The Prime Minister who stirred a hornet’s nest

Last week, Prime Minister Imran Khan said something in Iran that caused a stir in Pakistan. At a joint press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Mr. Khan said: “Just a few days back, 14 of our security personnel were killed by terrorists in Balochistan. And I know that Iran has suffered from terrorism, which are from groups operating from within Pakistan. So the security chief will be sitting with his counterpart here and today, they will be discussing ways of cooperation and so that we have trust in each other that both countries will not allow any terrorist activity from their soil …”

Mr. Khan’s statement took many by surprise. While some appreciated his honesty in admitting Pakistan’s mistakes, others were more critical.

Maryam Nawaz Sharif tweeted: “Vilifying & defaming your own country on foreign soil, sitting with foreign leaders, does not find a parallel in the national and diplomatic history. Imagine what the Iranian leadership would be thinking!”

Many pointed out how Ms. Sharif’s own father — former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif — was hounded by Mr. Khan in the past for speaking about militant outfits.

The Opposition also criticised Mr. Khan for the timing of his statement. The statement came days after an attack in Balochistan, and Pakistan’s Foreign Office saying that the attackers came from Iran.

Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told The Hindu that there are a few issues with Mr. Khan’s statement. “One, it points to his hypocrisy. When Nawaz Sharif and our [PML-N] government were pointing out the issue of non-state actors and militant organisations operating from Pakistani soil, Khan called us ‘anti-national’, Modi ka yaar [Modi’s friend] and gaddaar [traitor]. He is now echoing the same sentiments.”

Mr. Asif said he also feels that the timing of Mr. Khan’s statement was not right. “Khan said this on foreign soil and in a country that was accused by Khan’s own Foreign Office of giving sanctuaries to terrorists who carried out the Ormara attack. Was Khan contradicting his own Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi? Instead of saying what his own Foreign Minister said, the Prime Minister seemed apologetic. We know about India’s role in Balochistan. Some of the outfits operating from Balochistan are backed by India. If Khan was talking about those outfits, he should have named India.”

Mr. Asif also felt that Mr. Khan is belittling Pakistan’s efforts against terrorism. “In the last few years, we have been quite successful in eradicating militant outfits. Khan is somehow negating what our armed forces have done for us — from General [Ashfaq Parvez] Kayani to General Raheel Sharif to General [Qamar Javed] Bajwa, Pakistan has launched a successful crackdown against militants. Iran is a valued friend of Pakistan. If Iran has grievances against us, we have our own grievances against Tehran. [T]here are some things you discuss behind closed doors and not in public. Prime Minister Khan obviously needs some lessons in diplomacy.” The Prime Minister’s Office clarified in a statement that Mr. Khan was “talking about non-state actors using Pakistani soil under foreign influence to carry out activities in Pakistan or coordinating from Pakistan”.

Sense of realisation

Senior journalist Asma Shirazi said Mr. Khan should not have said this in Iran but she also felt that there is a sense of realisation that Pakistan has made mistakes in the past. “There are also a lot of misunderstandings between Iran and Pakistan, which makes our border insecure. We need to manage it. Pakistan has its own set of grievances with Iran, for example Kulbhushan Jadav — and the Iranians have their own grievances with us. I think what Prime Minister Khan said was with the consent of the other power quarters but maybe he could have worded it better.”

Ms. Shirazi believed that the ‘Bajwa Doctrine’ is about peace in the region and not living in denial. She said that from Afghanistan to India to Iran, Mr. Khan and Gen. Bajwa have made peace offerings. “Our relations with Afghanistan have improved… We are acknowledging our past mistakes and trying to rectify them now. This is a course-correction path, from admitting our mistakes to cracking down against banned outfits.”

Mehmal Sarfraz is a journalist based in Lahore


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