by Sreemoy Talukdar

Ever since Pakistani military made it easy for Khan to fulfil his political ambition, the prime minister of ‘Naya Pakistan’ is giving a lot of sound bites. Nothing wrong with that, of course, yet there is a problem.

In his zeal to play to the gallery of religious extremists and nutty nationalists at home, sometimes Khan twists the accounts of telephonic conversations with world leaders, causing diplomatic embarrassment. Sometimes his aides deny an entire interview after it has been conducted. Yet Khan marches on, undeterred.

When not doing another of his volte-faces or approaching “friendly countries” for a bailout, Khan likes to play the regional peacemaker.

In his role as the ‘apostle of peace’, Khan acts like a statesman. His formula is simple. India and Pakistan should talk to each other again, after which New Delhi should hand over Kashmir to Islamabad and we can get on with our lives to becoming good neighbours and usher in ‘regional peace and stability’ (a phrase he seems to have lifted from Xi Jinping). Pakistan might be financially bankrupt, but its prime minister hasn’t lost his swagger.

Speaking at an investment forum in Riyadh on Tuesday where a self-admittedly "desperate" Khan has gone to seek alms, the Pakistan prime minister raked up bilateral ties with India, perhaps under the notion that appearing statesmanlike at such an event might go down well with foreign investors.

In a gesture of magnificent magnanimity, Khan declared that he will “once again extend hand of friendship to India after 2019 elections”, implying that his ‘benevolence’ extends even to short-sighted enemies who cannot look beyond election campaigns. For the head of a state that doesn’t have enough money to pay its loans, Khan’s condescension is amusing.

Khan went on to claim that India had "rebuffed" his overtures that he made as soon as coming to power. “When I won the elections and came to power the first thing I tried to do was extend a hand of peace to India,” he was quoted, as saying. “Now what we are hoping is that we wait until the elections then again we will resume our peace talks with India.”

Iman suggested that since Pakistan is an issue in India’s upcoming general elections, any attempt at talks is likely to prove futile. He had earlier blamed recent cancellation of foreign ministers' talks on India's electoral compulsions. Khan is, of course, too clever by half. As a puppet prime minister of a civilian administration where army wields the real power, Khan’s status is little more than a glorified mayor. It is not even within his remit to make any commitment, in the unlikely event that India gets ready to sit across the table.

Pakistan's security and foreign policy is set by its powerful military, for whom India remains an anathema, an ideological opponent and the cause for Pakistan’s existential crisis. Pakistan’s identity as a nation rests on an 'anti-Hindustanism', it defines itself in respect to India, and its military has become the biggest and most powerful institution precisely because it is seen as the bulwark and the keeper against imagined "aggression" from India.

This Pakistani mindset has been difficult for some peace activists in India to understand. As former R&AW chief Vikram Sood writes in his book The Unending Game, "…there is an inability or unwillingness to understand the ethos of Pakistan, its army and its increasingly fundamentalist Islamic thought process from where it draws its ideological strength. Peace with India is not part of this ideology and there is no common ground between the two."

Unless the military decides to end its 1000-year-war with India (in which case it will end up diminishing its pivotal role in Pakistan’s body politic), talks can never lead to peace or resolution unless dialogue becomes an end in itself, not the means to an end.

It is not as if Khan, a dummy of Pakistan’s clandestine state, is unaware of this reality. Then why is he offering these repeated platitudes?

Khan’s entire gameplan rests on posing as the ‘regional peacemaker’ and putting the onus of cancellation of bilateral talks on India. This serves two crucial purposes for him.

One, it strips "dialogue process" of the context under which India has been compelled to call it off — Pakistan’s use of terror as a tool of foreign policy. When the focus is on "resumption of talks" and the ostensible refusal of one side to play ball, the discrepancy between what Pakistan says and what Pakistan does is lost amid the perception war. In the bargain, Khan gets to portray himself as the peacenik before the world and earns the moral right to preach on Kashmir.

