Today, Imran Khan is doing in Pakistan what Barack Obama did in the United States in 2008. Despite his lack of experience in governance, Khan has created quite a buzz, and is vying for the country’s top job. He still hasn’t managed to convince journalists and analysts how he will win the electoral battle but since “hope” won Obama the presidential election, it is quite possible that “change” will win Khan the prime ministerial race. So let’s run with the assumption that Khan will indeed become the Pakistani prime minister in 15 months, and let’s fast-forward to the inevitable question in Pakistani foreign policy: Kashmir.
First, Khan has declared that as PM, he—and not the Army or the ISI—would be in charge of foreign policy. Not only does Khan promise to call the shots, he can also be held accountable. This would already be a radical shift from Zardari-Gilani, who cannot even claim to control Pakistan’s foreign policy.
So what is Imran Khan’s policy on Kashmir?
In an interview with Indian news anchor Karan Thapar, Khan called Kashmir “the only issue” between India and Pakistan. Moments later, he admitted that he subscribes to the Zardari-Gilani doctrine of putting Kashmir on the back-burner, waiting for a later, wiser generation to sort it out. This leaves his position very unclear. How would he approach the Kashmir issue if it’s both urgent for him and better dealt with by someone else?
He, then, went on to make a statement that no Pakistani leader has ever made: “I dο not, аnу longer, consider it [Kashmir] to be ѕοmе sort of a territorial dispute. I think it’s more of a human rights issue now.” Khan stressed militancy is not the solution, promised an end to all terrorism from Pakistani soil, and even suggested that roles of intelligence agencies could be “eliminated.” It, therefore, seems safe to assume that he would want to declare a cease-fire in the valley.
But then what? Here Khan proposed another set of confusing, contradictory policies. On the one hand he said “dialogue” is the only way forward, implying “bilateral negotiations” as per the 1972 Indo-Pak Shimla Agreement. On the other hand, he said, the solution should be “whatever the people of Kashmir dесіdе,” hinting at the self-determination way out of the crisis.
Khan was bolder in front of the audience in Pakistan. Speaking on the popular Pakistani current affairs program, Capital Talk, Khan went all the way to explicitly say “self-determination,” naming the 1948 UN Resolution that called for a plebiscite in the troubled state.
Despite the varying intensity of his comments, Khan has left his policy vague. This can be attributed to several reasons: a. his political inexperience is getting the better of him; b. he hasn’t thought Kashmir through; c. he is avoiding taking a real stance, and naming all possible scenarios so he cannot be proved wrong, if and when he does become PM; d. he does not believe he will be elected PM this time, and making bold statements is a good way to get publicity for the next election; and, e. he thinks political-watchers don’t access both the Indian and Pakistani versions of his statements, and, therefore, won’t catch his doublespeak!
Kashmir is not going to be simple to resolve. Khan’s inability to say whether he wants a bilateral dialogue or wants to push for the UN Resolution indicates that things will continue to be tense between India and Pakistan. While New Delhi has shown an appetite for bilateral talks, a mention of the UN Resolution will rattle the Indians. According to them, the 1972 Agreement supersedes the 1948 Resolution.
Moreover, there are other issues that put a question mark on the viability of the Resolution. First, of the five member states entrusted with enforcing the Resolution, one—Czechoslovakia—no longer exists. Who will supervise Kashmir’s fate: the Czech Republic or Slovakia? Any amendment to this point will open room for other amendments, thereby putting the entire Resolution in jeopardy. Second, an estimated 350,000 Kashmiri Pundits (the valley’s Hindu minority) have been displaced because of ethnic cleansing. Will they no longer have a vote even though they are descendents of those who lived in the valley when the Resolution was penned? And if they do have a say, how will their votes be accounted for without the threat of tampering from the Indian side?
So far it looks as though India will run into another impasse on the Kashmir issue if Khan comes to power. The only thing to ponder is whether dealing with Khan will be better or worse than dealing with the Pakistani Army and the ISI.
1. Imran Khan’s interview with Karan Thapar on The Devil’s Advocate: www.youtube.com/watch?v=izjDmgvipTo
2. Imran Khan’s interview with Hamid Mir on Capital Talk: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XzgNew4MoiU
3. 1948 UN Resolution: daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/047/72/IMG/NR004772.pdf (PDF)
4. 1972 Shimla Agreement: www.kashmir-information.com/LegalDocs/SimlaAgreement.html
5. The Genocide of Kashmiri Pundits: www.thecsf.org/pdfs/presentation_on_kashmiris.pdf (PDF)
Written by Aanchal Anand
Aanchal Anand is a Masters candidate at SAIS pursuing a dual concentration in Russian & Eurasian, and South Asian Studies.