Pakistan's Prime Minister puts the spotlight on contentious issues in South Asia
Mehr Tarar | 22 Oct, 2019
RESPLENDENT IN natural ambers, golds and greens, nestling in the cosy embrace of Margalla Hills, Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, is gorgeous.
On October 14th, TRH Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Kate Middleton, arrived in Islamabad in the British Government’s Royal Air Force Voyager.
‘At the request of The Foreign and Commonwealth Office,’ Prince William and Duchess Catherine, are in Pakistan from October 14-18 ‘to help cement the link between the two countries and their people.’ Kensington Palace tweeted: ‘Whilst The Duke and Duchess’s programme will pay respect to the historical relationship between Britain and Pakistan, it will largely focus on showcasing Pakistan as it is today—a dynamic, aspirational and forward-looking nation.’
People reported: ‘Royal and diplomatic sources reiterate that a history [of centuries] has engendered a vast number of connections between the people and the governments of both countries. For William, there are family ties too. He will also be representing his grandmother Queen Elizabeth—who has been a regular visitor to the country during her reign. Much of the tour will bring echoes of his late mother Princess Diana, who visited Pakistan twice in the last year of her life, and was asked by the Queen to undertake a solo trip as early as 1991.’
People also reported a ‘senior source’: ‘What happens in Pakistan matters on the streets of the UK. It is one of the most important relationships that the UK has.’
On October 12th, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan went on a four-day ‘mediation’ trip to Saudi Arabia and Iran, two of the Muslim world and Asia’s most important countries, and two of the world’s biggest oil producers. Khan was scheduled to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday, and then visit Riyadh for meetings with the Saudi leadership.
Reportedly, ‘The mediation initiative is being taken on Saudi Arabia’s request. Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman had, during Khan’s last visit to Saudi Arabia, asked him to help defuse tensions with Iran as Saudi Arabia wanted to avoid war.’
On October 5th, after the non-violent refusal of Pakistan government and military to allow Kashmiris—of Azad Jammu and Kashmir for Pakistan, Pakistan-administered Kashmir for the world, and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir for India—to march to the LoC in solidarity with the Kashmiris suffering under India’s weeks-long lockdown. It was Khan’s 67th birthday. Khan tweeted:
‘I understand the anguish of the Kashmiris in AJK seeing their fellow Kashmiris in IOJK under an inhumane curfew for over 2 months. But any one crossing the LoC from AJK to provide humanitarian aid or support for Kashmiri struggle will play into the hands of the Indian narrative—a narrative that tries to divert from the indigenous Kashmiris’ struggle against brutal Indian occupation by trying to label it as ‘Islamic terrorism’ being driven by Pakistan. It will give India an excuse to increase violent oppression of Kashmiris in IOJK and attack across LoC.’
This is the Pakistan of Imran Khan and 220 million Pakistanis. What Kensington Palace tweeted is the substance of a country that Indian media and politicians belittle as an ‘internationally isolated hellhole’, simmering with regression, extremism and jingoism, draped in dark hatred of its neighbours, echoing with slogans of India’s destruction. Pakistan is many things but it is not the grim, foreboding, India-hate-centric monolith it is presented as through Indian media and Pakistan-hating Pakistanis. No country ever is: a singular story.
Pakistan reacted to India’s August 5th abrogation of Article 370, bifurcation of Kashmir, the two-month long lockdown, detention of politicians, separatists and regular Kashmiris, and violation of many rights, human rights being the principal one. When Kashmir was silenced, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan became its voice. There is no law that criminalises that.
Khan, on August 14th, Pakistan’s Independence Day, announced: “I’ll become the voice for Kashmir. I will be Kashmir’s ambassador.” Khan, a man of his convictions, did that, and is still doing that. When an entire state, divided against its will and subdued by force, is put on mute, it finds a way to have its silence amplified. Imran Khan’s advocacy became the muted television transmissions, calls that went to dead phones, WhatsApp texts that were undelivered in Kashmir. Khan made Kashmir global. Indian Government and media declared Khan many things unsavoury. Khan was merely being human. There is no law against humanity.
Khan was and is not a claimant to Kashmir. Khan’s agenda is simple: to highlight to the world India’s “human rights violations in the occupied Kashmir”.
On September 27th, at the annual UN General Assembly (UNGA) session, after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered his politically correct speech, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s debut speech lasted for 50 minutes—extempore, brutally honest, bidding adieu to lukewarm oratory meant to please a global audience. Khan’s speech was what all his important speeches are: impassioned, no-punches-held, dil se.
For Pakistan and millions of Muslims across the world, Khan from the prime minister of a developing country became a global statesman who spoke for a better, more inclusive, kinder and a more humane world. For India, Khan became the warmonger who threatened nuclear annihilation. Truth became the biggest casualty of most of Indian media’s reporting. When your raison d’etre is the demonisation of one country, your reporting becomes linear, your analyses black and black, your judgements ominous. Truth distorts into sinister hashtags. Facts convolute into macabre news tickers. Integrity retreats into a dusty corner, whimpering.
