New Delhi: Imran Khan has won the PR contest against Narendra Modi who comes across as a small-town warmonger rather than the prime minister of a great democracy. Beyond that, however, the Pakistan prime minister has his work cut out as he attempts to mould his country in his liberal and humanistic image which stands at odds with the historic views and actions of the Pakistan army and the Deep State and their policies to date of terrorism and hatred directed against India.

Imran Khan cannot expect India to take at face value his assertion that he has inaugurated a “naya” or “New Pakistan”. In his National Assembly speech, he took pains to dissociate Pakistani state agencies from the Phulwama bombing citing the scheduled visit of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and the billions of dollars of investments he was bringing. The word “deniable” applies precisely to such situations.

Going by Imran Khan’s logic, the critical state visit of the Saudi crown prince would automatically rule out Pakistani state and, therefore, non-state involvements in the Phulwama attack. Not so fast. Contrary to social media feeds presumably originating from Pakistan, there is no Indian state hand in the Phulwama tragedy. India is a vast, open and transparent democracy. Questioning by the media, public intellectuals, the social media and lastly the public cannot be supervised far less contained. Whistle-blowing and media leaks are common. If the effectiveness and outcome of the Balakot strike can be questioned to the deep embarrassment of the government, no dodginess and cover-ups in the Phulwama carnage are possible. It is an old chestnut of attributing terror attacks in India to security agencies. Imran Khan has to do better.

The Phulwama suicide bomber was a Kashmiri youth of 22. No one has hidden that on the Indian side. His misguidedness has partly to do with domestic affairs in Kashmir which will be corrected in due course. But the misguidedness was also exploited for the Phulwama attack by the Pakistani terrorist group, the Jaish-e-Mohammed. The Jaish has links with the Pakistan Deep State and has replaced the Lashkar-e-Toiba as a favoured terror instrument after the Lashkar came in international crosshairs for the 2008 Bombay carnage. Jaish cadres assisted Imran Khan’s party’s victory in Punjab where the organization is strong on the instructions of the Deep State. In other words, the Jaish could only have carried out the Phulwama attack following the Deep State’s green light. This destroys Imran Khan’s logic to uncouple Pakistan state agencies from the Phulwama attack.

If Imran Khan desires to be a statesman and truly wishes peace and prosperity for all of South Asia and not just Pakistan (as he insists in his proclamations again and again), he cannot turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s state sponsorship of terrorism. Imran Khan has contracted the sub-continental disease of blaming Pakistan’s ills solely on past political leaders. No blame at all is apportioned to the Pakistan army and the Deep State for Pakistan’s horrible image all over the world as a state that sponsors terrorist attacks in India and Afghanistan. It is understandable that Imran Khan cannot make a frontal assault on the army and state sponsors of terrorism but living in denial won’t make the crisis disappear.

Pakistan state terrorism has brought the Pakistan economy to its knees. It is not nice to say this but Pakistan is going around the world with a begging bowl. India has had economic disruptions in the past four-and-a-half years but the 1991 reforms have established such deep foundations that India’s economy will rebound sooner or later. Does Pakistan have the equivalent of the 1991 reforms? Is there light at the end of the tunnel? What is the guarantee that Imran Khan won’t be dumped like his predecessors once Pakistan overcomes the present economic crisis and the army and the Deep State return to sucking the life out of the country?

The Kashmir problem will resolve itself once Pakistan overcomes its identity crisis and ceases to obsess about India. India has accepted Partition and Atal Behari Vajpayee paid a visit to the Minar-e-Pakistan to emphasize this point. In relation to Kashmir, both sides have claims. They cannot be settled militarily and even a negotiated settlement would have to keep present boundaries intact. Pakistani terrorism has not hurt India’s growth story as much as Pakistani military and terror establishments would like to think. Pakistan has suffered worse from the blowback.

If Imran Khan could return Pakistan to the fundamentals of nation-building; convince the military to become subordinate to the elected government in all respects, including the transfer of nuclear weapons to civilian oversight; gradually reduce Pakistan’s dependence on foreign doles; and preserve the state from formal/ informal military alliances that have skewed the country’s geopolitical orientation and priorities, he would surely find a place in Pakistan’s pantheon of greats.

Editor’s Note: India’s complaint to the US about Pakistan’s use of F-16s post Balakot is akin to one of two quarrelling children complaining to an adult. If India faces an external threat, it will use all the available weapon systems even should they breach end-user agreements. India should be capable of taking on F-16s as well. It does not behove a power like India to whinge about fighter jet A or B being used in combat by an adversary. Why give the United States a handle in an essentially bilateral dispute?