Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan was on a two-day visit to China. The Pak Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa had also reached Beijing a day ahead of Mr. Khan’s visit to meet his counterpart General Zhang Youxia and top military officials of the Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA). Gen Bajwa joined Prime Minister Imran Khan in his meetings with the Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang. Significantly, it was Imran Khan’s third visit to China in less than a year.
The joint statement of the visit reaffirmed the firm resolve of the two countries “to further strengthening ‘Pakistan-China All-Weather Strategic Cooperative Partnership’ aimed at building a “Community of Shared Future in the New Era”.
Quite expectedly, the statement also contained a paragraph on the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. While satisfying Pakistan with its reference to UN resolutions, which, China perhaps knows, are un-implementable, Beijing did send out a clear message to Pakistan to resolve the issue with India bilaterally.
Importantly Imran’s visit came just days before the Chinese President’s visit to India and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) meeting which would evaluate Pakistan’s compliance with its own commitments and decide whether it would be pushed from ‘grey’ to the ‘black’ list. It was natural to expect that in their meetings with top Chinese leadership, both Mr. Khan and Gen. Bajwa would dwell on the Kashmir issue and send out a message that the two countries were still on the same page. However, to the credit of President Xi, he did not take up the Kashmir issue at all during the informal summit meeting with Prime Minister Modi at Mamallapuram.
However, Mr. Khan’s speech at the UNGA as well as his visit to China received mixed reactions at home. Most of the commentators in Pakistan were realistic in their assessment. They held that howsoever hard Imran might try to maintain his political currency in Pakistan, the overall impact of his efforts on the Indian decision to revoke Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution and reorganise the state of Jammu and Kashmir would be zero.
There were others who say that, in the past, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif had made such speeches without having much effect on the Indian approach to Kashmir. There also has been a sober evaluation of the evolving global strategic landscape and a grudging acknowledgement of India’s ascendancy at the international level, in terms of its power potential and its relevance to all world powers, including China, as a natural partner that could serve their interest as well as play a bigger role in shaping the emerging world order. Imran Khan and his men are waking up to the fact that the Indian move has left him high and dry in Pakistani politics. It has given the opposition a handle to pin him down. They are flagging his political innocence and incompetence for not being able to anticipate the Indian action in Jammu and Kashmir. Bilawal Bhutto has even taken a dig at Mr. Khan and his purported mentors (the army) by saying “Imran Khan is a mere puppet whose strings are being pulled by other forces”. Maulana Fazalur Rahman is all set to stage his long march to Islamabad expecting to reap political dividends riding on popular disenchantment with Imran’s policies.
The Khan government is hobbled by rising inflation, unemployment and falling rate of revenue collection and investments. A recent survey by a global market research and consulting firm – showed that people’s confidence in the Pakistani economy was on the decline. Pakistan’s score stood at 33.8 compared to 62.9 for India. The short-term forecasts for next six months is quite gloomy with about 79 per cent people saying that Pakistan is heading in the wrong direction.
In Imran’s dwindling popularity, the Pak opposition is smelling revival of its political fortunes. Both Bilawal and Nawaz Sharif are quietly endorsing Fazalur Rahman’s march to further unsettle Imran Khan and test the strength of his ties with the military.
Script: Dr. Ashok Behuria, Senior Fellow & Coordinator, South Asia Centre, IDSA