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Pak Gambit

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Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘endorsement’ of Indian PM Narendra Modi as the person most capable of forging peace between the two countries highlights a number of facts. This statement has been latched on to by opposition leaders as exposing Modi’s belligerence towards the western neighbour as false and his ‘nationalism’ as merely a ploy to get votes. Khan has, of course, played both sides of the game. He is banking on Modi winning the election and is looking to score some brownie points for future negotiations. This makes him a pragmatist and underlines his commitment to resolving the pending issues between the two countries, which in his opinion revolve around Kashmir. He is confident that should the opposition come to power, it would be more pliable and conciliatory anyway. As such, there is no need to preach to the choir. He is also aware that any expression of confidence in the ‘mahagathbandhan’ would be exploited by the BJP campaign much better against parties like the Congress. Although Khan is believed to be a creature of the military’s ‘deep state’, he is intellectually better equipped to interface with the modern world than the traditional politicians, largely because of his long engagement with the West. He not only received his education in Britain, but also flourished on the international Cricket scene. He knows the lines that the West will not allow Pakistan to cross. One of these is any kind of nuclear stand-off in the sub-continent. By putting the ball in Pakistan’s court rather than accepting terrorist strikes to ‘avoid nuclear war’, Modi forced Pakistan to see the writing on the wall. It goes to Imran Khan’s credit that he had the smarts to read it quickly and, possibly, persuade the Military to accept a conciliatory approach on resolving the Balakot stand-off. The return of the captured fighter-pilot without delay was an effective gesture that served to calm tempers on the Indian side. All of this means that Khan is not to be underestimated as a political player. He knows the real challenge he faces is on the economic front, which has no quick-fix despite the support promised by China and Saudi Arabia. He faces a difficult security situation not just on the eastern border, but also towards the west. Pakistan has almost entirely lost the backing of the US. In fact, it is facing pressure from President Trump on the issue of sponsoring terrorists. This is why Khan is interested in peace and is reaching out to India’s nationalists. It is a good initiative and if Modi returns to power, it will have proved an excellent gambit.