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The Musharraf factor in India-Pakistan Imbroglio
By Karamatullah K. Ghori
|Toronto: The ongoing standoff on Kashmir between India and Pakistan is, no doubt, the most serious between the two South Asian rivals in more than thirty years, since they last faced off each other in the then East Pakistan ( now Bangladesh ) crisis. With more than a million heavily-armed soldiers facing each other, eye-ball to eye-ball, across the great South Asian divide every passing day is only exacerbating tension. The spectre of any armed confrontation between the two adversaries degenerating into a nuclear holocaust is keeping the whole world on tenterhooks. The suspense is, simply, testing the patience of the world.
India-Pakistan relations over the past half a century have been heavily influenced by the personality of their leaders. The men at the top, in both countries, have loomed large over the ebb and flow of their relations, largely because of the jarring absence of normal, people-to-people, contacts between the Indians and the Pakistanis. The reasons for this annoying 'estrangement' at the people's level are not inscrutable. Political leaders in both countries have deliberately, if not mischievously, discouraged their people from fostering normal and civilised relations with their neighbour. This looks all the more galling, considering the historic reality of the two peoples having lived together for millennia, and sharing so much in common. The common legacy of language, culture, experience of history, traditions et al. should have been the strongest glue to hold the two together. Sadly, the myopia of leadership on either side embarked on a course of confrontation that ignored and suppressed this great common wealth. Knowing each other so well became a factor of division rather than cohesion.
While the stronger partner, India, in this strange equation showed precious little of the required large heartedness to soothe frayed nerves in Pakistan, the Pakistani leadership used fear of India as an alchemy to aggravate its people's agony. The situation was still not so hopeless, or beyond redemption, so long as Pakistan was ruled by civilians. But the malady became almost incurable with power slipping into the hands of soldiers of fortune in Pakistan.
The Pakistani Bonapartes found an elixir for their own longevity in power by adroitly admixing fear of India's hegemonic traits with the rising power of religious fundamentalism. It was politically opportune for them to wield the spectre of a rapacious India lying in wait to devour Pakistan, in order to keep themselves in reckoning as defenders of Pakistan's faith and frontiers. India's frontal role as 'liberator' of Bangladesh made it so much easier for the power-hungry generals to impress their uninformed audience at home with their ' hate India' logic. India's persistent-and at times inane-refusal to play ball on the thorny issue of Kashmir inadvertently granted the generals all the leverage to hold their quarries at home in bondage. Physical partition of land was eclipsed by the tide of emotional separation that soon became a gulf.
The only exception to the Pakistani generals' rhapsody on India-and in constant reference to India-was the decade-long era of Ziaul Haq. But he did not need to wield the India card because the Soviets had given him a more redoubtable alibi for staying in power by invading Afghanistan. Zia, in fact, gave himself the luxury of indulging in 'Cricket diplomacy' with India while, behind the scene, taking the battle to India by courting and generously assisting the Sikh separatists.
Nawaz Sharif, a protégé of Zia, tried to borrow a leaf from his mentor's book by initiating his own 'Bus diplomacy' with a Vajpayee desperately trying to stave off the Hindu revivalists in his own BJP. Both failed in their putative initiative to fight the odds. Nawaz signed his own death warrant by being seen as peacemaker with India on Kashmir, an anathema to the Pakistani Bonapartes. Nawaz was trying to rob them of their turf, and had to be stopped. Vajpayee, dithering as ever, soon succumbed to his own hawks.
General Musharraf, once secure in his coup against Nawaz, tried to be robustly involved in Pakistan's relations with India. But in doing so, he wanted to avoid all the pitfalls of his predecessors and deal with India from a position of strength. To him and those who had propelled him to power, Nawaz Sharif was a weakling on India and his policies and postures vis-à-vis Delhi being not in the "best interest" of Pakistan had to be shunned. In other words, there was no question of cutting a deal with Vajpayee if he did not admit the centrality of the " core Kashmir issue."
Likewise, there was no room in Musharraf's lexicon for vacuous gestures and postures, such as Ziaul Haq's 'Cricket diplomacy.' Gimmicks like that were the stuff of the weak and the irresolute. Musharraf's Pakistan was not a weak Pakistan not at par with India. The Pakistan army had filled the gap with India by quickly following its entry into the world nuclear club in 1998. India , henceforth, was expected to learn to deal with Pakistan on a footing of complete equality.
The nuclear parity with India was Musharraf's trump card. It was this perception of Pakistan's new-fangled nuclear status that had been the threshold of Musharraf and company's brazen blitz in Kargil in the summer of 1999. Musharraf himself, and the cabal of like-minded generals goading him on, thought the time to usher in a new perspective on the half-century old Kashmir tangle with India had arrived. The generals, overconfident and with undisguised disdain, if not contempt, for the politicians then nominally in control of the nation's political reins, decided to give India and the world a taste of Pakistan's new strength and resolution. Kargil was an expression as much of the pride of the Pakistani generals in their nuclear clout as of contempt for their political superiors.
As has only recently been revealed by a responsible member of Clinton's national security set-up, Nawaz Sharif was shell-shocked in his historic meeting with Clinton in Washington on July 4 of that year, when informed that his generals, behind his back, were all primed to use nuclear weapons against India at the peak of the Kargil crisis.
