Pakistan’s delight around Russian FM’s visit may be diluted against the backdrop of internal opposition PM Khan is facing
As they say, there is never a dull moment in Pakistan whether on the political front, religious extremism or in health and social sectors. The plate is always full. As the menace of the pandemic is wreaking havoc on our western neighbour, a temporary euphoria, combined with a streak of happiness, in the establishment was noticed when the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov arrived in Islamabad on April 7 on a two-day visit. Pakistan was wary as the minister arrived from India and Russia's strong relationship with India, starting from the Soviet Union days remains a matter of discomfort for Pakistan. It would, however, appear that Pakistan is going gaga over the visit. Prime Minister Imran Khan, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the Chief of the Army Staff, Gen Qamar Ahmad Bajwa held a wide range of talks with the Russian dignitary. Pakistani Foreign Minister stated with pride that his country was now moving from 'geo-politics' to 'geo-economics'. The economic aspect was evident when both sides agreed to deepen defence cooperation, COVID-19 vaccine tie-up, trade and energy collaboration etc.
In the context of energy cooperation between Pakistan and Russia, it may be imperative to point out that Prime Minister Imran Khan has been actively seeking Russian assistance in the Pakistan Stream (North-South) gas pipeline project about which the PM had first hinted President Putin as early as in June 2019. Additionally, Russian cooperation through technical know-how was also sought in other gas exploration projects in Pakistan. Areas of industrial modernisation, streamlining of railways etc. are expected to come under discussion when the two sides meet at the Inter-Governmental Commission (IGC) in Moscow later this year. It may be pertinent to say here that despite Pakistani efforts to firm up bonhomie with Russia, nothing is likely to come at the cost of Indo-Russian relations which have stood the test of time. During the Soviet troops' presence on the Afghan soil, Pakistan's contribution in helping and arms' training of the Mujahideen is still not forgotten.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, a viable opposition alliance in Pakistan — the Progressive Democratic Movement (PDM) — comprising the PPP, the PML-N, the Awami National Party (ANP), JuI-F and other affiliates, seems to be falling apart ostensibly due to sharp differences between PPP and the PML-N. The ANP has since quit the 11-party alliance of the PDM. The initial threat in the form of the PDM movement, posing a serious challenge to Imran Khan by demanding his ouster, through long marches and street agitations seems to be dying down. This may give a reprieve to Imran Khan but it has in the recent past, and will continue to build public opinion against the incumbent government. Though, it may not necessarily lead to his ouster. Noted columnist Talat Masood assessed in a recent write-up that military dictators like Pervez Musharraf and Zia-ul-Haq had usurped power by taking advantage of these types of agitations. This time, however, the military leadership doesn't seem to take advantage of this. In the larger interest of democracy, such opposition activities merit continuity, acting as watchdogs putting intermittent pressure on the ruling dispensation to keep it on the defensive.
In another development, Imran Khan incurred the wrath of two of his ex-wives on his unsavoury and perhaps uncalled for remarks on vulgarity and sexism. Jemima Goldsmith has been blistering in her attacks (April 7) on her ex-husband Imran for relating sexual abuse to vulgarity. These bold reactions surfaced after Imran Khan had said that women chose to wear the wrong kind of dresses inviting rape. These remarks were criticised for being very regressive in tenor and content. Jemima felt that the onus should be on men and they should restrain their eyes and private parts. At least, such reactions from her and her ilk are spreading on social media. No sooner than dust kicked up by her could settle, another ex-wife of Imran targeted him by describing his statement on vulgarity and women's dress as insensitive. Women activists have also castigated Imran for going overboard to highlight Ertugrul's character on Pakistani TV, blindly following Turkey's popular TV series. Such unexpected battering against Imran Khan even by his ex-wives has surely dented his image which he tried to refurbish after successive failures on external and internal fronts. There doesn't seem to be any damage control exercise by him to salvage the impairment. Allegations are also afoot that his remarks on 'fahashi' (vulgarity) came so as not to offend the zealots within and possibly the radical elements. Perhaps, the PM himself had not anticipated that such a statement would prove so costly to a person hitherto considered suave, a successful cricket captain playing a gentleman's game. Well, that's a price one has to pay to be a Premier of a country where a segment with a medieval mindset often rules the roost.
The writer is a retired IPS officer, a security analyst and a former National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Mauritius. Views expressed are personal