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Opinions: The Imran Effect

By Prithwi Tilak Banerjee-During Pakistan’s election drive, Imran Khan spoke more about corruption, than international relations. But whenever he talked about other nations taking part in the regional politics, it was in an accusatorial tone, mostly to blame international players for machination against him, and Pakistan. That might have been just a got-up patriotic statement to arouse the nationalistic sentiment of the lower middle classes. Maybe when in power he will not be that naïve to go directly all-guns-blazing against the major forces. It is true that before coming to power, he always blamed the US for forcing Pakistan to be part of a war that is not their own but now he will be more restrained and far more diplomatic as per need of the hours.

Tough foreign-policy encounters may soon engulf Pakistan if Imran puts into practice his love affair with Taliban and if he remain a complete puppet to Army because the Army will now even more want to use the situation and be more ‘active’ on its borders. But as it is a hung parliament, he has to be hopelessly dependent on army in foreign-policy matters. Real power in deciding Pakistan’s associations will stay in the hands of army, not a new prime minister as per the known 70 years’ trend, an army ruling a nation.

The heat of the aftermath from the Afghan war was borne by the Pashtun region rather than being the national catastrophe for both the nations. And that will be the sympathy point Imran would like to use, as an excuse, and would love to nurture, evoke, highlight, tempt, and fondle with. Imran’s steps will be closely, keenly, and vividly observed as an extra burden by President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul. The rise of a Pashtun Leader in Islamabad should have been the ultimate dream of any Afghan President. A relief of a lifetime. An everlasting and dependable comfort zone pillow. But it’s not the case and Ghani knows that.

Instead, this Pashtun on the other side has agendas that are totally at cross with that of Ghani’s. Imran’s agenda will be to boost his own popularity in Afghanistan, at the cost of decreasing the value of Ghani’s image. He will do that by advertising his sympathy towards the people in the border areas who are still suffering, due to war. But Ghani cannot go in to draw first blood, not even diplomatically. Not because Pakistan is more powerful. It always was. And not because Ghani is bound to play wait-and-watch. But, because, Ghani is scared that Imran will want to dominate Afghanistan again by playing the victim card to arouse Pashtun suffering and in doing so provoke rebellion ultimately to aid, help, and re-build Taliban.

Imran should not be seen in the traditional Pashtun-Punjabi balance. Majority of the impact of the blow from Afghan war was borne by the Pashtun region, true, but it was national catastrophe. But he is smart enough to use this as his weapon. President Ghani being extremely educated and intelligent knows this.

The truth is, there will not be any massive change in the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Imran Khan said a stable Afghanistan will be beneficial for Pakistan and it will affect and effect Pakistan’s stability too. But the truth is that he is a politician after all, and when it comes to such important Foreign Policy the chances are he is either bluffing or is hiding a double meaning in his statement. Let us analyze.

Before going into the analysis of his statement which he said, let us just visualize his current positioning and his standing in terms of the topic. Imran will be careful and play smart. He will not seek to impose a moral code on his armed forces. But he will draw some lines. These lines will stretch from Pakhtunkhwa right through Afghanistan, the arena of his political debut and soft corner. This is where he cannot strike deals or compromise. His political turf might turn into ashes if he does so. And he knows that damn well.Therefore, he will try his best that the Army does not cause much ‘direct actions’ on the borders, but he will have no control on how the Army hands their ‘handlers’ to infiltrate and cause damages indirectly.

And just before stepping into analysis of that statement, let us for once look at the home turf situation. Imran should not be seen as the long-awaited and forever-hoped-for Pashtun-Punjabi combination who will balance both sides and will keep both happy. It might be assumed that he will pleasure the Punjabis by being strict on the movements of the Pashtuns and on the other side he will keep Pashtuns happy by not enforcing law & order strictness on them all the time. But that eye wash may not last full five years. But that is their own internal matter and do not have direct implications with Foreign Policy with others.

So what are we coming to? If he has soft corner for the Taliban, or any other group doing the same work by any other name, will he keep distinguishing between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ of Taliban? If yes, there will not be much of a difference, between him and previous Pakistani leaders. So, what might he do? He might try to justify everyone as ‘good’ without saying so directly. So this would clearly mean terrorists of both sides will have the moral support of the Army and more financial plus equipment support from the ISI. That is exactly what the Army wants. They don’t want to die. They just want to get their jobs done.

So if he is doing that, by the most common mathematical laws of permutations and combinations of all probabilities, it is very clearly understood that he does not want a stable Afghanistan. If he cannot stop the Army from being strict on terrorists, if he has to allow ISI to increase funding and other resources to Taliban, then there must be something that Imran would want in return for not doing that. So what is it? It is economic control. That is the key. It determines everything. Imran wants the same control Pakistan had on Afghanistan in Karzai’s era. No politics exist without economic benefit and Imran would want it.

Imran would like to use the revenues earned by selling Pakistani goods to Afghans for Pakistan’s good. If that is not accepted, then he will try to make sure that Pakistan’s money is used for Afghanistan’s ‘bad’. Pakistan has been a big trading partner all right but was a bulling and controlling partner of Afghanistan. Whenever there was anything that they did not like from Afghanistan’s side they used to seal borders as punishment so that Afghans suffer. They used this tool to make sure the Government of Afghanistan get pressurized to alter their decisions as citizens were suffering and do exactly as Pakistan wants. So, in this way Pakistan tried to control Afghanistan’s foreign and home policies both; even after the fall of Taliban.