Musharraf, understandably, brought to his high office the dual baggage of pride in Pakistan's nuclear muscle and belief in parity with India in any dialogue on Kashmir. He and his colleagues in uniform believed that India could be forced into a deal on Kashmir by staying on a course of strength, blending carrot and stick. The carrot was Pakistan's readiness to enter into a dialogue with India on the 'core' problem of Kashmir; the stick was the low-intensity uprising of the Kashmiris under Indian occupation with the moral and material support of Pakistan.
But the Kashmir chessboard was complicated and snarled for Musharraf by the rise of fundamentalism in India matching Pakistan's own slide into the jaws of a stridently militant version of Islam. Mr. Vajpayee was as much a prisoner in the hands of Hindu revivalists and proponents of Hindutva as was Musharraf a front man for Pakistan's robustly militant generals. The spin-off of the two countries' consummation in the vortex of fundamentalism could only be a standstill on the political front. There could be no meeting of minds between two antagonists, with each given to an uncompromising belief in the correctness of their stand.
The situation in the Pakistani camp was further complicated by the increasing involvement of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda elements in Kashmir's initially home- spun uprising. Pakistan's ISI was up to its neck involved in arranging the pieces on the Kashmiri chessboard according to its own game plan. This cloak and dagger arm of the Pakistan army came into its elements in the flush of the Afghan resistance's thumping victory over the Soviet Union. Its provocative meddling in Pakistan's internal politics, and capacity to doctor the electoral process in the country according to its whims, gave it additional clout at home. Its success in foisting an archaic band of Taliban on a war-ravaged Afghanistan whetted its appetite for similar successes elsewhere. Its adventurous policy makers, fired by their Islamic zeal, saw their next challenge in Kashmir. And why not? They asked themselves. If their Afghan proxies, sufficiently armed and trained, could expel a super power like the Soviet Union from Afghanistan why couldn't their proxies in Kashmir do likewise to India? At the very least, the cost for India could be raised to an intolerable level, forcing it to come to the negotiations table.
This ISI-scripted strategy received a hefty boost with Musharraf seizing total power from the civilians in Pakistan. With their own man now calling all the shots in the political fray, sky was the limit for the ISI hotheads, and their minions, on Kashmir. Musharraf went along with them to the last dot. After all, he was the architect of Kargil and had toppled Nawaz because of his perceived treachery on Kashmir that, Musharraf and other Pakistani generals believed, had robbed them of certain victory.
September 11 dented all this. Suddenly, ISI was seen as a promoter of terrorism. It was forced into a corner. Musharraf's arm was twisted by his new mentor in the White House to crack down on its purveyors of militancy. He had no choice but oblige.
The fallout from September 11 gave a shot in the arm to the militants and hard liners in Vajpayee's own sanctum. They had a sure winner, they thought, in the conscience of a world awakened to the menace of terrorism. They had been tilting at all the windmills to convince the world that Pakistan was exporting terrorism to the Indian-controlled Kashmir; now the world must believe the veracity of their clamour. The terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in Delhi last December 13 added a further dimension to their case against Pakistan. The die was cast in favour of teaching Pakistan a lesson for its 'perfidy'. The armies were ordered to keep their gun-powder dry.
But Musharraf did not think that his case on Kashmir had run out of steam. He had done a great favour to Bush by dying his own wool in his colour on Afghanistan, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Bush was obligated to him and must return the favour on Kashmir where Pakistan was not involved in terrorism but merely lending its support to a people fighting for their human rights and freedoms. In his much-heralded speech of last January 12, reverberated around the world, he promised to crack down on militancy inside Pakistan but Kashmir was another kettle of fish. Kashmir, in his words, pulsated in the heart of every Pakistani. How could, then, anybody expect him to renege on Pakistan's 'moral and principled' commitment on the side of the Kashmiris?
That is where the two countries, and the world, are currently poised - on the edge - on Kashmir. Both Musharraf and Vajpayee are mired in the bog of their high-pitched and shrill policies on a matter that both consider as one of life and death. Hence neither is prepared to blink. High profile emissaries from the powers-that-be have been making the diplomatic pilgrimage to both Delhi and Islamabad. But any breakthrough is still up in the clouds. The Russian strongman, Vladimir Putin, put his global prestige on the line in Almaty, during the Asian Security Summit, but to no avail. He failed to arrange a meeting between the two adversaries, Vajpayee and Musharraf. There was, unlike the SAARC summit of last January in Kathmandu, no impromptu handshake at Almaty. Not even an eye contact between the two leaders. This explains the chasm between them.
Both Vajpayee and Musharraf are symptoms of the Kashmir problem. Therefore, it would be wrong, if not naïve, of anyone to expect them to become the instruments of a change for better.
Vajpayee is a prisoner to the rhetoric forced down his throat by the hawks and hardliners around him. He has got himself marooned on a dangerously high perch from where he cannot descend unscathed without the safety net of some face saving. But who should throw him that life-line? Not Musharraf.
To the Pakistani strongman, Kashmir is a matter of commitment and conviction. He cannot envisage himself abdicating his moral responsibility in the matter. Being from the much-maligned mohajir community he must show more than usual resilience and élan on Kashmir lest the majority community ruling the roost in the army and the bureaucracy doubted his commitment and loyalty to Pakistan. And then there is Pakistan's redoubtable nuclear option. The world has a right to manifest all the angst on the nuclear trigger that could, rightly, wreak horrific devastation on both India and Pakistan. But to Musharraf, and the coterie around him, it is the ultimate equaliser. Hence his repeated reminders to the world that, in dire crunch, he may be left with no other option but pull the nuclear lever. The world ought to take him seriously. He may not be bluffing.