By Mohammed Ayoob
August 09, 2018
Imran Khan, Pakistan’s Prime Minister-elect, is expected to take oath of office on August 14 or 15. His electoral victory has set off a great deal of speculation in India, much of it centred on its impact on Pakistan’s relations with the country. Analysts have dissected his statements about the future of these ties and his views on Kashmir and terrorism to discern if a change in Pakistan’s India policy is in the offing.
Much of this is a wasted exercise because it is based on the false assumption that the Prime Minister determines Pakistan’s security and foreign policy and especially Islamabad’s policy towards India. These are the exclusive preserve of the military high command. The civilian government acts in these spheres the way the military’s General Headquarters (GHQ) orders it to do.
A key reason for the military’s hostility towards former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was that he attempted to deviate from the military’s prescriptions on security issues. What the military resented most was Mr. Sharif’s relatively soft line towards India, his bonhomie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his repeated calls that those Pakistani extremists involved in the Mumbai terror attack of 2008 be brought to justice by the Pakistani courts. His comment in May 2018 — “Militant organisations are active [in Pakistan]. Call them non-state actors, should we allow them to cross the border and kill 150 people in Mumbai?” — irked the military considerably.
Therefore, Indian policymakers and analysts should have no illusions that Mr. Khan will be able to change course on India, unless the military leadership approves this. Wariness bordering on hostility toward India is a part of the Pakistan Army’s institutional memory. No civilian leader, least of all Mr. Khan, can change that. He was the military’s chosen candidate for the job of Prime Minister as events leading up to the elections made evident. Mr. Sharif and several other leaders of the PML-N were either disqualified or incarcerated to prevent them from participating in the elections. Opposition stalwarts lost seats in their strongholds casting doubts on the fairness of the elections. Above all, the slow pace of results declaration indicated that the Election Commission had to wait for the “deep state” to approve the results before announcing them.
Mr. Khan is the military’s man par excellence. However, to ensure his compliance with the GHQ’s wishes, the military brass made sure that his party did not receive a clear majority of seats in the new parliament. Mr. Khan is, therefore, dependent upon independents and smaller parties, very amenable to the military’s pressure, to form a governing coalition. The GHQ can always pull the plug on him by ordering these elements to withdraw support if he veers from the course set for him on relations with India. Emphasising Mr. Khan’s role in India-Pakistan relations is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University.