Though the Supreme Court of Pakistan has declared the wheel-chair-bound former Pakistan Prime Minister and the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Imran Khan’s arrest as illegal and ordered his immediate release in the Al-Qadir Trust case, the government continues with the bizarre and vindictive political act against Khan.
The recent developments in the country suggest that Khan might be arrested anytime. The Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah in an interview called Khan a “bluff master” and accused him of the violence that erupted in the country after his arrest.
On the other hand, Khan, in his tweet past midnight said, “Our democracy, our judiciary, our constitution and the rule of law has been made a complete mockery by the current fascist setup” and that all political chaos is created “to stop PTI forming the next government.”
The example Pakistan continues to set is highly problematic and particularly concerning for India. And, the more the political instability continues in Pakistan, the more challenges would it create for India and the Southeast Asian region.
Diplomacy at Crossroads
Pakistan’s turbulent political history and its military’s interference in politics have always played a determining role in Pakistan’s foreign relations with neighbouring countries and particularly India. The political instability in the country has at times impacted the status quo of peace between both countries.
While the prerogative to maintain peace is the responsibility of both the nuclear-powered nations, it also must be understood that the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which historically has relatively better relations in the past with the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), is not dealing with Atal Bihari Vajpayee but Narendra Modi.
Modi is not a leader who believes in taking a ‘leap of faith’ with Pakistan like Vajpayee. While the latter was someone who made unilateral diplomatic interventions to diffuse suspicion and mistrust, be it the reopening of bus services between Lahore and Delhi or inviting former Pakistani President General Musharraf to Agra Summit soon after Kargil War, Modi’s politics is a blend of rhetoric and cross border machoism.
For its economic and security interests, most of Pakistan’s governments including Imran Khan's and Shehbaz Sharif’s have worked harder in building better relations with both China and the United States (US). Though India has been a strategic ally to both China and the US, and there has been phenomenal respect for the legacy that India holds, both the countries are also vary of the 'New India'.
India’s stand on Russia-Ukraine War has unsettled the US and the latter tried bettering it with Pakistan. While the India-China border standoff continues, India rightfully does not want to impact its security calculus by taking a harder stance on Russia as the country’s major defence requirements are still met by it. That way, for both China and the US, Pakistan serves as a natural ally.
While the US gears up for PM Modi’s diplomatic visit next month, they have released a scathing report on religious freedom in India. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken though did not mention India in his address to the press but the briefing that followed highlighted the continual attacks against religious minorities in India. At the same time, the US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti shared the Indian concerns related to the disturbing political developments in Pakistan, saying, “We want stability in Pakistan.”
‘Kabbadi’ at the Durand Line
Gradually, though strategically, India and other nations have in some form accepted Afghanistan’s Taliban government. Pakistan met the Taliban recently and pledged to smoothen trade between both countries. India and the Taliban too have had formal talks, in which the Taliban has assured India that it would not allow its soil for anti-India activities.
The US’s dramatic withdrawal from Afghanistan led to vulnerable borders and via Shehbaz Sharif’s government in Pakistan, the US did try to keep a tab on the Taliban. Also, the US’s Pakistan policy for more than four decades was majorly derived from its war interests in Afghanistan. Its strategic allies in Pakistan have always been the intelligence and the military, and not the civilian government.
Meanwhile, reports also indicate that the Taliban Foreign Minister meeting with the top brass in the Pakistani administration, which also means both parties are working to improve their relations. In such a case, both these administrations can unleash support to the non-state actors against India. That is one of the reaons why India wants a politically stable Pakistan.
The Indian interest lies in the fact that Pakistan and India both find a way to deal with the Afghanistan Taliban. Because the Talib ruled Afghanistan is a perpetual threat to both India and Pakistan. An unstable Pakistan might end up tolerating extremists within and across the Durand Line.
Poor Economics Couples With the Terror Threat
Perhaps Pakistan of the day is a country not only with political instability but also a country with a sinking economy. According to the credit rating agency Moody Investor Service, the country risks defaulting without an International Monetary Fund bailout.
Hence, the warnings come from the seasoned politicians from Jammu and Kashmir. The former Chief Ministers of Jammu and Kashmir – Farooq Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have warned that a politically unstable and economically weak Pakistan is a threat to India. And rightly so, given the unprecedented powers that the military enjoys in the country, they can facilitate cross-border movement with an intent to trigger untoward incidents in the Kashmir region.
The terror groups and the military joining hands for Kashmir is one of the issues that bring them together. On the other hand, India has a ‘suppressed’ Kashmir and a population that feels humiliated and cheated after the abrogation of Article 370.
Indo-Pakistan Progress in the Last Few Months
The most significant progress that has happened between both countries is the declaration of a ceasefire along the Line of Control, which has now been sustained for more than a year now. Though be it Imran Khan’s government or Shehbaz Sharif’s, it has maintained that they are open to talks with India but at the same time, on any global platform, Pakistan never shies away from invoking the Kashmir issue.
Despite tensions, both governments progressed on Kartarpur Corridor, a four kilometers visa-free way into Pakistani territory for Indian pilgrims. Also, last year, when Pakistan’s economy was crumbling, the advisor to the former Pakistani PM called for trade between India and Pakistan. It was well received by the Indian government and it also stated that they want good trade relations with all countries including Pakistan.
India and particularly the Modi government have maintained that “terror and talks” with Pakistan cannot go hand in hand. And, for Pakistan, no talks are possible without “Kashmir”.
While it is important that India keeps a close eye on the political developments in Pakistan, it should also be open to strategically supporting its neighbour and not let it function in its entirety with the US or China. It is an important prerogative of both the nuclear-armed nations, that their diplomatic relations must not always be guided by security imperatives but also cultural diplomacy and a resolve that comes what may be – leadership in both India and Pakistan must maintain sanity and work towards ensuring peace and phasing out their huge defence expenditures at least along their borders.
(Rohin Kumar is an author and independent journalist writing about humanitarian crises. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the authors' own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)