Member, National Security Advisory Board
ON August 31, 2019, Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi offered conditional talks with India. The conditions were: India to lift the curfew in Kashmir, restore the rights of local residents, release the entire imprisoned Kashmiri leadership and allow him (Qureshi) to meet the Kashmiri leadership. These conditions, more in the nature of a diktat, echoed what PM Imran Khan had written in The New York Times on August 30. Such conditional offers have been repeated subsequently, too.
India’s consistent position has been that terror and talks cannot go together, and that unless Pakistan stops fomenting terror in India, there would be little purpose in a substantive dialogue. However, while the issue of terror remains unaddressed, since the August 5 changes in the constitutional status of J&K, Imran Khan seems to have gone berserk. He has injected an element into the stalled Indo-Pak dialogue process that makes its resumption even more problematic. This element is his consistently vituperative and unbecoming language personally targeting PM Modi.
Imran Khan, of course, is no stranger to such comments. On September 22, 2018, he called Modi ‘a small man’ when he tweeted: ‘Disappointed at the arrogant & negative response by India to my call for resumption of the peace dialogue. However, all my life I have come across small men occupying big offices who do not have the vision to see the larger picture.’ India had chosen to ignore that outburst.
However, his statements and tweets since August 5 have been in a totally different league. Thus, on September 5 he tweeted: ‘The fascist, Hindu-supremacist design of the Modi government with its ethnic cleansing and genocide of Muslims’ agenda in IOJK, in India itself (Assam) and beyond into AJK is now overt for all the world to see.’
In an article for The New York Times, he wrote: “We were not simply up against a hostile government. We were up against a ‘New India’, which is governed by leaders and a party that are the products of the Hindu supremacist mother ship, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or the RSS, whose founding fathers expressed their admiration for Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.”
In the same article, he wrote that Modi had gained global notoriety for the 2002 pogrom against local Muslims on his watch, was denied a visa to travel to the US under its International Religious Freedom Act. He then linked the PM to Slobodan Milosevic, who was tried by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for war crimes. He went on to add, ‘Mr Modi’s first term as Prime Minister had been marked by lynching of Muslims, Christians and Dalits by extremist Hindu mobs.’
After his abusive outburst and threatening tone, Imran Khan, in the article, changes tracks and calls for a dialogue with India. However, such a ‘dialogue can start only when India reverses its illegal annexation of Kashmir, ends the curfew and lockdown, and withdraws its troops to the barracks.’
In this, he was true to his moniker of ‘U-turn Khan’ due to his penchant for reversals of policy decisions, not having thought them through in the first place. Thus, in an interview to The New York Times on August 21, Imran Khan had stated: ‘There is no point in talking to them (Indian Government). I mean, I have done all the talking. Unfortunately, now when I look back, all the overtures that I was making for peace and dialogue, I think they took it for appeasement. There is nothing more that we can do.’
In under 10 days, he went from ‘no point talking to them’ (India) to starting a dialogue under conditions. This just shows his inconsistency, knee-jerk reaction to events, lack of maturity and lack of understanding of international relations.
Some more examples of the derogatory adjectives he has used for the Indian Government, and especially for the Prime Minister, are astonishing for the leader of a country: In the August 21 interview, he accused PM Modi of putting the lives of eight million people (in J&K) at risk and expressed concern at their ethnic cleansing and genocide. In a tweet on August 18, he asked the world to seriously consider the safety and security of India’s nuclear arsenal ‘in the control of the fascist, racist Hindu Supremacist Modi Govt’.
In another tweet, he accused the Modi government of ‘ethnic cleansing of Muslims’. Then again, he tweeted, ‘The Hindu Supremacist Modi Govt poses a threat to Pakistan as well as to the minorities in India & in fact to the very fabric of Nehru & Gandhi’s India.’ In an August 16 tweet, he referred to the Indian Government as: ‘The fascist, Hindu Supremacist Modi Govt’; and ‘the Hindutva exclusivist creed of the Modi-led Govt with its fascist tactics’. On August 14, in a tweet, he likened the situation in J&K to ‘Modi’s earlier ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Gujarat’. In another tweet, he referred to the situation in J&K as: ‘…the brutal, fascist Modi govt’s annexation & ethnic cleansing agenda in IOJK’.
It is obvious that as the reality of the changes in J&K sinks in, Imran Khan is getting more desperate. While such abusive statements could pander to his domestic audience, especially the army, bilaterally they are nothing short of a disaster. Apart from his own predilections, the ‘puppet and selected’ Prime Minister is, undoubtedly, trying to please his army masters to ensure that with such abuses a dialogue would be the last thing on India’s mind. However, if he were ever to be serious about a dialogue with India in the future, he would find that it would be a long, arduous and uphill road to retract his abuses, make amends and be taken seriously by the Indian Government.