Two-Front Fight

Murtaza Solangi wonders how Imran’s administration will manage all the troubles at home and abroad

Two-Front Fight
Prime Minister Imran Khan’s foreign policy endeavours come to an end today as he speaks as the tenth speaker at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The leaders of Norway and Singapore will speak between him and Modi. The prime minister’s speeches and interactions on this trip have been full of somersaults, some of them with dangerous implications. More troubles await the prime minister as he returns home from his foreign expeditions.

While Modi’s narrative is that Pakistan harbours terrorists and extremists, PM Khan is highlighting the Nazi-style genocide of the Kashmiris by the Indian state under a leader he likens with Hitler. In terms of substance, leaders of both countries have had verbal duels on this forum before, but this time they will probably be more heated than ever.

In the run-up to the UNGA, PM Imran Khan visited in the holy land with a large delegation in the PM’s special aircraft. On his way forward to New York, he decided to avail a commercial aircraft. The reason to do so, as reported by some journalists, was that the first lady used the special aircraft to return home. The Saudi crown prince lent him his personal aircraft to reach New York. So much for national dignity and austerity!

In his interaction with the Council on Foreign Relations think tank, Imran Khan made quite a few revelations. While talking about the role of the Pakistani state during the anti-Soviet Jihad and Taliban era, he categorically indicted Pakistan’s military and the ISI of harbouring and training not only Mujahedeen and the Taliban, but Al-Qaeda as well. This activated Indian and Afghan quarters and they came out with their told-you-so statements.

While Pakistan was an active player during the anti-Soviet Jihad till 1988, Arab fighters, including Osama Bin Laden, had not established Al-Qaeda then. When Al-Qaeda emerged, it had more of an anti-Arab establishment connotations laced with anti-Saudi monarchy and anti-Egyptian sentiments. So Imran Khan’s announcement that the Pakistani military and intelligence had cooperated and partnered with Al-Qaeda is historically incorrect and feeds right into Modi’s position in Houston when he accused Pakistan of harbouring Al-Qaeda.

The worst was Imran’s answer to a question about investigations conducted on the presence of Osama Bin Laden and his death in a raid Abbottabad, Pakistan. “There was a commission that investigated it but I am not aware of its conclusions,” was the cavalier response by the chief executive of Pakistan, who had earlier told the questioner that he has been in complete command for last 13 months and that the security establishment was fully implementing his orders.

Interestingly, there was complete silence by the cabal of defence analysts over this latest faux pas, enough though in the past they objected to simple statements by civilian leaders. There were no tweets rejecting the embarrassing statements by the premier this time around.

Narendra Modi put up a quite show in Houston with President Trump and hit out against “Islamic radical terrorism.” On his part, Trump let Modi handle any threats emanating from Pakistan in his joint press conference with the Indian prime minister in New York.

In his joint press conference with Imran Khan, however, Trump retracted his earlier stance on mediation in Kashmir and softened it up by adding that he was available for mediation should both India and Pakistan want it. He expressed no concern over the scrapping of Article 370 and 35-A from the Indian constitution and the arrests and curfew in Indian-administered Kashmir.

In the middle of the Kashmir crisis, Pakistan has also jumped in to assume the role of mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with some backing of the US. With trouble at home and the situation in Kashmir spiralling out control, how Pakistan will assume this new role is anybody’s guess. When Pakistan has sent its former army chief to Saudi Arabia to lead an anti-Iran alliance, secured loans from Saudi Arabia - including oil on deferred payments - and its premier takes Saudi airlifts to New York, why should Iran accept Pakistan as a neutral arbitrator?

Things are heating up in Islamabad as the prime minister returns from New York. Maulana Fazalur Rehman has made tremendous mobilization to bring hundreds of thousands of protesters to Islamabad by the end of next month. While some PML-N leaders have concerns about the Maulana’s previous flip-flops and worry about extra-constitutional interventions, incarcerated party supremo Nawaz Sharif is determined in his support for the march to the capital. The party is expected to make a formal decision on Monday about the quality and quantity of participation, but the basic thrust seems to be supporting the Maulana.

The PPP has been dilly-dallying and dancing around the issue. Earlier, former president Asif Zardari had announced that the party will fully support the Maulana to oust Imran Khan from power. But later, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari began making hot-and-cold statements about the party’s participation and making it conditional with multiple demands. On Wednesday, a JUI-F delegation had another meeting with the PPP but there was no headway and the impasse remained.

As things stand, Maulana will march to Islamabad even if it is a symbolic gesture, with or without the active support of other parties. Will a token march on Islamabad in late October make any impact? What will Maulana get out of it, if this is only a token march? Will a token participation by the PML-N help or hurt it? Will staying away from the lockdown help the PPP from any troubles party leaders are facing right now? Will there eventually be a breakthrough between the Maulana and the other two mainstream parties? How will Imran’s government, which is falling apart at the seams, handle the Maulana? We will get answers to these and other questions as we approach the end October. The status quo, however, is not tenable.

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad. 

The writer is a journalist based in Islamabad