Indians denounced Khan’s speech in a collective adjective: warmonger. To India, Khan’s 50-minute speech was “war rhetoric”.
Khan was calm: “I stand here at this forum of world leaders where we have a chance to discuss the problems the world is facing. I especially came to this forum despite a difficult time in my country. I would not have come had there not been a very urgent problem that the world must address.”
And that was Kashmir. But Kashmir was not Khan’s sole topic.
Khan in his speech spoke about climate change: “I don’t see world leaders really realising the urgency of the situation. Pakistan is among the top 10 nations in the world affected by climate change. We depend on our rivers, we are mainly an agricultural country. Eighty per cent of our water comes from the glaciers and these are melting at an alarming pace. Rich countries that contribute the most to greenhouse gas emissions must be held accountable.”
Khan spoke about corruption that gnaws at the edifice of economic stability of developing countries. His message was not merely for Pakistan but for every country of the world, including India: “How will we spend on our 220 million population when our money was plundered by the ruling elite? When we located properties of these corrupt leaders in Western capitals, we find it so difficult to retrieve it. The rich countries must show political will; they cannot allow this flight of capital from poor countries through corruption. There must be a deterrent; the corrupt ruling elite must not be allowed to take money out and park it in tax havens. Why is it legal to have tax havens where you have these secret accounts?”
Khan, reiterating his decades-long denouncement of Islamophobia, othering of Muslims and deepening schisms because of misconceptions of media-exaggerated stereotypes of Muslims, stated: “What is radical Islam? There is only ONE Islam and that is the Islam of Prophet (PBUH). There are radical fringes in every society, but the basis of all religion is compassion and justice.”
Unfortunately, Muslim leaders were unable to explain. We failed as the Muslim world to explain that there is no such thing as radical Islam. In Pakistan, we were in the eye of the storm and our government coined a term
The 9/11 bombers did suicide attacks; all sorts of theories like ‘virgins in heaven’ emerged. Suicide attacks were equated with Islam. No one bothered researching Tamil Tigers and Japanese Kamikaze bombers. No one blamed religion when they carried out suicide attacks and rightly so. No religion teaches violence.
Khan highlighted Islam’s essence: “The prophet (PBUH) is the ideal we want to live up to. He created the state of Medina, a welfare state. I hear such strange things that Islam is against women and minorities. The state of Medina was the first that took responsibility of women, widows, the poor. That all humans were equal, whatever the colour of their skin.”
And Khan highlighted the main agenda of his 2019 UNGA speech: advocacy of the plight of Kashmiris. Khan spoke about India, steps Pakistan took to mend ties with India and Pakistan’s response to India’s actions in Kashmir:
“India keeps saying we have militant organisations, but I invite UN observers to come and see for themselves. Secondly, we started mending fences. We engaged with Afghanistan, Iran.
My relationship with India… Because of cricket, followed with great passion in the subcontinent, I’ve great friends in India. I’ve always loved going to India. So my first move was to reach out to Modi. I said let’s work out our differences; leave our past behind. Our main priority should be our people as we have similar problems: poverty, climate change. The highest number of people resides in the subcontinent.
On zero response from India, we thought we should wait until the Indian elections. Meanwhile, a Kashmiri boy, radicalised by Indian forces, blew himself up on an Indian convoy. Immediately, India blamed Pakistan. I told India to give us proof and we’d act. We had actual proof of Indian intervention in some terrorist attacks in our Balochistan province. We even caught their spy Kulbhushan Yadav who admitted to crimes.
Instead of sharing proofs of any Pakistani’s alleged involvement in the Pulwama attack, India tried to bomb us. We retaliated. We captured their pilot; but returned him [immediately] because we did not want the situation to escalate.
In the election campaign, Modi used terms like: ‘This was just a trailer. The movie is yet to come’.
And then the revocation of Article 370 happened. India increased the number of troops in Kashmir and put eight million people under curfew. What kind of a mindset locks up eight million people? Women, children, sick people. What I know of the West, they wouldn’t stand for eight million animals to be locked up. These are humans.
You think Kashmiris will accept a new status quo under revocation of Article 370?
Hundred thousand Kashmiris killed, thousands of women raped. UN reported. But the world did nothing. It sees India as a huge market. Materialism has trumped humanity.
What will happen when the curfew is lifted? Modi says this is done for the prosperity of Kashmir. But what will happen when eight million Kashmiris come out of a lockdown and face 900,000 troops?”
