When your beard is on fire, it is folly to ask for a matchstick to light your bidi.
Pakistani cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, being clean-shaven, perhaps hasn’t been the recipient of this nugget of folk wisdom. But any of his flamboyantly bearded political fellow-travellers and jihadi associates who are piggybacking on his popularity will be able to testify to the verity of that statement.
At a public rally in Mirpur on Thursday, Imran Khan, who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and has been hardselling himself as the messiah who will deliver Pakistan from the political mess it is in, said that his party would, if elected to power, accord topmost priority to solving “the Kashmir problem” with India.
More specifically, Khan said that a future PTI government would “solve the problem” through dialogue with India, because Pakistan’s successive attempts to impose a “military solution” had failed. Channelling his inner Arundhati Roy, he added that both India and Pakistan had been spending disproportionate amounts of their wealth on weapons instead of investing in their people.
India, said Khan, was in “forceful occupation of Kashmir”, but ought to learn from America’s “invasion” of Afghanistan: that you can’t win with military force, however overwhelming it may be.
That’s quite a mouthful coming from Im the Dim. It’s also a manifest attempt to project himself as a reasonable peacenik with whom India can do business – and strike cosy deals on Kashmir.
But it reeks of sheer audacity for a man whose own country is being torn apart by jihadists and Taliban fighters of various dispensations to accord utmost priority to the Kashmir issue, which is a “problem” only to the extent that Pakistan hasn’t abandoned its lust for Indian territory despite having suffered several humiliations on the battlefield.
It may have escaped Imran Khan’s attention, busy as he has been with feeding his fantasy of being elected to power on the strength of his unstated but perceptible backing of the Army and the ISI – and jihadi nutcases, but the Pakistani government is in no position to exercise its authority in its own territory, particularly in Balochistan and Sindh, where breakaway movements are being put down fiercely. Meanwhile, ethnic Pashtuns are eager to carve out territory from both Pakistan and Afghanistan to form a Pashutnistan.
And, as the recent shooting of Malala Yousufzai shows, the Taliban, which the Pakistani army and the ISI once used as a proxy arm and a “strategic asset” to wage war in neighbouring countries, has turned a cannibal and has begun to feed on Pakistanis themselves. And the jihadi snakes that Pakistan bred and slipped across the border into the Kashmiri garden have now turned on their own handlers.
In other words, Pakistan’s descent into the hell world of jihad is near-complete, and Imran Khan, should he ever come to power, runs the serious risk of governing only a dismembered Pakistan.
And yet, despite the enormity of Pakistan’s problems, the first priority that he will accord is to solving “the Kashmir problem”? Beards, bidis, anyone?
Meanwhile, in faraway Djibouti, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who too is decidedly clean-shaven, was similarly lighting a Kashmiri bidi. Addressing the OIC Council of Foreign Ministers, a talking shop where Islamic countries gather for some quami breast-beating and group therapy, Khar recalled that Kashmir was the “oldest unresolved issue” on the UN Security council agenda, and remained a source of constant conflict between Pakistan and India. She then threw in the usual shibboleths about “human rights violations” and “persecution of the Muslim majority” in Kashmir, but, given the proforma nature of these speeches, wound down with expressions of hope that India and Pakistan would find peaceful and mutually accepted solutions to all outstanding issues, including the Kashmir dispute.
But then, Kashmir has always been something of a obsession with Pakistani leaders, although their covetousness has only recoiled on them – fatally, in some cases. Just look at the record of Pakistani leaders who fumed and fretted over Kashmir.
After Pakistan’s defeat at the hands of the Indian Army in 1971, and the birth of Bangladesh, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto promised a thousand years of war with India. But he was hanged by his own compatriots and Generals.
The General who had him hanged, Zia ul-Haq, masterminded the campaign to unleash jihadi terror in Kashmir and Punjab. But he himself faced a bloody end, when his helicopter was blown up by a bomb placed in a crateful of mangoes.
ZA Bhutto’s daughter Benazir Bhutto was given to mouthing high-minded rhetoric about talking peace with India, whenever an election was imminent; but as soon as she won, she would clamber onto a truck in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and would bay for ‘azaadi’. And how did she die? She was blown to bits by a jihadi bomber within minutes of returning from exile to contest an election.
And the General who was widely suspected of having Benzir killed, Pervez Musharraf, staged coups and waged the Kargil war with India in order to secure Kashmir. But today, the powerless nobody cannot even set foot in Pakistan, much less talk of Kashmir.
As can be seen, the omens aren’t overly propitious for Imran Khan. Talking about Kashmir is injurious to Pakistani leaders' health and political well-being. Far better off would be to talk of Pakistan’s genuine problems with its own brand of jihadists and Taliban lunatics – and winding down terrorist havens in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Perhaps then, the Kashmir “problem”, such as it is, will be solved on its own accord…