EVEN while accounting for rhetorical flourishes that are part and parcel of politics, former prime minister Imran Khan has often shown a muddled understanding of militancy in Pakistan. During his address at the Lahore rally on Thursday, he again either cherry-picked facts or misrepresented them entirely in an effort to push one of the central planks of his post ouster narrative — that his independent foreign policy views had fallen foul of Western interests. That, according to him, should be juxtaposed with the ‘slavish’ attitude shown to foreign powers by other Pakistani rulers.
From the podium, Mr Khan accused retired army chief Gen Pervez Musharraf of having sold Pakistanis in exchange for dollars, but among those he named, only Aimal Kasi was a local; all the others, including former Taliban ambassador Mullah Zareef and several Al Qaeda operatives, were foreign nationals. The PTI chief also brought up the violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty by the US in the Abbottabad operation against Osama bin Laden. While that is technically correct, Mr Khan has never expressed unease that the Al Qaeda supremo or other extremely dangerous militants such as Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, etc were found to have been hiding in Pakistan in the first place. He also conveniently chooses to ignore the fact that their capture certainly prevented many more atrocities against innocent people. That is a curious omission, considering he has often referred — as he did again in Lahore — to the 80,000 Pakistanis who have paid with their lives for an ‘alien war’ brought to this country by previous governments and which destroyed erstwhile Fata in the bargain. The factors that sucked Pakistan into the ‘war on terror’ are complex and interwoven with historical and regional dimensions that Mr Khan’s simplistic cause-and-effect approach fails to appreciate. Moreover, for all his justifiable anguish over the human cost of the war, one suspects that he still tends to view violent extremists — those responsible for these deaths — as ‘misguided brethren’ that can be persuaded to live in peace.
At the Lahore rally, the PTI chief also accused previous governments of staying silent in the face of some 400 American drone strikes on Pakistani soil. The reality, however, is more nuanced. For one, both the PPP and PML-N governments are on record as having condemned the attacks multiple times. Certainly, leaked US embassy cables blew the lid off what actually turned out to be public posturing led by the military while the two countries had struck a tacit agreement on the drone strikes. In fact, the cables reveal that then army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani wanted more drone back-up for Pakistan’s own military operations against terrorists who were operating in Fata. Clarity on the causes of militancy and how to address it is of vital importance for a national leader.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2022