Two, it refocuses the light on Kashmir as “core, unresolved issue” between the two nations and creates a false equivalence between India’s sovereign right on Kashmir and Pakistan’s ill-found objections that are a reflection of its revanchist designs.

Amid Khan’s clever reiteration of a tired claim, it is worth remembering that his policy positions are elastic and myopic, tipped more towards retaining his popularity among Pakistan’s military-loving middle class, right-wing loonies and religious fundamentalists than a studied program of intent. Khan’s stature as a leader is also suspect, given his predilection towards rhetoric and U-turns.

Just on the issue of approaching the IMF for loans alone — an inevitability that no amount of rhetoric can prevent — Khan’s inconsistency as a leader is evident. As the opposition leader, the PTI chief had frequently berated his opponents for “running to the IMF with a begging bowl”.

As the prime minister of a state with empty coffers, it didn’t take long for Khan to gulp down his rhetoric and approach the IMF, reportedly seeking its largest-ever loan package of up to $8 billion.

Lest the world points out the embarrassment that the Khan government has had to face on the IMF issue, his finance minister Asad Umar has boldly claimed that this 13th loan from the IMF will be Pakistan’s last.

Prompting analysts to point out that such claims have been made before.

The point being made is that Khan’s inconsistency and penchant for making promises that he can’t keep make it impossible for any head of state to take him seriously. Khan is right in his assessment that a stable and peaceful region is in both countries’ interests. A stable relationship with Pakistan opens up central Asia for India and gives Pakistan the chance to tap Indian market. Since peaceful relationship with India is not in Pakistan military’s interest, Khan's sermons are little more than an exercise in hypocrisy, of the kind that has been on display multiple times of late.

Khan sought to turn the deaths in Kashmir of some civilians, who had rushed into a terrorist hideout after an encounter without waiting for the security forces to sanitise the place, into a focal point for peaching on Kashmir. He even dragged in the reference to UN SC resolution in an ostensible effort to hype it up and stressed again on “dialogue”.

India released an angry reaction. Calling Khan’s Twitter post “deeply regrettable”, the ministry of external affairs asked Khan to look inwards.

"Instead of making comments on India ‘s internal affairs, the Pakistan leadership should look inwards and address its own issues. Pakistan would serve the interest of the people of the region by taking credible action against all kind of support to terrorism and terror infrastructure from all territories under its control, rather than supporting and glorifying terrorists and terror activities against India and its other neighbours. Pakistan's deceitful stand on dialogue, while supporting terror and violence, stands exposed to the whole world."

India needn’t have gone to such lengths to refute Khan’s mischievous statement. Since the Pakistan prime minister cited the UNSC resolution on Kashmir, he might know that the resolution that calls for eventual plebiscite in Kashmir under the auspices of the UN, first requires as a mandatory step the withdrawal of all Pakistani tribesmen, nationals and security forces who are non-residents and “who have entered Jammu and Kashmir for the purpose of fighting, and to prevent any intrusion into the state of such elements and any furnishing of material aid to those fighting in the state.”

It is then that India is required by the UN to do the same (keeping some forces to thwart Pakistan’s designs) and this sequential step will ultimately lead to plebiscite.

As scholar C Christine Fair has written in War On The Rocks, “Pakistan never met the first condition articulated in the resolution. Indeed, from 1947 onward, Pakistan sustained low-level sabotage and terrorism activities in Kashmir. Pakistan started two more wars with India over Kashmir — one in 1965 and a second in 1999. Simply put: Pakistan’s claims that India flagrantly disregards this resolution are grossly misleading." This might ordinarily be enough to refute the bad logic that Khan habitually cites but one suspects, given Khan’s penchant for deceit, this might not be enough to discourage him from repeating his dubious offer of talks. India may, therefore, try an unconventional route.

Since Khan is so ready to “talk” to India, the Narendra Modi government would do well to launch another surgical strike deep into Pakistan territory, destroy some of its terror infrastructure, make a public declaration, and then take up the offer for talks. It’ll be interesting to see if Khan is still up for it.