answers whether Imran Khan’s prime ministership will make any difference to the troubled India-Pakistan relationship. Even so, there are expectations. He is one of the few Pakistanis who knows India and Indians well, having travelled here in his cricketing days, and after as a regular in various media conclaves and events.

In his speech claiming victory on Thursday, Imran declared “I really want to fix our ties, you take one step forward, we will take two.” He also spoke of the Kashmir dispute and the need to talk about Kashmir where “we are still on square one.”
There was not a word or understanding that it was Pakistan that needed to take step one, before anyone could contemplate taking steps two and three. For India the watershed has been the Mumbai attack of 2008, whose perpetrators run freely in Pakistan and were even allowed to participate in the elections.

Civilians vs military leaders

In the post-Zia period, India has been more comfortable in dealing with civilian leaders – Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif, and later Asif Ali Zardari – who were leaders of major political parties, not cardboard prime ministers like Shahid Khaqan Abbasi or Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and Yousaf Raza Gilani. But we all know that the key near-breakthrough in relations between the two countries came at a time when Pervez Musharraf, the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army was also the president. There is a message there too obvious to miss.
Yet, India does not have the option of waiting infinitely for the emergence of a Pakistan government that actually controls all the levers of power in the country. Pakistan may have had a successful election, but its chronic problems will not retreat on that account. New Delhi cannot afford to turn its back on Pakistan. Responsible politics would require India to continue a policy of engagement supplemented by back-channel links. Further, India needs to build a coalition of partners who can participate in the effort to bring Pakistan around towards becoming what could be called a “normal” state.

Domestic challenges

Actually, if his hands are tied in foreign and security policy, Imran Khan should not worry. Pakistan has a huge domestic agenda that demands his attention. Indeed, if he can fix some of the issues, it may create the conditions in which the Army may be compelled to loosen its vice-like grip on the polity. There are issues relating to the economy, jobs, infrastructure, water stress, healthcare and so onAs he takes office, Imran Khan’s first priority will be to tackle the yawning current account deficit and it is estimated that Pakistan needs some $ 10 billion to tackle the immediate problem. Though he has criticised China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, Imran Khan is unlikely to cross the Chinese on the issue. Beijing’s political and economic importance has become even more salient for Pakistan following its tensions with the United States, which has frozen $1.3 billion military aid because of Pakistan’s half-hearted approach to combatting terrorism. Then, there is the entire agenda of de-radicalising the polity which has now reached a dangerous point.
The fact that the jihadists fared badly in the polls can be a useful means of containing them because the extremist mullahs often assert their claims in the name of the people. But this would be possible only if the political centre of the country, which has been fractured by the elections, can come together and, more importantly, get the support of the Army. Only then can the push back work.
Observers point to Imran Khan’s incorruptibility and the positive record of his party in governing Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which returned the favour by returning the Tehreek-e-Insaf to the provincial government leadership once again this time. Imran Khan’s 22-year odyssey as a politician suggests that it is driven by deep personal beliefs and convictions. Those are the things that he will need in the coming days, if he is indeed to make a difference. This time around, he may find that the pitch is not entirely in his favour.
The Scroll July 27, 2018