Over the past several days, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has spoken out on how its next-door neighbour treats minorities living in India. Imran’s latest comments came during celebrations to mark the 142nd birth anniversary of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, with the prime minister noting that all would be treated as equal citizens in a “Naya Pakistan” [new Pakistan], “unlike what is happening in India”. Days earlier, he had commented that he would “show” the government of Narendra Modi in India “how to treat minorities”.
The comments are certainly pointed and perhaps should be regarded with an element of flattery in India, given that the nation is now the focus of Pakistan’s prime minister. Certainly, one would have expected that his nation’s own internal problems would have kept Imran focused on those issues rather than seeking out the opportunities to comment on India’s domestic policies and politics.
Pakistanis elected Imran — a man who has plenty of fans in India for his exploits on the cricket field — with the expectation that he would be the leader who might at last solve the pressing issues such as the need for clean and ample drinking water supplies, a national electricity grid that functioned all the time and was reliable, had policies to ease the burden of unemployment while also addressing other concerns.
While Imran is now just a few months in power, those pressing domestic issues still exist and ought to be the focus of his considerable energies rather than commenting on the affairs in his neighbour’s backyard. Having said that, because of Imran’s popularity in India, he is also uniquely placed to set relations between Pakistan and India on a new and open path.
Right now, there is a need for improved relations between the two nations — they both share so much in common and will both benefit by a normalised relationship between neighbours with a shared history. Certainly, the Modi government has not been as forthcoming as might be expected, but that in itself presents an opportunity for Imran to truly make a difference — rather than stirring up differences as he has done these past several days. Yes, he had an overture rejected, but he ought to take a lesson from his cricketing days — a Test match has more than one inning.
Imran was elected to make a change, to be different. His election clearly shows the enormous trust people have reposed in him to steer Pakistan to a position of strength and prosperity. He has a duty now to fulfil those ambitions and prove his statesmanship.