It is difficult not to connect the Modi government’s decision to call off talks between India and Pakistan foreign secretaries and the domestic political turmoil reflected in the massive protests led by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader Imran Khan and Awami Tehreek leader and cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri in Islamabad. It would seem that Pakistan high commissioner in New Delhi Abdul Basit’s meetings with the Hurriyat leaders from Jammu and Kashmir was an attempt to deflect attention from the developments at home. It is true that the meetings in Delhi and the protests in Islamabad have nothing to do with each other. But the fact that they have unfolded almost simultaneously does show that the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is not really in a position to take forward bilateral relations.
Speculation is rife that the army may be forced to intervene if the protagonists are unable to break what seems to be turning into a deadlock. The statement issued from the Pakistan army headquarters in Rawalpindi by Major General Asim Bajwa on Wednesday that the issue should be resolved through discussions and that would be in the interest of the country is an indication that the army too feels the need to state its position. The question, however, arises as to the wisdom of Imran Khan’s decision to raise the democracy stakes to such a level that it would result in the intervention of the army. He would be justified in arguing that the elections held last year were not as fair as they ought to be. But he should not have overlooked the important fact that it was the first time in the history of Pakistan that there was change in government through the electoral process.
Khan has the duty to keep a constant vigil on the government and expose its acts of omission and commission, but it would indeed be playing with fire if he were to excite popular passions which he would not be able to control. For a decade now, the cricketer-turned-politician has hung on doggedly in the political arena. It appears that the success of the party in the north-western province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has emboldened him to launch his protest movement across the country. There is no doubt that the people of Pakistan were looking for a new voice in national politics dominated by the feudal elite, but it would not be in the interests of the people to take democracy to the brink. It is indeed the temptation for a leader in a democracy to test his popularity and by going to any length to do so. The consequences are not always fruitful.
The entire South Asia, and especially India, has a stake in a democratic Pakistan. That is why, internal developments in the neighbouring country are of crucial importance.
There is the cynical attitude among the strategy experts in New Delhi that the army is the most stable element in Pakistan and that it is easier to deal with the generals rather than with politicians. India’s interests are better served if there is a democratic setup in Pakistan. There is little that India can do to foster democracy in that country. It is for the people of Pakistan to decide in what is essentially an internal matter. It would, however, be not out of place to express concern and hope that democracy will flourish and the people of Pakistan would benefit from it.