Diplomacy is not 22 yards between two wickets where history is made and unmade. Its geographical contours are undefined even as its language is encrypted with both sophistry and substance. Pakistan’s 66-year-old Prime Minister Imran Khan continues to perceive India as his nemesis on the oval green. He has demolished many Indian cricket greats with his hallmark reverse swing. But so far his prime ministerial deliveries haven’t taken political or diplomatic wickets. Instead, he has bowled innumerable no-balls and hit himself over the boundary in 100-odd days in office. This Oxford-educated leader who once excelled at the gentleman’s game is at a loss on the political ground as the latest Kartarpur Sahib Corridor event revealed his ventriloquist PM status in the Army-controlled democracy.
In 1992, as captain of his team of eleven, Imran won Pakistan its first cricket World Cup. Now the prime minister of a 230-million-strong nation, he is led by the nose by a four-star army general. The once smouldering sex symbol who wooed and wed British nobility is a puppet of Pak Army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa—a Karachi-born Punjabi Jat holding a Punjabi Pathan on his leash, making the world player who has bowled too many maidens over merely a subaltern Wazir-e-Azam. In public life, Imran is the symbol of modernity. In private life he is wedded to both fundamentalism and fundamentalist mystic Bushra Maneka. The thrice-married Imran is at liberty to change wives as many times as he wishes, but his changing political and diplomatic wiles are pushing Pakistan further towards the precipice of no return. He is the first Pak prime minister in history to admit that two power centres are extant in his country. Ostensibly, the Army reports to the elected executive and does not have an independent identity. By saying “our Army and other institutions are on one page, Imran has publicly legitimized what everyone already knew: the Army’s veto power over democratically elected leaders. He said on TV last week, “I will take two steps if India takes one.” Imran is already on the back foot now. The image of the captive prime minister was reinforced last week at the Corridor’s ground breaking ceremony. Though Imran was the keynote speaker, Bajwa ran the show. Conventional protocol was ignored, anti-India elements were allowed to roam freely, speak to the media and pose for pictures with dignitaries. Protocol was not the umpire that day—Union Cabinet Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal was seated far away from Prime Minister Imran, while Navjot Singh Sidhu, a minister in a state Cabinet, was accorded an eminent position. Friendship is not the parameter for breaking diplomatic conventions. Since the Pak Army’s agenda is always to insult the Indian establishment, the Pak foreign office was forced to give Sidhu more visibility. In addition, Minister of State Hardeep Singh Puri was royally ignored. The fiasco exposed Imran’s pygmy status in the Pak power structure. Pakistan’s signature obsession has infected Imran; during his speech at the Corridor event, he invoked Kashmir as a key issue preventing dialogue and peace in the region. According to diplomatic sources, India had sent its ministers to the function on the understanding that the emphasis of the programme would be on people-to-people contact. But the interlocutors misled the government about the real intentions of the ISI and its loyalists. The spin worked. Within 24 hours, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reportedly boasted “We want to improve our relationship and yesterday you saw, the world saw how Imran Khan bowled the ‘Kartarpur googly’, the result of which was that India, which was not willing to engage with us, had to come to Pakistan and engage with us. We are happy that they did because we want to send a message of peace.”
Pakistan’s default setting is to exploit goodwill gestures from Indian PMs. This time it is Narendra Modi. Soon after Imran won the elections, Modi sent him a letter of congratulations and expected new initiatives to ease neighbourly tension. Not only was the epistle leaked to the media, it was given the twist that Modi was inviting Imran for talks. India ignored the cheap shots and agreed to ministerial-level talks on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September. But Imran was unable to keep his trigger-happy border patrols from shooting Indian soldiers. Subsequently, Pakistan released 20 stamps to honour slain Kashmiri terrorist Burhan Wani. India called off the meeting. Instead of understanding the diplomatic implications of the decision, Imran tweeted a bodyline delivery at Modi, “Disappointed at the arrogant & negative response by India to my call for resumption of the peace dialogue. However, all my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture.” Imran’s own chair is just glorified furniture in the Army chief’s office. His country is on the economic and social ventilator today. His lament about inherited diseases like Hafiz Saeed and terrorism is nothing but an excuse for inaction. He has not acted to convict the terrorists responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. No steps to stop Islamic fundamentalists from using Pakistan as a launch pad for terror attacks against India have been taken. He was helpless to prevent the terror attack on the consulate in Karachi of Pakistan’s only all-weather ally, China. Once unflinchingly faithful friend America is now demanding accountability for the billions it has given to Pakistan. Imran is yet to unfold the road map to economic growth, restoring civilian rule, preventing ecological disasters and controlling population growth. The World Bank reports that on average, one Pakistani woman delivers three children.
Instead of putting his devastated house in order, Imran is exposed as just another ambitious elitist whose goal is fame, name and a life of feudal luxury. He had high hopes of bagging the support of high society cronies in Mumbai and New Delhi to leverage the Indian state in his favour. But he is Pakistan’s faded and jaded captain whose only chance to take his country from worst to worse looks like a run out. Last week, he declared that he was not responsible for the past. With the Kashmir-fixated Army controlling the present, Imran Khan is in no position to take responsibility for Pakistan’s future.
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