Within days of a most pleasant invitation for talks by the Indian PM to his Pakistani counterpart, the Indian External Affairs and Defence Minister backpedalled furiously at a televised Press Conference. Had the hardliners in BJP succeeded in bringing Jaswant Singh into line or was the live charade stage-managed to convey the real message, that India had no intention of bargaining over (Indian-Occupied) Kashmir, and that the Kashmiris themselves had no role in the proposed talks? As an afterthought nail in the coffin of peace, Jaswant Singh added that inviting Pervez Musharraf did not mean that India was recognising the Pakistan’s military regime. So why was the invitation made in the first place, was the Pakistani Chief Executive (CE) only meant to be an “accidental tourist to New Delhi”? “The talks are meant to forget the bitter past between the two countries and begin a new chapter for the future”, said Jaswant Singh, and perhaps to drum it into Pakistan at the highest level to forget Kashmir.
While welcoming the Indian Government’s offer of talks, Indian Opposition Leader Ms Sonia Gandhi, said she was “flabbergasted” at the “sudden change of tune and approach since the (BJP) government had been insisting ad nauseum they would not deal with Pakistan’s military regime, and certainly not till they stopped cross-border terrorism. What made the government make this surprise offer, so sudden that the BJP did not even consult some of its own important party leaders, what to talk of its coalition partners?” unquote. Nothing has drastically changed in the internal dynamics within India except the ruling coalition’s trouncing at the hands of the Opposition in elections in several States. None being remotely near the BJP heartland, the electoral setback did not raise any sweat off the BJP-hardliners back, so why the 180 degrees change of heart?
General Henry Shelton spoke of establishing “strong defence ties with India” as a major reason for his (now postponed) trip to India. The Chairman US Joint Chiefs of Staffs explained US President Bush’s policy of shifting the emphasis of US defence planning from West to East, the emerging US-India defence nexus is primarily meant to contain China’s emergence as a “strategic competitor”. During the entire Cold War India remained solidly aligned with the Soviet Union but with the Soviet Union’s successor State, Russia, no longer US Enemy No.1, Pakistan’s importance, already diminishing in US eyes vis-a-vis India for both economic and military reasons, further lessened. With a billion plus population, India (1) equals the potential of China in possible economic opportunities for the US (2) is China’s competitor as a regional power and (3) its history of hostility to China, latent and blatant, makes it a natural ally of the US. As an emerging nuclear power Pakistan cannot be ignored, moreover would the US be that callous as to abandon Pakistan completely? Unless another aberration like Afghanistan happens and puts everything on hold during the mating process, the US-India nexus will develop out of necessity, an enemy of an enemy (even a perceived one) is a friend. The dramatic change in the world’s security alignment may leave analysts gasping, the reluctant olive branch by India, meant to oblige the US, could not last in the face of the virulent anti-Pakistan fury within the BJP. Jaswant Singh’s “Kashmir as an integral part of India” was damage control to (1) satisfy BJP hardliners who accused their leadership of having sold their Hindu chauvinistic souls, and thereby (2) provoking Pakistan into refusing the offer and letting India off the hook, the two birds with one stone-ploy. Pakistan has not obliged and we must not. We must not be seen to be intractable. The US will keep trying to subtly influence India for flexibility on the Kashmir issue, a possible nuclear flashpoint. As US interest in India gathers momentum, US media will have a field day bringing (in graphic detail) into US homes the horrors being perpetrated on Kashmiris by Indian military and paramilitary forces. After years of Yassar Arafat’s bankrupt terrorism, it was the stone-throwing young boys of the Intifada who brought home to US TV audiences the human problems between Israelis and Palestinians. To take undue credit thereof Arafat’s security forces, best known for firing in the air at rallies, are muscling themselves into the Intifada and are drawing an appropriate (and targetted) response from the Israelis, the danger is the continuing escalation. Even then the violence in the West Bank is 50 times less than in Kashmir as per the annual casualty figures, one must acknowledge that the Israelis have, relative to the India’s atrocities in Occupied Kashmir, exercised tremendous restraint.