A financially strong, socially stable, economically prosperous, and culturally independent Afghanistan is the last thing Pakistan wants. They have been using Afghanistan as a breeding, nurturing, training, and developing ground for terrorism since ages; and wanted to keep it that way. But as things have changed it makes Pakistan angry. They have been playing the Muslim brotherhood card far too long and far too often. They thought they can continue with it. But the real opium for mankind is not opium production but socio-economic development, along with stability and peace. Afghans got the flavor of that opium.

So Afghans will not want to go back to that previous state. This is what Pakistan has come to understand and their anger start from there. That Jihad is no more the staple food here. Pakistan also thought they will be able to use the Pashtuns of both sides of the border, for their sole purposes. They thought as 70 years back Baccha Khan failed in the hands of Jinnah in the name of religion even now they can carry on their game. But everything has changed in last 14 years. Even after Ghani came to power they started to think they will regain ground as initially Ghani was giving them opportunity to fix relationships. But they again mistook it as weakness, and faltered. But this man Imran is too straight forward. He will ask direct. Imran will clearly tell Ghani reduce relationship with others who take advantage of our fight & lets unite.

Afghanistan is not poor. It has $ 3 trillion of mines. It has capability to produce its own crop and Afghans are hardworking enough to face hardship in short term for long term gains. There are significant clusters such as India–Iran–Russia alliance which will built Afghanistan and manifests itself in major investments, such as Chabahar port allowing Afghanistan to bypass Pakistan and reach out to the whole world. Worst of all, even China has signed an agreement with India for Economic Development of Afghanistan. Imran must be very furious. And equally shocked cum confused. But he will still try to find ways to penetrate.

So now it is very clearly understood via this Analysis that stability in Afghanistan is not directly, but it is inversely proportional to Pakistan. The main goal of Pakistan is control over Afghanistan, by misusing a bit of religious brotherhood, a bit of ethnics, a bit of condolence, a bit of storytelling of blame games, a bit of free access through borders (to make sure they can keep a clear eye and make their ‘guys’ enter), a bit of this and a bit of that, so on and so forth. But let us first understand why Imran will play these games.

As Afghanistan is no more fully dependent on Pakistan it is a loss of billions of dollars to them and that is actually causing economic problems of massive quantity in Pakistan’s Pashtun areas. Very little money of Pakistan’s GDP goes to Pakistan’s Pashtun areas, as majority of it goes to Pakistan’s Punjabi areas. Hence Pakistan’s Pashtuns were dependent on trade with Afghans. Now when that is decreased in big way, and in future there is the threat of being totally vanished, Imran will have no option but to play these games. The more reason Imran will find to play games is that without financial stability the Pashtuns of his area might take into further wrong doings in desperation, and that will hamper security situation of Pakistan.

Being under the control of the Army, Imran cannot force the GDP’s money to flow equitably. The Army will never accept that their autocratic control over luxury will decrease. Therefore, it is imperative that he either increase trade with Afghans or relations with Talibans. He has no options. Imran can play the ISI funded terror card, if Pakistan is not allowed the previous status quo. But Ghani will smartly use the International giants well, and thus Imran will also not even be able to fiddle on the border areas either.

Then he might go to his last resort. The 1 million refugees still left in Pakistan. They can be tortured and forced to be used as terrorists. But as India & China are making $250 million and $150 million worth of housings for them in Nangarhar that can be taken care of easily. Therefore I go back to my statement in the 6thparagraph of this article, Imran cannot make much of an impact or difference in Afghanistan. This nation is on the right track and will progress in that way. Plus Pakistan will have to compete in terms of price and quality of their products in Afghanistan, and for sure they will lose flat out to India and China. Then Imran will not be able to say we were not given fair chance. So there is nothing much to worry for.

So what will Imran do when everything will fail? When his goal to regain economic and political control over Afghanistan will fail and also he will not be able to regain Pakistan’s grounds with terrorists. When he’ll not be able to harm the refugees, and not be able to provide income to his Pakistan side Pashtuns. Then what will Imran try to do? And that is a very fearful proposition. Imran may try to empower every force in Afghanistan that is against Ghani Government. He will try to unite each & every powerful leader of Afghanistan to go against Ghani and stand united in the 2019 elections. And if that is happening then it will be a very bloody (in every sense of the word) election in 2019. International diplomacy and funds will indirectly affect and effect the election all right, still, this will be a major opposition force to reckon.

This is the biggest fear. Plus prospects of fundamental re-composition of the region itself, uncertainties generated by continuously increasing asymmetry between India, Pakistan, USA, China, Russia & Iran are also of considerable importance. Things does not look good on paper, & in reality things can get worse. This will the toughest test. But as history saw, Afghanistan will emerge a winner & flourish. Insha Allah.

Author is Indian citizen and he has spent 9 years in Kabul working in Government (Wuzarat a Mukhabrat), private (Ghazanfar Bank). He has been in Corporate and Masters level trainer / teaching in Kabul working for Bakhtar, UMEF, and Rana Universities. He has been into Biz. Dev., Marketing, HR, Admin,& Operations.

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