In a show of political strength, former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan ushered in the 75th anniversary of his country’s independence on the night of August 13 at a mammoth public meeting – or ‘jalsa’, as these events are called in Pakistan – at the hockey stadium in Lahore. The jalsa extended beyond midnight, thus, ushering in 14 August, the day Pakistan separated from India in 1947 and became independent.
During his address, Khan sought to reinforce his message by showing numerous short video clips to the audience. Most interestingly, one of these clips was of Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar at Globsec 2022 Bratislava forum in June this year. Jaishankar was seen forcefully defending India’s decision to buy Russian oil. Ostensibly, Khan sought to demonstrate to his cadres and the Pakistani people that India was standing up to US pressure in the interests of its people.
His real purpose, however, was not to praise India but to show up the ‘imported’ Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government led by Shehbaz Sharif as craven, corrupt and weak and so unable to defend Pakistan’s interests.
The obvious sub-text was that only he, the brave ‘Kaptaan’, could defend Pakistan.
Khan's Anti-India Bias
This is not the first time Imran Khan has ‘praised’ India’s independent foreign policy. On 20 March this year, while he was in office and battling a determined opposition, Khan addressed a rally in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. He shocked many Pakistanis for he told his supporters that he wanted to appreciate India’s foreign policy, which was directed to pursue the interests of its people. Two months later, on 22 May, over 30 days after being ousted from office, Khan said on Twitter:
“Despite being part of Quad, India sustained pressure from the US and bought discounted oil to provide relief to the masses.”
Khan has been no admirer of India. Indeed, despite all his cricketing friends in India, he has never hidden his anti-Indian biases. Khan has generally been especially vituperative against the Modi government. What, then, was Khan’s real purpose in “praising” India at the Lahore ‘jalsa’? He would have surely known that by showing the Jaishankar clip he would have caused more than a flutter in the large audience in the Lahore Hockey stadium and in the public at large.
The answer to this question emerges from the very first clip that Khan showed in the ‘jalsa’. It was of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, saying, before the creation of the country:
“Muslims desire freedom more than anyone else because love for freedom, fraternity and liberty is the life-blood of their existence. But freedom must mean freedom both from British exploitation and Hindu domination. Hundreds of millions of Muslims would never agree merely to a change in masters.”
The communal sentiments that led to the creation of Pakistan continue to be strong in the country even today. These are not confined to only religious groups but are widely shared by the Pakistani people as well.
Khan's Address Was a Message to Pakistan Leaders
After playing the Jinnah video clip, Khan told the jalsa that Jinnah had said that ‘after going out of British slavery, we do not wish to go into Hindu slavery; that we wish to live in a free country’. He also recalled that Muslims always struggle for freedom in the cause of Allah. He went on, during the course of his long speech, to spell out that Pakistan would have to liberate itself from four forms of slavery, which were in addition to the slavery from which Jinnah had liberated Muslims. These included that Pakistanis, as Muslims, would bow only to Allah and not be slaves of any person, group or country; nor, would they be slaves of money. They would always adhere to the way of truth.
Throughout his speech, Khan poured scorn on his opponents for abandoning the way of truth by bowing to foreigners. He said that while his purpose was, as enjoined by Islam, to free Muslims from the fear of death, of losing their reputations or livelihood his political opponents were full of fear and were therefore acting in un-Islamic ways. Thus, the main target of his message was his country’s domestic audience. And in this message, he dramatically brought in India. Why?
The answer lies in his wanting to show that the PDM leaders – the Sharifs, the Zardari-Bhuttos and Maulana Fazlur Rehman – are acting in an un-Islamic manner and not showing enough faith in Allah and courage by standing up to the demands of foreigners. And that they are doing so when even India and Hindus are showing the gumption to resist foreigners. Hence, these leaders, whom he often calls ‘rats’ are, according to him, worthy only of contempt.
By showing the Jaishankar clip, Khan undertook shock therapy so that his message sank in among the Pakistani people. That is how Indians should interpret his comments of “praise” regarding India’s independent and people-welfare-oriented foreign policy.
They should certainly not consider Imran Khan as becoming objective towards India or changing his stripes.
Khan has of late been careful to avoid attempting to paint the Pakistan army with the same brush as PDM leaders. Indeed, he emphasised his support for the army during his speech. However, his message was as much directed to some generals in the army, including army chief General Qamar Bajwa, as to PDM leaders. The Jaishankar video clip would not have amused the generals or even junior officers, many of whom are believed to be sympathetic to him.
The ancients, in European lore, ask people to beware of the Greeks even when they bear gifts. The caution also applies to Indians evaluating words of seeming praise coming out of the mouths of Pakistani leaders.
(The writer is a former Secretary [West], Ministry of External Affairs. He can be reached @VivekKatju. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)