Home / News / India /  Pak Opposition has united with its eye on next general elections: Bambawale

The coming together of 11 opposition parties in Pakistan seems to be a serious attempt to present a political alternative to the Pakistani people, says former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, Gautam Bambawale. He, however, thinks that the opposition unity is aimed at the next general election rather than unseating the Imran Khan Government. Bambawale, who has also served as India’s ambassador to Bhutan and China, says that a Biden presidency could see an increase in pressure on India on the issue of Kashmir. Edited excerpts from aninterview.

Pakistan has evaded the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) blacklist once again but continues to be on the grey list. So the conclusion seems to be that Islamabad has not done enough. Do you think Pakistan will be in a position to convince the world of its intentions to curb terrorist financing by February?

Whatever it may say overtly to other countries, Pakistan continues to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy. There is no change in this approach and no dilution of it too. Its efforts to show that it is attempting to curb terrorism and the financing of terrorism are, therefore, purely cosmetic measures which cut no ice with the international community. So, I do not see Pakistan coming off the FATF grey list.

Pakistan had recently passed three laws that were expected to strengthen its case in the FATF. There was a thinking in Pakistan that the passage of these would help their case. Your comments?

These are mere cosmetic changes. Pakistan has not had a change of heart as far as using terrorism as an instrument of state policy is concerned. This comes through very clearly in any detailed analysis of that country. The international community can see this very clearly and hence Pakistan will continue to face the ire of FATF.

Pakistan seems to be in the grip of political uncertainty again. There were reports of the arrest of a police chief in Sindh and other senior officers going on leave in protest. Some of the news reports saw this as a revolt against the military. Army chief Qamar Bajwa intervened in the matter on Wednesday. But how serious is this?

This matter appears to be fairly serious since it is a clash between different arms of the state machinery. Specifically, it is a difference of opinion between the Pakistan Army and the Sindh Police. However, now that the chief of army staff has asked for an inquiry into the affair, it appears that this particular incident may be resolved and could blow over. It still signals that there are serious differences of opinion among different arms of the state. That could lead to real, serious trouble on future occasions, especially if there are no mandated processes to resolve such situations.

The other challenge seems to be the opposition getting together—11 of them coming together to form an alliance and hold a series of nationwide rallies, seeking PM Imran Khan's ouster over food shortages and inflation. It is being billed as the biggest challenge to Khan. Will this die down soon or is it the beginning of something more serious?

You are correct. The opposition political parties have got together under the umbrella of the Pakistan Democratic Movement or PDM, with (Maulana) Fazal-ur-Rahman as its head. Both the PML(N) (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz) and the PPP (Pakistan’s People’s Party) are part of it. So, this seems to be a serious attempt by the opposition parties to show Pakistan that there is a political alternative to the current leadership. However, I believe that this opposition unity is aimed at the next general election rather than any great hope of being able to unseat the government before the end of its term. They face the challenge of staying together all the way till the election, which is still some time away. Opposition unity has also got some wind in its sails due to bad governance provided by the Imran Khan leadership. Also factor in that both PPP and PML (N) are discredited in the eyes of the people due to lack of performance in the past. That is why the hope that Fazal-ur-Rahman will provide a relatively fresh face within the Opposition.

Related to the uncertainty question, how much of a challenge is Baloch separatism, the unrest among the Pashtuns and to a lesser extent the people of Gilgit and Baltistan?

Baloch separatism is a real problem which refuses to fade away. The province is under the army but it continues to fester and create a long-term issue for the Pakistan state.

Is the criticism of the Pakistan army by former Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif something surprising or something to be expected given Sharif’s history? Will the Pakistan’s Democratic Movement be able to bring about a reduction in the powers of the military?

It is not merely Nawaz Sharif’s experience with Musharraf, it is also his experience with the current leadership of the Pakistan army when he was removed from the post of PM by utilizing the intermediary of the Judiciary despite having an electoral majority. So, when he talks about the real power behind the political face he is talking from experience as well as his pique with such a system; hence, the criticism that the current PM is not elected but selected. He is calling a spade a spade and the people of Pakistan know this well. The question is, are they willing and able to do anything about such a situation? If the people are apathetic, then I don’t see how this current reality of the power structure in Pakistan can be changed.

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan came to power on the promise of ushering in a “Naya Pakistan" (new Pakistan). Two years into his five-year term, how would you assess his performance as PM, especially in the sphere of economy? How did he deal with the challenge of covid-19?

It can be argued that it has been only 2 years in office for the current leadership of Pakistan and that they must be given more time to carry out their agenda. However, there has been no sign whatsoever of any serious systemic change in Pakistan. The economic situation is getting grimmer by the day. The impact of covid-19 does not seem to have been that widespread which may be a blessing. However, to make any systemic change means challenging entrenched power structures and economic interests. Whether the leadership has either the intent or the ability to do that is questionable, especially when there has been no change in where the real power lies.

How do you see India-Pakistan relations playing out? Any dialogue on the horizon?

Your question itself is skewed towards your predilection that dialogue is a desirable situation. I am afraid you have not been able to think out of a particular box. The current Indian position is that talks and terror cannot go together. There is no indication whatsoever that Pakistan has eschewed the use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy. In that case, where is the possibility of dialogue?

US president Trump has taken a strong stand against Pakistan and terrorism emanating from there. Do you see a continuation of the same policy or a similar policy if Biden-Harris come to power? Or will there be a more sympathetic hearing for Pakistan on the question of Kashmir and human rights?

Yes, I am afraid a Biden presidency in the United States may see enhanced pressure on India on the issue of Kashmir. However, we have been able to stave off such pressure in the past and I am confident we shall do so again if such a situation arises. Since the matter of J&K as well as Ladakh is an internal, domestic issue for India and is a core interest for us, no amount of outside pressure will be able to shake India’s resolve in this matter.

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