In the face of Indian obduracy Pakistan’s refusal would be justified but not an intelligent move, the refusal would play into the Indian game plan to show the gallery that we are bad sports, that Pakistan is obdurate despite “India bending over backwards”! We would be tarred and feathered before we know it, India’s propaganda machine already labels us as being “a fundamentalist rogue State with nuclear and missile capabilities indulging in cross-border terrorism, while actively promoting drug smuggling and money-laundering”. In a no-win position, we have to roll with the punch or suffer the type of ostracisation we did after Kargil. Also one should be ready for any number of “Dirty Tricks” meant to derail the peace process, for India to have excuse to somehow wriggle out of the commitment. It could be a hijack, a planted bomb, a staged massacre, etc anything to put Pakistan in a bad light, and on the defensive. As the title of this article suggests in Persian, “Delhi is still far away”.
Musharraf put a very brave face in the BBC interview on Monday last. With virtually no options except to accept the Vajpayee invitation, his posture conveys, as it should, that he is the master of the situation. Damned by the Pakistan extreme right for accepting the invitation, he escaped being damned by the rest of the country, and most of the world, by not refusing. Those who want him to go to Delhi are split between those who want a resolution of the Kashmir dispute and those who want peace (at all costs) even if it means putting Kashmir on the backburner for a while. The latter are rather a silent minority compared to the vast numbers of those who want Kashmiris to have their freedom from Indian occupation, even if it means joining the very vocal group who want Kashmir only through the means of war. Musharraf’s core constituency, the Pakistan Army, leans heavily to the nationalistic right in the matter of Kashmir, as distinct from the religious right as the Indians would have a gullible world, fed up by the Talibaan, naively believe. To compound Musharrafs problems of being between a rock and a hard place his deputy, Lt Gen Muzaffar Usmany the DCOAS Pakistan Army, happens to be a Mohajir like himself, by itself an unusual coincidence in the military hierarchy. Such things normally would not matter in the Armed Forces, in extraordinary times as these we could have done with a different combination. A majority of the Pakistanis will be praying that the CE is not just making a trip down memory lane, a few fairly rabid “sons of the soil” will be hoping he returns with tea and sympathy only, without anything tangible to show. The Delhi Yatra may well end up only as a photo-ops, with Hemchand Gola presenting to Gen Musharraf the Persian language sale deed of the property in New Delhi sold by his grandfather Muhtashammudin in 1946 to Premchand Gola, Hemchand’s father. By the way, that may be symbolic too, take the paper but we keep the property!
Musharraf’s visit to his birthplace haveli notwithstanding, the Kashmir independence movement will not go away. If they are proven right in refusing a dialogue with India, the hardliners in Pakistan militancy will pursue militancy with die-hard vengeance and an urgency born out of the belief that only a “bleeding” India will be forced to give Kashmiris their freedom. Faced with fighting an endless low-intensity war, India may well gamble a grand slam to terminate the Kashmir problem at its Pakistan roots once and for all. India does not have a corner on the “Guderian” market, we have our share of Guderians too, the “blood and guts” types who have never heard a shot being fired in anger in their entire careers and have reached a seniority level where it is now safe to send others to die for their monumental blunders. Given even a millionth chance that India succeeds, what then? Will militancy be eradicated or become more widespread?
After exhausting all the permutations and combinations, there remains only one conclusion, the key to that Gordian knot lies with India in the solving of the Kashmir dispute. Having had nexus with Russia for over 50 years, let the Indians try nexus with the US for the next 50, even then they can never become the regional power of South Asia without peace with Pakistan, and for that peace they will have to “bargain” (notwithstanding the pent-up hatred of all the BJP hardliners) over Kashmir.
Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan). He was Chairman APSAA for the year 2000, now acting in adhoc capacity pending elections for the year 2001.