Saturday 4 August 2018

Imran Khan the face of GHQ’s India-Afghan strategy (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

According to GHQ elements, the US side has privately asked Indians to abandon hostility to the Taliban and join in the US-Pakistan strategy of co-opting the militia.

Former cricketing star Imran Khan, whom the Pakistan army wishes to get sworn in as Prime Minister of Pakistan before 14 August (the day the state was founded out of a partition of the subcontinent), has “already passed his first test”, according to the upper echelons of GHQ Rawalpindi. This was to ensure through his modern and moderate image in the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union that both sides of the Atlantic would give their seal of approval to the military-supervised mock election that nevertheless failed to give his PTI party a simple majority in the Pakistan National Assembly (NA). Had the election been as fair as the Good Conduct certification awarded to the clearly dodgy process by the EU monitors, Nawaz Sharif’s party would have secured an easy majority among the 272 members directly elected to the National Assembly, rather than fall far behind that mark. Observers in Pakistan say that the 2018 national election is similar to those conducted in 1977, when Z.A. Bhutto converted through fraud certain defeat into an overwhelming victory, claiming 155 out of 200 seats. The subsequent public reaction gave an opening for General Zia-ul-Haq to bring Bhutto down and later have him executed for murder, not of democracy but of a political rival. However, in 2018, the Pakistan army itself is the principal prop holding up Imran Khan. While 137 seats are needed to secure an NA majority, Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party won only 116 seats, despite vote-rigging on an industrial scale by the military. However, the trusted loyalist of the men in khaki is expected to be assisted by the ISI to ensure that he secures at least 145 seats. Already, the MQM as well as numerous independent National Assembly members have been given “offers they cannot refuse” in case they wish to remain in good health and out of prison in Pakistan. It is calculated by those aware of internal developments in that country that the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the Pakistan People’s Party would have, in a fair election, secured 151 and 83 seats, respectively, rather than the 64 and 43 the Pakistan military could not stop them from winning.
That the PTI is only a puppet party became clear from the way in which GHQ Rawalpindi forced it to dial back, in a humiliating manner, from the earlier plan to emulate Prime Minister Narendra Modi and invite all SAARC leaders to Islamabad for the Imran Khan swearing in. Even the incoming Prime Minister’s personal friends from India were barred from being invited by GHQ, which would like to avoid any rise in public sentiment favouring closer relations between Islamabad and Delhi. In the tradition of attempted peacemaker A.B. Vajpayee, Prime Minister Modi reached out to Imran Khan soon after the polls had closed, offering the hand of peace exactly as Vajpayee had done to Nawaz Sharif and subsequently to Pervez Musharraf, the jihadi commando general who had been busy finalising the Kargil assault during the very time that Vajpayee was in Lahore as the guest of Prime Minister Sharif. Later, even though Army Chief of Staff Musharraf insulted Vajpayee by refusing to call on him at Lahore, the Indian Prime Minister ensured global rehabilitation to the uniformed coup master soon after the Kargil war by inviting Musharraf to Agra for a summit with the elected leader of the world’s most populous democracy. Showing the same spirit of trust and accommodation, Prime Minister Modi ensured the accession on 4 April 2016 of “soft separatist” Mehbooba Mufti to the chief ministership of Jammu & Kashmir, despite warnings that such a move would exacerbate rather than promote peace in the Valley. PM Modi took the risk (of alliance with the PDP) for the sake of peace, just as he took the risk of demonetisation later that year in the hope of stopping the use of paper currency in transactions across India. Such a change would have enabled the tracking by state (and other) agencies of every financial transaction in the country, had it worked out the way it was intended to. His reaching out to Imran Khan, despite the anguish this caused to the PML(N), PPP and the tens of millions of ordinary Pakistanis unhappy at the stealing of an election yet again by the army, was an act which once again has demonstrated Prime Minister Modi’s fealty to Vajpayee’s commitment to peace with Pakistan.
Those familiar with the higher echelons of GHQ Rawalpindi claim that Imran Khan has been installed as Prime Minister in order to provide a civilian cover for the military’s plan to ensure control of the bulk of the territory of Afghanistan through the Taliban. In this process, GHQ has been encouraged by the warmth newly shown by the US National Security Council towards its plan to insert the Taliban into the core of the governance mechanism led by Ashraf Ghani in Kabul. Once ensconced inside the government, the Taliban would “scoop out other elements and expand their reach”, until they were in a position to topple Ghani and replace him with one of their own commanders, of course vetted by GHQ Rawalpindi. It is expected that the first overseas visit taken by the new Prime Minister of Pakistan will be to Kabul, where he would be expected by GHQ to deploy his charms towards convincing Ghani to permit elements of the Taliban into the government. Those close to Imran Khan say that “substantial informal contacts, both with