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EDITORIAL: In a wide-ranging interview with Jonathan Swan of HBO, Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan answered some prickly questions and enunciated, amongst other things, Pakistan’s policy vis-à-vis Kashmir, nuclear deterrence in the Subcontinent, Afghanistan, US-Pakistan relations post-withdrawal, and the Uighur issue in China. The PM’s view was that the single issue of Kashmir is holding over 1.6 billion people of the Subcontinent hostage. If the issue is resolved in accordance with the UN Security Council’s resolutions envisaging a plebiscite promised to the people of Kashmir to decide their future, Pakistan and India would live like civilised neighbours and the need for a nuclear deterrent against a country seven times Pakistan’s size would not be needed. This argument aligned with the PM’s view of our nuclear deterrent being purely defensive in nature and his explicitly stated distaste for nuclear weapons as such. On Afghanistan, the PM drew his map for Afghanistan’s future in the shape of a political settlement leading to a coalition government in which the Taliban would have their share of the cake. Imran Khan feared that the US withdrawal proceeding apace without that political settlement risked a fresh civil war, the fallout for Pakistan of a new refugee influx and possible uptick in terrorism. Imran Khan categorically refuted any suggestion that the US would be provided bases in Pakistan to conduct operations in Afghanistan. Even the use of Pakistani airspace for bombing targets in Afghanistan was pooh poohed by Imran as doing the same ineffectual thing again that had not got the US anywhere over 20 years. The PM expressed the hope that the Biden administration would show the determination and will as the most powerful country in the world to help resolve the vexed Kashmir issue. On Xinjiang, Imran Khan refused to go along with the intense propaganda of the West that the Muslim Uighurs were being maltreated by China in Xinjiang. He emphasised that discussions on this and most other bilateral and other issues were held behind closed doors with our Chinese friends, who had stood with us through thick and thin.

While the main thrust of the PM’s answers spelt out his government’s policies on all these subjects, there may arguably be an overlay of oversimplification underlying some of his statements. For example, while no right thinking person would defend nuclear weapons per se, it seems far-fetched that India, despite a resolution of the Kashmir issue (difficult as that still seems), would give up what it conceives of as its nuclear deterrent against China. And if India would not be prepared to go down that route, neither would Pakistan for its own defence reasons. That of course is not an argument against a just resolution of the Kashmir issue, only a cautionary note that nuclear disarmament in the Subcontinent (wishful thinking as that may appear) is not simply tied to a resolution of the Kashmir issue but has wider regional and geopolitical ramifications. An interesting development taking place is the All Parties Conference in Kashmir called by the Modi government to discuss Kashmir’s state of affairs. To make the conference possible, all the Kashmiri leaders incarcerated when Modi illegally annexed Kashmir, reversed its autonomous status according to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, and divided Jammu and Kashmir into a federally ruled state with the exception of Ladakh, which was separated, have been freed. Those recently released leaders are gearing up to make the case at the conference (scheduled for today) that the Modi government must reverse its steps of two years ago and restore the status quo ante in Kashmir. Arguably, the exacerbated tensions and violence in Kashmir may have persuaded the Modi government to revisit its steps. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, there is little to cheer about. The US/NATO troops will soon be gone, leaving Afghanistan to the tender mercies of a Taliban gathering steam on the battlefield as they nibble away at province after province. The worst case scenario of a Taliban takeover and possible fresh civil war looms over all else, especially since the Taliban-Afghan government dialogue in Doha remains stalled. Pakistan must brace for the fallout in the wake of these developments.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021


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