Talking to media after inaugurating the Torkham Terminal at Pak-Afghan border before leaving for New York to attend the UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) session, Pakistan PM Imran Khan warned his people that, “If anyone from Pakistan goes to India to fight ‘jihad’ (Holy war), he will be the first to do an injustice to Kashmiris; he will be the enemy of Kashmiris.” Pacifists and supporters of Khan considered this paradigm shift in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy of packaging and presenting terrorism in Kashmir to the international community as “freedom struggle” a clear indicator that he was finally breaking away from the country’s dubious past record of patronising terrorism. But pragmatists viewed this announcement as a well-timed ploy just before the UNGA session aimed to mislead the international community by giving the false impression that Islamabad no longer had any truck with terrorism.
In his UNGA address, Khan spoke of how in the 80s, “Pakistan trained the then “mujahedeen” at the behest of the Americans” and while “the Soviets called them ‘terrorists’, the Americans had then called them as ‘freedom fighters’. He went on to mention that after Pakistan “had to join the US and tell the same indoctrinated people this is now not a “freedom struggle” but “terrorism”. They (mujahideens) suddenly saw us as collaborators; it became a nightmare and they turned against us.” His admission that even if sponsored by the state, violent activities by armed groups could no longer be passed off as “freedom struggle” seemed to vindicate those who believed Khan’s assurance of ‘zero tolerance’ for all types of terrorist activities in his “Naya (new) Pakistan.” This belief was reinforced when in his UNGA address Khan also mentioned that “when we came into power; we decided to disband all militant groups; and this was a decision taken by all political parties.”
At that time, it really seemed that after realising how the country and its people had suffered due to the self-debilitating state policy of patronising terrorist groups, Khan had finally given Pakistan Army’s ‘strategic asset’ strategy a ‘thumbs down’. But, just two days after Khan had waxed eloquent at the UNGA, the pragmatists who had all along accused him of trying to mislead the international community by taking the high moral ground against terrorism were proved right in their assessment. Khan admitted that he was “disappointed” on finding no worthwhile support from the international community on his Kashmir narrative even after he did his best to “forcefully present the Kashmir case like never before at the UNGA session.” So, in a complete reversal of his stand on terrorism at UNGA, the first thing that the “disappointed” Khan did upon his return home from the US was to talk about ‘jihad’ (holy war) in Kashmir by saying, “It (standing by Kashmiris) is ‘jihad’. We are doing it because we want Allah to be happy with us.”
Though New Delhi did condemn Khan’s ‘jihad’ call, it has (as is its wont), let him off very lightly by not acquainting the international community with the dangerous consequences of his remarks. Khan’s bid to give the Kashmir issue a communal flavour and inciting Muslims all over the world is something that cannot be overlooked. In fact, his actions are reminiscent of former Pakistan President and army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf’s candid admission during an interview given to Der Spiegel, a reputed German magazine, in 2010. Readers may recall that he openly spoke of how “we (Pakistan Army and ISI) poisoned Pakistani civil society for 10 years when we fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It was ‘jihad’ and we brought in militants from all over the world, with the West and Pakistan together in the lead role.”
With Islamabad’s attempt to internationalise the Kashmir issue falling flat at the UNSC (United Nations Security Council), its inability to garner international support on Kashmir at UNGA and the plan to knock on the doors of the International Court of Justice making no headway, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to comprehend that Pakistan has decisively lost the diplomatic battle for Kashmir. All these setbacks left Khan with no other option but to violate established canons of diplomatic behaviour and civility by brazenly using the venerated podium of UNGA to spew vitriol in an attempt to polarise the world on communal lines and subsequently call for ‘jihad’ in Kashmir just in order to replicate the Afghanistan ‘jihad model’ here.
As far as the Kashmir issue is concerned, the situation for both Islamabad and Rawalpindi is desperate and since desperate times call for desperate measures, Khan’s ‘jihad’ call and Pak Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa’s willingness to “go to any extent” for the sake of Kashmir need to be taken very seriously as these certainly aren’t empty threats. Again, one is reminded of Gen Musharraf, who during an interview given to Pakistan’s Duniya TV in 2015 unabashedly admitted that “We gave Lashkar (Lashkar-e-Toiba) terrorists a heroic welcome. We trained and supported them. They were our heroes. They fought very well in Kashmir.” He also went on to mention that “We introduced ‘religious militancy’ to flush out Soviets. We brought Mujahideens from all over the world. We trained Taliban, gave them weapons and sent them for war and they (militants) were our heroes. Osama bin Laden and Haqqani were our heroes.”
Even though Khan has declared that “We are the first government that has started disarming militant groups,” but by admitting that “we still have about 30,000-40,000-armed people who have been trained and fought in some part of Afghanistan or Kashmir,” he’s made it clear that Pakistan still retains the capability of creating trouble both in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Furthermore, by making false allegations of excesses and saying that had he been in Kashmir he would have picked up a gun, Khan is openly playing with emotions of young Kashmiris and pushing them into the abyss of terrorism. This is precisely the reason why his unambiguous call for ‘jihad’ in Kashmir, complemented by Gen Bajwa’s ominous assurances of “going to any extent,” need to be taken far more seriously not only by New Delhi, but by the entire global community as well because who knows when Pakistan might create another Osama bin Laden!