the NSC as well as with the State Department”, have taken place between him and key US policymakers, who (according to GHQ elements) are “fully on board” where the question of strengthening the relative position of the Taliban is concerned. “Imran has promised (the US side) that he would see to it that only Afghan and not US soldiers were killed (by Taliban elements)”, they claimed, adding that “this is all the US wants to hear”. The new PM of Pakistan would also ensure that “conditions get created that would permit President Donald Trump to declare victory and pull US troops out of Afghanistan”. Apparently, in much the same way as the Soviets did in 1988, and with the same result: an Afghanistan soon almost wholly under Taliban (i.e. GHQ) control. According to GHQ elements, the US side has privately asked their Indian interlocutors to abandon hostility to the Taliban and join in the US-Pakistan strategy of co-opting the militia that has held US forces to a humiliating stalemate as a consequence of the not so clandestine backing of the group by the Pakistan army and its terror proxies. Washington has demonstrated its backing to GHQ by, for example, killing first Hakimullah Mehsud of the Pakistan Taliban and subsequently, Mullah Fazlullah, who had been battling the Pakistan army in the name of “freedom for Pashtuns from Pakistan army control”. He was killed by a US drone strike six weeks back.
In its plan for the re-conquest of Afghanistan, the role of Imran Khan will be to present a moderate face to the NATO powers, so that they accept GHQ Rawalpindi’s designs in the same manner as they certified as kosher the “election through selection” of Imran Khan as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. Clearly, despite the assurances being given publicly and privately to New Delhi and the tweets and statements condemning Pakistan from President Trump and key associates such as Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo, there remains a considerable distance between what, for India, would be a desirable outcome in Afghanistan and what the Trump administration seems to be promoting. While India would like to see Afghanistan wholly under the control of the moderate majority within the population of that long-tortured country, the US, in effect, is giving indications of going along with the Pakistan army objective of inserting a fanatic and terror-supporting layer into the heart of the Afghan government, thereby negating all that NATO claims to have been working for (at substantial cost in personnel and resources) since 2001. What is worrisome for the Government of India is the fact that control over Afghanistan is only a stepping stone towards the next objective of GHQ Rawalpindi, which is the taking over of effective control of most of that part of Jammu & Kashmir which remained in Indian hands after the 1948 ceasefire suggested by Governor-General Mountbatten and acceded to by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel. Months after the Taliban get securely installed in Kabul, the temperature within the Kashmir valley will be boosted to a level that GHQ expects will “drive the Indians out by making any form of (coherent) administration of the territory impossible”. Throughout this process, Imran Khan is expected to lead a “human rights drumbeat against India” that would camouflage the reality of the state coming under Wahhabi fanatics not very different in their outlook and methods from the Taliban.
Another task of Imran Khan (in which it is expected that he will be able to enlist the support of major NATO powers) will be to convince the Government of India to once again adopt the course favoured for long stretches of time by Prime Ministers I.K. Gujral, A.B. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. This is the dampening down of Indian military responses to Pakistan army provocation (such as shelling and firing) from across the Line of Control in Jammu & Kashmir. The robust response by the armed forces led by Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat has dismayed the Pakistan army and affected its ability to increase mayhem in the Valley despite the negative effect on the situation of the Mehbooba Mufti government. Through his considerable public relations skills, it is anticipated that the Indian side will go back to the hesitant and half-hearted responses to Pakistan army provocations across the LoC that was so marked during the period when the world renowned pacifist A.K. Antony was the Defence Minister of India.
The re-conquest of Afghanistan is Stage I of the GHQ Rawalpindi plan, a key facet of which is the propping up of the telegenic Pashtun cricketer as the Prime Minister in Islamabad. Stage II is the de facto takeover of the Kashmir valley, while the final stage is a meltdown of governance in India through a continuous rash of violent incidents resulting in a breakdown of law and order across much of the country. This would assist in GHQ’s desire to bring India’s growth rate back to the pitiable level it was during the 1950s and the 1960s, thereby preventing India from emerging as the world’s third largest economy. The soon-to-be-installed Prime Minister of Pakistan is expected to play his designated role of charming the Afghanistan leadership, the NATO powers and the leadership in India into following policy paths that would inadvertently carry forward the agenda of GHQ Rawalpindi. Congratulating Imran Khan on his contrived victory and expecting him to sincerely join hands with Prime Minister Modi to ensure peace between India and Pakistan may, therefore, be a noble idea whose time still appears to be very distant.

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