Imran Khan addressed a public meeting in Lahore that attracted a crowd of 100,000 people. It must have appeared to him an occasion too good to miss. So he went populist and ballistic. He found similarity in the presence of US troops in Afghanistan with the presence of Indian troops in Kashmir. The crowd must have loved it.
He said: “I want to tell Hindustan that the 700,000 troops you have kept among the Kashmiris, no army has been able to solve any country's problems at any time." That remark snowballed into a controversy. Mr. Khan stuck to his guns. Justifying himself before a TV channel a few days later he said: “I don't think Indian army for 20 years or 700,000 troops in Kashmir is going to solve any problems. I think it's only going to produce hatred. It's counter productive…It probably means I might be a well wisher for India to actually say this. It doesn't mean I'm an enemy of India ."
He was right in saying that no army can solve a country’s problems. He was horribly wrong in describing the situations in Kashmir and in Afghanistan analogous. He crossed the line and foot faulted to make a delivery far out and wide. There are many leaders and commentators in India, more articulate and politically savvy than Mr. Khan, concerned about the army’s presence in Kashmir. These include the Chief Minister of Kashmir and the state’s Leader of Opposition. But their concern about the army’s presence is tempered by the sober knowledge of cross border terrorists from Mr. Khan’s country infiltrating into Kashmir. The cricketer-turned-politician seems to be blissfully unaware of this. Despite mutual differences people in India are collectively addressing the problem in Kashmir. Why, even this writer has offered a proposal to address the Kashmir problem that is far more radical and explicit than what any of the foreign funded separatists in Kashmir have offered. Therefore Mr. Khan need not worry overmuch about Kashmir.
However there is much merit in his observation that armies by themselves cannot solve problems. That certainly applies to the situation in Afghanistan. It apples equally to the situation in Baluchistan. Mr. Khan’s memory needs to be refreshed about the recent history of that unfortunate Pakistan province. Immediately before Pakistan was created the Khan of Kalat in Baluchistan had asserted to the British that his territory was not part of British India. A distinguished lawyer effectively argued his case. His name was Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Within a year of becoming President of Pakistan Jinnah allowed Pakistan’s army to forcibly annex Baluchistan. Since then there has been continuous Baluch insurgency against Pakistan crushed by the army. Leading Baluch separatists Ataullah Mengal and Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo alternated between jail and London. This struggle started long before India’s RAW was created or could allegedly fund the Baluch insurgents through Afghanistan because India has no border with Baluchistan. Should not Mr. Khan address this problem nearer home? And while he does that he might with advantage also address the longstanding grievances of the Pakhtunkhwa Khyber province inhabited by Pathans like himself.
Mr. Khan claims that he is a well wisher of India. We believe him. He should also believe us when we claim that there are many, many people in India including those in the government who are well wishers of Pakistan. After all, the stability of our nation is linked to peace and prosperity in Pakistan. Ending terrorism and defusing trouble spots in both nations is the prime need to achieve regional peace and stability. Should not Mr. Khan therefore concentrate on eliminating terrorist havens in Pakistan and on addressing insurgencies within his country’s provinces? He should allow us to address the problems in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. That is the way forward for Indo-Pakistan relations to improve. That is what statesmanship demands. Making populist speeches in large rallies is not the answer.