Imran Khan skips anti-India rhetoric on Pakistan's Defence Day, but goes extra mile to reach out to military

Imran Khan's speech at an event to mark Pakistan's Defence Day was remarkable for what it largely steered clear of — rhetoric against New Delhi.

Neerad Pandharipande September 07, 2018 21:52:04 IST
Imran Khan skips anti-India rhetoric on Pakistan's Defence Day, but goes extra mile to reach out to military

A substantial portion of Pakistan army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa's speech at the country's Defence Day event on Thursday was aimed at India, and it was little surprise that it caught the attention of the media on this side of the border. On the other hand, Prime Minister Imran Khan's speech at the same event was remarkable for what it largely steered clear of — rhetoric against New Delhi.

The only time that Khan referred to India — whether directly or indirectly — was when he narrated his memories of the 1965 war, when he was twelve years old. This was to be expected, since the Defence Day commemorates the Battle of Chawinda during the 1965 war. However, barring this, Khan's speech was largely focused inwards; and when he did take a stand that was critical of a foreign country, it was with respect to the United States, not India.

Shortly into his address, Khan received a huge applause when he said, "It is my promise to you that Pakistan will not get into anyone else's war." He further said, "Our duty is to stand up for own people, and our foreign policy will also be aimed at the betterment of the people of Pakistan."

Imran Khan skips antiIndia rhetoric on Pakistans Defence Day but goes extra mile to reach out to military

File image of Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan. Reuters

Through this, Khan took an unambiguous swipe at the United States, a country which he has repeatedly accused of having 'imposed' its war against terrorism on Pakistan. He had taken a similar stand in his victory speech after his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf won the most seats in the recently concluded election to the country's National Assembly.

He had said, "With the US, we want to have a mutually beneficial relationship...up until now, that has been one way, the US thinks it gives us aid to fight their war...we want both countries to benefit, we want a balanced relationship."

The PTI chief has pulled no punches in attacking the US over involving Pakistan in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan in the past. The following tweet amply indicates his position on the issue:

These statements were made after US president Donald Trump made scathing remarks against Pakistan on New Year's Day, accused it of giving nothing to the US but "lies and deceit" and providing "safe haven" to terrorists in return for $33 billion aid over the last 15 years, thinking of American leaders as "fools".

Khan's statements on Thursday at the Defence Day event constituted an extension of the same stance.

Most of his speech emphasised on improving the human development situation of Pakistan, including health, agriculture and access to justice. He said, "I want a country where people who send their children to government schools believe that these children will grow up to be doctors, engineers, or army generals. When labourers believe that their rights are not being granted, they should be able to approach courts to access justice."

Khan also observed that 33 percent of children in Pakistan suffer from stunted growth, and said, "We should consider them to be our children."

In sum, as mentioned before, the Pakistan prime minister's only statements about India were about a war which took place over fifty years, ago.

On the other hand, army chief Bajwa spoke about the present-day situation. Observing that enlightened nations do not forget their martyrs, he asserted, "We will avenge the blood which has been shed on the border." This was not the only time in Bajwa's speech when he made an indirect reference to India. He further said, "I salute the brothers and sisters of Kashmir, who have shown the spirit of bravery and sacrifice."

Bajwa also made references to human development challenges by terming them as 'another war' that the country is fighting, but these references were brief ones.

While it is true that Khan largely desisted from attacking India, what may worry New Delhi is his zealous attempt to reach out to the military establishment, which is widely believed to call the shots in the country. The prime minister heaped lavish praise on the armed forces, while making veiled criticism of other authorities. He said, "I have come to the conclusion that if there is one institution which is intact and is functioning, it is the armed forces. There is no political interference, and there is a culture of professionalism."

He even made a specific reference to the country's bureaucracy, saying that during the 1960s, it was considered as one of the best civil services in Asia, as it was then a professional one. While he did not make a comment on the present-day bureaucracy, he seemed to imply that the situation is not the same today.

"When there is political interference by politicians like us, and when the institutions are destroyed — that is when a country is destroyed," he said.

Towards the end of his speech, Khan also denied that there is any conflict in civil-military relations in the country, saying that it was a 'myth' being spread by some people. "Both (military and political leadership) have the common goal of uplifting the people of Pakistan," he asserted. His statement is particularly significant considering that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif had fallen out of favour with the 'establishment,' and is now in prison. Sharif's party, the PML-N, had based its campaign on the slogan 'vote ko izzat do'  (respect the vote), indicating that the political class was being undermined.

In an audio message from jail released before the polls, Sharif had hinted at army interference in the political process, saying, "I am seeing that the whole country has been turned into a jail. We have to break these shackles and get out of this jail and rid the 70-year-old game that has turned the prime minister of Pakistan into a tamasha." He had further said, "In the past a dictator (Pervez Musharraf) couldn't end our relationship and neither will they be able to break our relationship today."

In this backdrop, while Imran Khan's omission of references to present-day tensions with India offer some encouragement, the Pakistan prime minister's speech also makes it clear that he has no intention of rubbing the armed forces the wrong way.

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