Khan didn’t threaten a bloodbath. Khan feared that “there will be a bloodbath. Kashmiris are caged like animals in homes. Their political leadership arrested, even pro-India ones. Many boys arrested, taken to unknown locations. Youngsters blinded with pellets. This will only lead to further radicalisation.”
KHAN ARTICULATED PAKISTAN’S concerns: “We fear another Pulwama. And for that, India will again blame Pakistan. Indian FM says Pakistan has 500 terrorists waiting on the border. What will 500 terrorists do against 0.9 million troops? They just want an excuse, the catchword and mantra of Islamic terrorism.”
Khan enunciated: “The phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’ allows India to dismiss human rights and further increase cruelty on the people of Kashmir. Why would we ever want to disrupt peace? There is no other narrative left for India [than to say that].”
Khan entreated: “How would the Jewish community react if even 8,000 Jews were under a lockdown? How would Europeans react? How would any human community react? Are we children of a lesser god? Don’t you know this causes us pain?”
Khan feared: “Pakistan will be blamed should something happen. Two nuclear-armed nations almost went head-to-head in February. And that’s why the UN has a responsibility. Will the world community appease a market of 1.2 billion or will it stand up for justice and humanity? If a conventional war starts between nuclear countries, anything could happen. Suppose a country seven times smaller than its neighbour is faced with the question: either you surrender, or you fight till the end. I ask myself this question. And my belief is ‘La ilaha illAllah’, there is no God but one. We will fight.”
Khan did NOT threaten any war. Khan warned about the worst that could happen: “I’m not threatening a nuclear war. It is a worry. It is a test for the United Nations. You are the one who said Kashmir had a right to self-determination. This is not the time for appeasement, like in 1939, in Munich.
This is the time when you, the United Nations, must urge India to lift the curfew; to free 13,000 detained Kashmiris. This is the time when the UN must insist on Kashmir’s right to self-determination.”
There is no denying: Imran Khan is anti-war, pro-peace, pro-dialogue.
Khan is anything but inconsistent in his stances: Condemnation of Pakistan’s involvement in the US war in Afghanistan; reservations about Pakistan military’s operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) in fear of the collateral damage they would incur; endorsement of Pakistan government’s non-participation in Saudi war against Yemen; insistence on dialogue with Taliban calling military options futile; peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue that would be reflective of the wishes of Kashmiris.
The stances are spread over years. But they are identical: NO war.
In the world of screechy breaking news and helter-skelter of retweets and favourites, there is shrinking space for verification. Propaganda, with an audacious smirk, kicks away the due process. Demonisation of your ‘alleged’ enemy is easy, but it is also cruel. It happens on a loop. Indian tweeters unite to stone Pakistan and its leader, in a frenzied obfuscation of the truth. Even when there is nothing to attack, imaginary insults are created to make Pakistan a punchline. Seething in self-righteous jingoism and an inflated sense of self and country, after deliberate misinterpretation of Khan’s speech, many lost perspective. The former cricketer Virender Sehwag joined the herd.
MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough in his interview of Prime Minister Khan bantered when Khan, jokingly, commented on New York roads, criticising America’s priorities as compared to China’s: “Now you don’t sound like a prime minister, you sound like a voter from the Bronx!” Many Indians, in a blind response to the tweet of a Pakistan-hating Pakistani-Canadian-wannabe-
Sehwag tweeted: ‘You sound like a welder from the Bronx, says the anchor. After the pathetic speech in the UN a few days ago, this man seems to be inventing new ways to humiliate himself.’
Indian celebs, media and politicians indulge in so much Pakistan and Khan-bashing, it is white noise for rational Pakistanis like me. We laugh, and choose to ignore the venom directed at anything Pakistani. But sometimes we respond. To set the record straight, and mostly, just to inform the regular Indians, millions on twitter, that what you see on your phone and TV screens is anything but the truth. And that is mostly when the keyword is Pakistan, and the hashtag is another slur. Sehwag’s tweet was weird on myriad levels.
Why in the world would a sportsman from India—a country whose problems despite its size are much similar to Pakistan, where almost 270 million people live under the official poverty line, 39 out of 1,000 babies die before turning five; 46 million children have stunted growth—would consider the profession of welding demeaning, a word to hurl as an insult? Mishearing is human, deliberate misattributing is flagitious, unrepentant when found in error is just plain petulance, more suited to bratty 10-year-olds than national heroes.
With an insatiable need of setting-the-record-straight, I tweeted, tagging Scarborough, who responded, kind of indignant! “What in the world are you even talking about? As I tweeted earlier, I said ‘voter’ from the Bronx.”
A tiny manifestation of that consistent, that ruthless, that truth-be-damned, that hate-producing propaganda machinery of Indian social and electronic media, working overtime to feed the Pakistan-is-the-monster-that-
And India is arresting old Kashmiri women. One of them said: “You’re saying to the outside [world] that we are happy. No. We are not happy.”