Cover Story: On the Edge…Still Growling
Intro: Since its inception, Pakistan has been surviving on anti-India sentiments. Coups and political instability is not new to Pakistan. Pakistan is dwindling between militarism and Islamic fundamentalism at domestic level, still it does not desist from growling against India. This has scuttled the dialogue process initiated by the Modi government.
Since the tragic Partition, the quest for peace between India and Pakistan has been a never ending story for more than six decades. All the Prime Ministers of India and their teams, all tracks included, have been bending over backwards to humour, cajole, convince, persuade and at times even coerce Islamabad to resolve issues bilaterally so that both countries can enjoy the dividends of peace. India has dealt with all kinds of dispensations in Pakistan—democracy, dictatorship, martial law administration, army rule, civilian government—but with predictably the same result; stone walled talks under one or the other pretext no matter how flimsy or frivolous.
This time it was the meeting between the traditional offenders called the Hurriyat leaders and the Pakistan High Commissioner to India. All will go as per previous episodes, so thought Pakistan and prepared for the Foreign Secretary level talks. But what Islamabad did not realise was that they were actually dealing with a new, strong, determined leadership in New Delhi, a no-nonsense man called Narendra Modi.
The Modi government could have remained well within their stated position that terror and talks cannot go together. During the run up to the elections and even earlier the BJP had taken a strong, albeit right, position that Pakistan has to deliver what it had promised on Mumbai attacks, Hafiz Syed and also on putting a lid on the terror camps along the border. Yet, the government decided to thaw the relations as a courtesy to Nawaz Sheriff who reciprocated to Modi’s invitation to join him in his swearing in ceremony. On his part the Pakistan PM fought against all odds at home and elsewhere and refrained from meeting the separatist leaders of any hue in India, especially the Hurriyat. The army in Pakistan did not forgive Nawaz for this and kept its core commander in the Western front and the so-called non-state actors busy. There were more than sixty small and big violations on the border. But these were met with appropriately by the Indian army. The political establishment in Delhi was magnanimous to try and create an atmosphere where it would be easy for Nawaz Sheriff to grab the opportunity to mend fences with India and enlarge the peace constituency.
Contrary to India’s expectations, it was the political establishment in Islamabad which badly tripped on all fronts diplomatic or otherwise. It was not the army, clergy or the non-state actors who misbehaved this time. It was the official representative of the political dispensation in Islamabad, the High Commissioner of Pakistan in India, who crossed all diplomatic limits and invited the separatist Hurriyat leaders for ‘talks’. He was aware of the limits he is crossing, he was aware of the consequences of his action, he was aware of the fact that the proposed talks will be in jeopardy, he was aware that peace process will get a setback. Yet he decided to do what he did, or was ordered to do so. It was Islamabad which buckled under the pressure of the army, the clergy and the hawks there to thwart the peace process and throw away the olive branch. As the political establishment in Islamabad which is crucial for peace talks, wanted to shun peace, India had no choice but to call off the talks.
Never before in history has the relationship between the two countries been as asymmetrical as it is now. For a long time the strategic community in India strongly advised the political decision makers that Indo-Pak relations need to be good for our economic progress, international image, resolving the Kashmir issue and regional power balance. We are two neighbours whose history and geography are so intertwined that the world sees as one, we were told. All this turned out to be grossly inadequate in proof and totally misconceived, to say the least. The West never understood the sincerity in the Indian approach and was never able to call off Pakistan’s bluff.
The second attempt at mending fences with Pakistan began with the short lived Gujaral government and then by the Vajpayee led NDA only to be stabbed in the back in Kargil. The UPA under Manmohan Singh followed the rules of the game only to be rebuffed by Islamabad by extracting a pathetic ‘pardon-me-sir’ in Sharmal sheikh. All the three prime ministers sincerely believed and led us all to trust their words that a democratically strong Pakistan will take on the army and the clergy there and line the peace path with roses. Nothing could have gone wrong any better.
Pakistan has three power centres, the army, the Islamic clergy and the political parties. When any one of the three come to power, the other two invariably get together and plot against the ruling entity. Nawaz Sheriff has experienced this once when he was unceremoniously ousted by his army chief. His second term is no bed of roses.
The restless crowd around Tehreek-e-Insaaf party chief Inran Khan’s podium within half a kilometre of PM’s house and the large number of highly motivated Islamic radicals marching towards Islamabad under the leadership of the Canadian born Maulana Tahie-ul-Kadri has already got the Pakistan PM’s hands on the exit button. The army is the mediator now and ironically the army chief, the PM’s name sake, is literally calling the shots. Ironically though, once again the army in Pakistan will stand guarantee for democracy.
The army’s game plan is simple to understand for anyone who wishes to look at the situation with a reality prism. The army was not happy with the civilian government hauling one of their former chief over hot coal in the judicial process. They want a decent exit for Gen. Musharraf, not jail or noose. Again the army wants to take over the administration of Afghan policy post US withdrawal. The army also wants to dictate the Kashmir policy to keep their men in uniform busy-keep the monkey engaged-they say.
The only way the army can get their hands in the trigger is to have a PM whose political mandate is weak, insufficient and illegitimate. So the army’s plan is to mediate between the estranged parties and order a fresh election so as to foist a totally army dependent government in the people of Pakistan, who in any case have little or no say in the affairs of the four subas their land.
What are India’s options? New Delhi has a strong leadership and is in a better position to take control of the situation. Since we are dealing with Pakistan from a position of strength, this is the right time in history to change the basic rules of engagement. Instead of debating the merits and demerits of a strong or weak Pakistan it is better to work towards a de-militarised democratic Pakistan. The longer Islamabad takes to realise the importance of true democracy the shorter will be its span as a united country. The spirit of freedom and the struggle for independence in Baluchistan, Sindh and the Pakhtoon areas are getting stronger day by day. Sooner, than later, the struggle for aazadee (freedom) will grow stronger and overwhelm the tottering union government which might collapse under the weight of its own contradictions.
-Seshadri Chari (The writer is a BJP leader and expert on foreign policy and strategic issues)