Is Imran Khan pulling a Gandhi to defeat Modi?

Published: September 8, 2019
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Prime Minister Imran Khan. (PHOTO: REUTERS)

Prime Minister Imran Khan. (PHOTO: REUTERS)

Prime Minister Imran Khan. (PHOTO: REUTERS) The writer is recipient of the James A Wechsler Award for International Reporting and a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. He tweets @Mbilallakhani

Imran Khan has done more to internationalise Kashmir in the last four weeks than all of us combined over the last four decades. He’s done this while playing the weakest set of cards possible: an economy running on fumes and decades of failed foreign policy leaving us isolated. And yet, somehow, it’s working — from American Presidential candidates to leading global media outlets to the EU — people are beginning to talk about Kashmir around Pakistan’s narrative of Indian human rights abuses.

Initially, all foreign policy experts argued Pakistan had very few options on Modi’s actions in Kashmir. But in my humble opinion having people standing outside for 30 minutes on a Friday was not a correct response? How would it serve the Kashmir cause? Relying on diplomacy and international op-eds to do the heavy lifting? But Imran Khan’s sincerity cannot be questioned.

Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake. Modi is dramatically over-reaching on Kashmir. He’s stuck between stone pelters and a brick wall: does Modi lift the curfew and release the genie of anger and discontent that he can never put back in the bottle? Or does he keep the curfew and risk international condemnation and a humanitarian catastrophe?

As Modi picks his poison, Imran Khan has settled on non-violent confrontation as Pakistan’s weapon of choice. Modi may have won the battle for Article 370 but Imran Khan will win the war for championing the rights of Kashmiris in the court of international public opinion.

Imran Khan appears to have a three-pronged strategy on Modi’s aggression in Kashmir. First, he’s raising the international profile of the human rights abuses in Kashmir, by linking Hindutva fascism to Nazi Germany and delivering that message across global capitals and the UN. Second, despite extreme provocation, he’s not moving into Modi’s honey trap by mobilizing the army on our border or non-state actors across the border. Third, he’s turning up the heat on global actors by raising the spectre of two nuclear powers in conflict as well as exposure to America’s desperately desired withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In short, Imran Khan’s response to Modi’s aggression is aggressive non-violence. Two points to note here: first, Imran is under a lot of pressure from his base to show muscular action against India. And second, this government is known for its U-turns. This makes Imran’s principled, persistent, coordinated response to the Kashmir crisis all the more remarkable. Not only is he resisting the pressure to do something stupid but there is strategic depth to this policy. What are his strategic objectives though, through which we can measure the success of this policy?

The primary objective of Pakistan’s resistance to Modi should be anchored in leveraging the blatant Indian actions, to draw attention to the longstanding occupation of Kashmir and butchering of their rights by the Indian state. If this is the strategic objective of Pakistan’s policy, there are only two ways to achieve it.

The first is to turn global public opinion against the Indian occupation — which is Imran’s current policy paradigm and is beginning to show signs of success. The second policy option is a military confrontation to provoke even more international attention to this issue. This would be inadvisable and would be a confrontation our economy cannot afford. In this context, Imran Khan’s policy on Kashmir isn’t just delivering results but the right choice to achieve our strategic objectives.

What should we do next to dial up the heat on Modi? If India wants to play Israel, Pakistan should take a page out of the Palestinian playbook. An organic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement can be nurtured to shame investors, academics and influential organizations from working with India until they end human rights abuses in Kashmir.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2019.

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