On 5th of February, Pakistan observed Kashmir Solidarity Day to show support for the people of India-Occupied Kashmir. This year the day had added significance given India’s August 5 move to revoke the special status of the disputed territory. Prime Minister Imran Khan visited Muzaffarabad and addressed the Legislative Assembly of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Before his speech, AJK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider spoke and suggested PM Imran to set aside his political differences with the opposition for the sake of national reconciliation in view of the serious challenges facing the country, including the current situation in Kashmir. Since it was the Kashmir Solidarity Day, the AJK PM might have thought PM Imran would strike a conciliatory note. On the contrary, Imran publically snubbed the AJK PM, who happens to be from the PML-N, for suggesting reconciliation. Imran made it abundantly clear that he would not reconcile with those who, according to him, looted the country – an obvious reference to the PML-N and the PPP.
The word reconciliation seems to be very notorious in Pakistan. The notoriety stemmed from the so-called National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that the then military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, had promulgated in 2007 as part of a deal struck with Benazir Bhutto, the late PPP leader and a former prime minister. The NRO not only gave amnesty to the PPP leadership but also let thousands of others facing criminal and corruption cases off the hook.
Against this backdrop, whenever the word reconciliation comes, it is always linked with giving amnesty to political leaders facing corruption allegations. But the fact of the matter remains that Pakistan at the moment genuinely needs a reconciliation to deal with multiple challenges on internal and external fronts. Political differences are not something unusual in a country as politically divisive as Pakistan. But despite this divisiveness, in the past we found our political parties to be on the same page at least on the issues of national importance. The most recent example was how despite bitter rivalry, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif invited then opposition leader Imran Khan at an All Parties Conference (APC) to discuss the aftermath of the Army Public School massacre in December 2014. Imran took a break from his dharna at D-chowk – which he had been staging for four months demanding Sharif’s resignation – to join other political leaders for discussing the national tragedy. That goes to show that our political class can come together on national issues. But unfortunately with Prime Minister Imran at the helm that approach has now been abandoned. After the Pulwama incident in February last year that led to tit-for-tat airstrikes by India and Pakistan, PM Imran turned down a suggestion for reaching out to the opposition on the brewing tensions with India. He even avoided a briefing given to parliamentary leaders by the military leadership on the post-Balakot situation. This clearly indicates that for the incumbent government doesn’t consider any difference between local political issues and the issues that are related to the country’s security and sovereignty.
With tensions continuing to soar, US expert on South Asian affairs Michael Kugalman, who is currently visiting Pakistan, told The Review in an interview on Saturday that there is a potential risk of a war between Pakistan and India in 2020. He thinks the current situation between the two nuclear-armed neighbours is worse than after the Pulwama attack. If his assessment is even half true, Pakistan should pull its socks up. But for this, PM Imran needs to think as the head of the state, and not as the head of the PTI. As PTI chairman, Imran has a different role but as Prime Minister of Pakistan he has far bigger responsibilities. It may have been in this context that the AJK PM had advised PM Imran to reach out to the opposition, but the advice seems to have been misunderstood as a call for seeking reprieve for opposition leaders.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 10th, 2020.
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