Pakistan: The Captain's Second Innings

Pakistan: The Captain's Second Innings

(L-R) Rahul Pandita, Christophe Jaffrelot and Ajit Ranade

MUMBAI: On November 5th, 2018, Asia Society India Centre hosted Christophe Jaffrelot and Rahul Pandita at the Nehru Centre for a panel discussion on the challenges faced by Pakistan’s new government under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan. The session was moderated by Ajit Ranade.

Ajit Ranade launched the discussion with an overview of the current state of Pakistan’s economy and spoke briefly about the country’s trade and bilateral relations with its neighbours. He explained how the economy had deteriorated under Nawaz Sharif’s government with a significant increase in the current account deficit. He added that geopolitically, Pakistan is now in a difficult position and is trying to become strategically important in the subcontinent by establishing close partnerships with Saudi Arabia and China.

Christophe Jaffrelot further spoke about the perspectives of Pakistan’s government and its army on the India-Pakistan relationship. He said that General Bajwa, the current Army chief, understands that Pakistan is in an economically dire state and does not have the monetary capacity to sustain a long-term conflict with India. Imran Khan has been cautious on matters concerning India as well and had earlier claimed that his government will take two steps forward for each step India takes to reach out to Pakistan. Speaking on Mr. Khan’s popularity, Jaffrelot attributed it to his proposals to implement an Islamic Welfare State and improve the condition of health and education in the country. In order to fulfill these promises, it is necessary to establish peace with India so the resources from the sizable defense budget could be diverted to the development sector. However, the multiple terror attacks and ceasefire violations in the recent past have impeded peace talks. Jaffrelot later expressed his doubts on whether any efforts to reach a peace agreement would take place in the near future, given Imran Khan’s problematic ties with Islamic fundamentalist groups and the upcoming parliamentary elections in India.

Turning to the issue of Kashmir, Rahul Pandita talked about how the situation had significantly deteriorated in the past decade with a notable increase in the number of casualties along with a rise in the recruitment of militants. While citing his own personal experiences during his reporting assignments, he compared the militancy and infiltration in Kashmir to a malady that had initially shown signs of improvement due to targeted action but has since worsened drastically. He added that Pakistan’s agents had now subtly retreated from the scene in Kashmir, as they believed that the population has now been radicalized enough to sustain the conflict against the Indian security forces.

The discussion also briefly touched upon South Asian geopolitics while addressing the growing role of China in Pakistan’s economy and the Chinese strategy of ‘Debt Diplomacy’ which took advantage of an economically weak country for its own geopolitical gains.

The discussion was followed by an interactive Q&A session with the audience.

As reported by Deepashree Mahajan, Programme Assistant, Asia Society India Centre

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