By Rajendra Prabhu
Pakistani External Affairs Minister,
When the Foreign Ministers of India and Pakistan met in New Delhi last week, Natwar Singh, the host and External Affairs Minister was able to pin his guest, Khurshid Kasuri to the assurance given by President Musharraf to the Indian Prime Minister on last January 6 that Pakistani soil will not be used for mounting terrorism in India, including Jammu and Kashmir. It was that assurance in writing that turned the corner in the opening week of the New Year for India and Pakistan to resume their ‘composite dialogue’. The New Delhi meeting has not produced a specific ‘product’ but it has sealed the dialogue process, further taking everything in its stride, including Jammu and Kashmir.
In extracting the January 6 assurance from President Musharraf, Atal Behari Vajpayee as the then Prime Minister and his National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra did achieve a historic breakthrough. This was widely acknowledged and its impact on the sub-continent’s politics was palpable. It was internationally acclaimed.
As the head of the successor government, Dr Manmohan Singh took special interest in ensuring that New Delhi’s approach during this round of talks would remain bipartisan. This was despite the current stand off between the government and the Opposition and the aggressive campaign both were leading against each other. Dr Singh and Natwar Singh, both consulted former Prime Minister Vajpayee, leader of the Opposition L.K.Advani and former Foreign Minister, Yashwant Sinha. The visiting Pakistani dignitary also met them. Vajpayee, when he was in power had also ensured that on foreign policy there should be a strong bipartisan approach without anyway curbing his own diplomatic initiative that was historic, despite the wall of suspicion and the legacy of distrust between the two and the decade-long and continuing terrorist targeting of India from Pakistani soil.
On the eve of the recent Indo-Pak talks, as New Delhi re-emphasised the bipartisan approach to foreign policy, a potentially profound change was taking place in Pakistan. For the first time, a practising politician has been replaced by a professional economist as Prime Minister under a conscious plan that the Army Chief-cum-President, Pervez Musharraf had implemented step by step. Shaukat Aziz is a former World Bank vice-president. He was brought in when Musharraf took over with the Pakistani economy on the verge of collapse. In early 1990 both India and Pakistan had almost reached the same level of per capita income, but by 2001, based on the purchasing power parity, Pakistan’s per capita income rose only 37 per cent, from 1360 to 1860 US $ but India’s more than doubled from 1380 to 2820 US $. It was almost like the days in early 1991 when Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao drafted economist Dr Manmohan Singh to be India’s Finance Minister at a time of crisis in the Indian economy. A type of mirror image in history. (By another coincidence, both the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers are former Foreign Service officers).
In extracting the January 6 assurance from President Musharraf, Atal Behari Vajpayee as the then Prime Minister and his National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra did achieve a historic breakthrough. This was widely acknowledged and its impact on the sub-continent’s politics was palpable.
Aziz lifted the economy through greater liberalisation, tighter control over banking and fiscal discipline and achieved what none of his predecessors was able to: get the several billion $ remittances from expatriate Pakistanis to come to Islamabad through legal banking channels. An investigation by Fortune magazine sometime back had traced this money getting into a narcotics-cum-smuggler Mafia in Pakistan with links to the military and militant organisations and to some super-rich families, as a major cause of escalation of tensions in Pakistan. Whenever politicians in power sought to crack down on the Jehadis, the Mafia saw to it that the several well-funded terrorist organisations rose in protest and fundamentalist madness took hold of Pakistan, Fortune investigators had revealed.
The prestigious magazine, The Economist has noted in its recent issue, “the curious and in many ways, pleasing symmetry” in both India and Pakistan having economic technocrats as Prime Ministers. The comparison does not end there. The normal process of political ascendancy did not throw up both; they remain proxies. However, the differences also have to be noted. Dr Singh is not unknown in India over the last ten years. He may not have led the Congress Party and remains a nominee of the party president, but he has a constituency beyond party politics, in significant sections and in a murky area of politics he has an image to hold on to. Aziz is a newcomer to the common Pakistanis. He is the nominee of an essentially military regime though there is a parliamentary veneer.
The ability of Aziz, the economist, to give a new turn to Indo-Pak relations is severely constrained by the absence of a democratic process in its true measure in his country. Dr Singh can fall back on his democratic support base through his party and a bipartisan approach to any future settlement with Pakistan could boost his capacity to take decisions. Aziz might find support among the new middle-class in Pakistan and who is stated to favour a peace deal with India. But that is more an inference and not demonstrable in the absence of free and fair elections. At the same time, when democracy was prevailing in Pakistan, the regimes have been unstable and both Benazir Bhutto and Nawab Sharif did not fail to resort to rabble-rousing to keep ahead of the Jehadi elements.
As yet another anniversary of 9/11 event approached, the US Press has been evaluating the success or otherwise of the war against terrorism. The almost unanimous conclusion is that Pakistan still fails to do all it can to eliminate this threat. No doubt, Islamabad has helped the American Administration to nab several key actors in the Al Qaeda camp. But the major domos in this team are still at bay and are not traceable: Osama bin Laden, his deputy and Egyptian Dr Aiman al-Azhari, the Taliban chief Mullah Omar. Like an itch that when scratched spreads, Islamic terrorism is spreading and becoming even more deadly—the latest victims have been Russian children. The cover that from Kashmir to Chechenya they flaunt—that they are freedom fighters—has been blown. In the bloody siege of a school in Russia ten of the 26 involved were Arabs, not Chechenyans. It is exactly as it happens in Kashmir—the triggers as well as sacrificial lambs in the name of Islam, are mostly from outside; the outsiders also provide funding. The tentacles are spread from Spain at one end to Indonesia and Philippines at the other and octopus-like, these tentacles are electrified by a fanaticism that they are there to destroy all those who do not belong to their faith, even to the specific segment of their faith.
In the run up to the November elections in the US, the Bush Administration is claiming that bringing Pakistan, a hotbed of terror spewing organisations, to be its ally in the battle against terrorism, is one of its big achievements. But the final success in containing and then destroying this origin of terror still remains a long shot. Musharraf himself is a twice-demonstrated target for the same terror gangs, like Jaish-e-Muhammad that he and his predecessors have spawned in the era of General Zia-ul-Haq.
He continues to be in their crossfire.
Outside the Bush Administration many thinking Americans are not sure whether it is President Bush who is having his way in Pakistan. If it is the other way round, the appointment of Shaukat Aziz, the World Bank’s darling as Prime Minister, might be one more event in the play-acting that Islamabad is resorting to, to get the Americans to pay heavily for the help Pakistani establishment gives to contain Al Qaeda.
Hussain Haqani, Pakistani scholar and former adviser to both Nawab Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, wrote in his now well-known column published in India by the Indian Express: “Terrorism threatens Pakistan and must be eliminated for Pakistan’s sake. To win the war against terrorism, Aziz should persuade his military mentors to stop making distinctions between and among terrorists. Pakistan must eliminate or disarm all sectarian, religio-political and ethnic terrorist groups.”
Aziz has a tall order to attend to. His counterpart in India is luckier. He has only tainted ministers and cross-border terrorists to deal with and a strong democratic structure on which to depend.