Looking beyond Imran’s austerity drive

Looking beyond Imran’s austerity drive

Hari Jaisingh

Pakistan’s newly elected 22nd Prime Minister Imran Khan has started his political innings on a radically refreshing line of agenda to build “Naya Pakistan”. Leaving aside sensitive bilateral and global issues, he has already emerged as a trend-setter to tackle the complexities of feudal-oriented domestic realities. In the first place, he has honoured his pre-election word to move to a smaller house and turn his earmarked palatial PM House either into an educational institute or a public utility place.

Second, on August 21, he decided to stop using special plane for foreign or domestic traveling. Third, he has also decided to use only two vehicles and keep two servants. He reportedly refused to use elaborate official protocol.

Fourth, the new government has banned the discretionary use of state funds and first class air travel by officials, including the Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Senate Chairman, Speaker of the national assembly and the chief ministers. They will have to travel in club/business class.

These are surely earth-shaking moves which are bound to change the complexion of Pakistan’s future course of politics. Some food for thought for our high-flying leaders.

I am sure a section of the ruling elite and well-entrenched vested interests would nurse some grudges against Imran Khan’s austerity moves for good governance. But no one would dare raise his voice because the former cricketer is said to enjoy support of the armed forces. Does he?

Imran’s austerity drive does reflect a never-seen-before pragmatism in Islamabad’s governance of public affairs. As it is, Pakistan’s economy is in bad shape. Certain sources of public spending are at the bottom as the US funds for arms and economic aid have been drastically cut because of the growing Jehadi elements of terrorism. Terrorism is, after all, terrorism, whether it strikes in New York or Srinagar.

Looking back, despite dwindling US assistance to the tune of 2 billion (1=115.550/ Pak rupee), Pakistan has increased its defence spending for 2018-19 around 19.6, the highest increase in recent years. The Pak defence outlay has crossed the Rs 1 trillion mark. The increase becomes whopping 30 per cent if the 100 billion under the Armed Forces Development Programme (AFDP) is put under defence spending.

It may be recalled that Washington suspended its assistance on the ground that Islamabad is either assisting or turning a blind eye to Islamist militants who use Pakistan’s soil as a launch-pad for attacks in Afghanistan.

The US has avoided mentioning India as a victim of Pak-sponsored terror. However, no other nation has used terror so ruthlessly as an instrument of state policy as Pakistan has done for decades, principally against India, specifically in Jammu and Kashmir.

It is a known fact that the Pakistan army’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) “subverts, co-opts and kills” with ruthless efficiency. It targets India “an Enemy No. 1” and has earmarked sufficient defence budget for its “outsourced terror wings”: Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), Jaish-e- Mohammed (JeM), Hizbul Mujahideen and other smaller terror groups. A portion of these funds is kept aside for Hurriyat leaders in the Valley who use “money” for buying land and financing “young stone pelters” and other mischievous elements.

I am raising these matters against the backdrop of Imran Khan’s desire for the resumption of India-Pakistan dialogue. Of course, bilateral talk needs to be resumed. But my point is: has the new Prime Minister taken clearance for the resumption of Indo-Pak dialogue from his all-powerful Generals? I have said it earlier that Talk and Terror cannot go together. We are well aware of Imran’s political limitations. He cannot cross the army-line of thinking vis-à-vis India.

In this context, I would like to remind Imran Khan and Pakistani Generals of Paul Kennedy’s observation in his book “Rise and fall of Great Empires” that “past empires fell when economic dynamism stagnated and military power was needlessly over-extended”. This exactly is Pakistan’s reality.

The real challenge for Imran Khan will be how he manages to handle his military establishment to control the activities of Taliban and other terrorist forces In Pakistan as well as against India. Curbing terror activities will help to infuse some degree of economic dynamism if he means to translate his dream of a “welfare state” for the benefit of the poor in Pakistan.

Creating a welfare state is not like building castles in the air. It requires certain adjustment of priorities. Has Imran realised how Pakistan’s precious resources are spent on “training camps” for new recruits for the business of terrorism directed against India. And with what results? Also, if he wants peace with India, he has to tell his Generals about his plan of action for peace. If he and the Generals have really undergone a change of heart for a constructive dialogue with India, Islamabad will have to give up the confrontationist path and bury Zia’s concept of the proxy war to grab Kashmir by hook or by crook. This has been tried for decades, but with what results?

Prime Minister Imran and his patrons ought to understand that the militants are mostly mercenaries of Pakistan’s intelligence agency of “soldiers of Islam” financed by the army. They cannot be allowed to dictate solutions to bilateral issues by force. We have seen what such attempts to create Utopias have resulted in. That is why in Kashmir, the Kalashnikov cult cannot be allowed to win.

All of us, including Pakistanis, need to see and understand the damage fanatics can inflict on the people. A poignant example is Talibanised Afghanistan which will, sooner or later, will engulf the very persons who are playing their tunes as part of their politics of expediency.

It is surely a gamble. No one knows the end results. But it is worth remembering that there cannot be shortcuts to peace. If Islamabad means business, every possible solution can be discussed and explored, provided the new leadership shed their past prejudices and view the bilateral problems in a large framework of cooperation and not through narrow religious angularities.

The problem with the Pakistani mindset is that prejudices are mistaken for truth, passion for reason, fundamentalism for religion and myths for history! Let Imran Khan’s Pakistan learn to see the sub-continent as part of common heritage and civilization values and feel the difference.

In any scheme of things, the Pandits have to go back to their homeland in the Valley. And their presence in the Valley will have to be a constant reminder of the Valley’s multi-religious past, and not the way the Islamic fundamentalists think. The time has come to see India-Pakistan problems in a new liberal framework without past prejudices and angularities.