New Delhi: In death, Manohar Parrikar has almost attained Atal Behari Vajpayee’s stature of being universally liked. Like the former prime minister, Parrikar practised liberal politics despite his RSS background, and coming to dislike his stint in Delhi as the defence minister, he fled at the first opportunity back to Goa.

The examples of Vajpayee and Parrikar hold some lessons for Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan. Imran Khan is trying to do liberal politics in a rather fanatical milieu. He lets no moment pass to speak of a “New Pakistan”. His message of peace and goodwill is not without takers in this country. But it is hard to reconcile that with the machinations of the Pakistan Deep State. As long as the likes of Masood Azhar and Hafiz Sayeed enjoy the patronage of the Pakistan state, a “New Pakistan” would remain no more than an illusion.

Vajpayee and Parrikar were scarcely perfect. Parrikar was so carried away by the September 2016 cross-LoC strike that he began giving it religio-mythical colour. When he was criticized for politicizing a military operation, he was genuinely surprised and wounded, the public sensitivities of his defence minister’s office having escaped his training in provincial politics. His natural modesty and decency, however, soon resurfaced, and with that came the leaks that he wanted to return to Goa. Wretched Delhi did not agree with him. Vajpayee’s chief flaw, on the other hand, was that he could not formally break with the RSS: Perhaps there were too many memories and associations involved. But in every other way, he was a non-RSS leader. He had become an institution unto himself.

Vajpayee and Parrikar are hard acts for Imran Khan to follow. It would involve, in Pakistan’s context, challenging the Pakistan military’s raison d’etre based on a supposed threat from India. Pakistan and India are military nuclear equals. India is not as obsessed with Pakistan as Pakistan is. India would desire nothing more than peace in the neighbourhood to concentrate on growth and equitable development. The 1991 reforms have set it on a firm foundation. Unfortunately, Pakistan has not constituted a vision for itself. What really does Imran Khan mean by a “New Pakistan”?

The Pakistan prime minister is very anxious for Pakistan to shed the terror tag. It was with that aim that his government decided to honour a Pakistani who fell trying to save others in the New Zealand mosque shooting. But how far will such a gesture truly go? How does it square with continuing Pakistani terrorism in India?

A realistic understanding of Imran Khan’s position is that he faces serious limitations in dismantling Pakistan’s terrorist establishment. But that is not the understanding that he himself communicates. He says Pakistan has changed. The old reasons or justifications for sponsoring terrorism no longer exist. He claims all political parties have agreed to shun terrorism. But do the facts on the ground conform to this? Not really.

In the long term, India will find the means to contain and roll back Pakistani terrorism. But India’s interim losses would be miniscule compared to the interminable disaster that lies ahead for Pakistan should it continue with terrorism. It requires fundamental changes in the way the state is organized and the most important changes to be brought are full and unchallenged civilian oversight of the Pakistan armed forces joined with 1991-like reforms. It would require Imran Khan to go all the way and not fix Pakistan’s image here and there.

Atal Behari Vajpayee showed the way for liberal politics of the Right. Following closely behind was Manohar Parrikar and now Nitin Gadkari has joined the august procession. If Imran Khan is serious about changing Pakistan, he can’t help but learn from Vajpayee and Parrikar, and the living examples of Gadkari and Sushma Swaraj. India will get by. Imran Khan’s problems with Pakistan are just beginning.