Pakistani freelance journalist and contributor Hafsa Khawaja answered Ismail Okan’s questions. She is expressed her opinion about last developments in the region and Pakistan-India relations. Also Khawaja shared Pakistanis worries about Pakistan-China Economic Corridor.
What has changed since Imran Khan became Prime Minister?
“With his rivals under investigation or currently in jail on charges of corruption, the political threats to the Imran Khan government seem to be largely neutralized and the possibility of instability diminished. However, it increasingly seems that not much has changed otherwise and there remain other threats to his regime and its stability, especially economically. With the government having recently signed a $6 billion bailout deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – a step which Imran Khan and his party had always insisted they would be against – the Pakistani rupee plunged to Rs153 against the US dollar, and the nation is bracing for an economic downturn with high inflation and greater unemployment to follow. So with the country headed to very, very difficult and potentially tumultuous times ahead, the initial wave of optimism, upon which Imran Khan had been elected and his rise to power had been received, has waned considerably.”
Why is Kashmir important for neighboring countries? What is the international community’s role in Kashmir?
“I honestly do not think that the issue of Kashmir is very important for other countries in the South Asian neighborhood, at least in terms of how actively they take a stand for its resolution since the role of the international community regarding it has been that of turning a blind eye or not addressing it at all. The only time they do seem to wake up to its significance is when Kashmir becomes a potential nuclear flashpoint between India and Pakistan, as it recently happened when tensions between the two countries escalated after the Pulwama attack in February 2019. And even when tensions escalate between India and Pakistan due to Kashmir, the international community only urges restraint between both the countries, as opposed to practically pushing for a resolution of the conflict and aiding it. However, that being said, Kashmir is a crucial issue and the sooner the world realizes this the better it will be both for the people of Kashmir who have been endlessly suffering and for any lasting peace in this region.”
Do you think the Kashmir problem can be solved in Imran Khan’s period?
“In March, Pakistan’s Air Force shot down an Indian MiG-21 crossing the Line of Control and captured Indian Wing Commander Abhinandan. This incident marked the peak of tensions between the two countries following the Pulwama Attack, and many expected conflict to break out between them at this point. But it was during this moment that Prime Minister Imran Khan decided to offer an olive branch to India and defuse the situation by releasing the captured pilot and unambiguously expressing the country’s desire for a negotiated resolution of issues between the countries, including the issue of Kashmir, and peace. This gesture was globally commended and appreciated but the overture was dismissed by the Indian government. And with the nationalist right-wing Modi-led government at the helm of power in India, it appears likely that relations between the countries will remain impaired or troubled. In addition, Pakistan is now mired in too many domestic problems of its own to face and tackle, among which the settlement of the Kashmir issue will have to be put on the backburner. So the prospects for the resolution are very bleak.”
How are you seeing Indian-Pakistani relations in the future?
“If the rise of the nationalist right-wing continues in India and continues to hold power there, relations between the two countries are likely to remain strained and tense. Not that I discount anti-India sentiment in Pakistan and among its political and military establishment, but, as stated earlier, the success of any gestures for peace initiated in Pakistan (such as Imran Khan’s offer upon the release of Indian pilot Abhinandan) depends in equal measure on the Indian government’s willingness to accept, respond to it and reciprocate it. And a government hell-bent on stoking anti-Pakistani sentiments in India and remaining rigidly hostile to Pakistan, will render difficult the possibilities for any promotion of cordial, close and peaceful relations. Therefore, in view of this critical political context which would also allow the continuation of contentions and conflicts such as that in Kashmir, the assumption that India-Pakistan relations will remain tense in the near future is reasonable to make.”
What are the Pakistani people thinking about Pakistan-China Corridor?
“Many in Pakistan remain hopeful about Pakistan-China Corridor’s role in furthering infrastructural investment, energy production and economic growth and development in the country, but many also remain deeply skeptical of the project for its potentially risky implications due to the lack of transparency associated with the enterprise and the potential for Pakistan to be lured into China’s notorious debt-trap diplomacy.”
Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan, these countries have a special bond and diplomacy. What do Ankara and Baku mean for Islamabad and Pakistani people? How are Azerbaijan and Turkey seen from Pakistan?
“Pakistan considers Turkey and Azerbaijan as friendly states on whose support it can easily rely in the diplomatic sphere. But in the case of Turkey especially, not only does the Pakistani state consider and value the close ties but this is perception which is mirrored and greater in the larger population too; as Pakistanis truly consider Turkey to be a brotherly country with whom historical, cultural, religious are shared and also enormously cherished.”
This interview published in Intell4 Strategy Channell on June 7, 2019