Tuesday, September 17, 2002

The Musharraf conundrum

THERE IS a temptation to view Pervez Musharraf's recent diatribe against India, on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly, as having been provoked as much by domestic compulsions as by tactical considerations. And yet, even as the more charitably disposed will seek linings of silver in the General's dismal outpourings, for many in India the speech seems to validate, what may have at one stage seemed like a harsh judgment, that it is going to be extremely difficult to do business with Pakistan as long as the present regime continues in power. This is a growing view, even amongst those who are neither driven by any atavistic antagonism towards Pakistan nor are impervious to the imperfections of the Indian polity. The real challenge for India is, however, to convince its international interlocutors that this view of the General is not driven by the ferocious zeal of narrow nationalism, but is its considered verdict produced by sober analysis based on considerable evidence. For, increasingly, the Indian view of Pakistan's President is appearing to be in Manichean contrast to that being propagated by many Foreign Ministers across the western world. Consider two aspects of these differences in perception.
First, there is clearly a growing view within the United States, and amongst many of its allies, that Gen. Musharraf is a reliable ally in the war against terrorism and extremism, and that he has — in the post-9/11 period — almost acquired statesman-like qualities. Not surprisingly, the popular American newsmagazine, Newsweek, included the General on its cover in the issue to mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The Indian experience would suggest almost exactly the opposite. Not only is the General unreliable, but is driven mostly by considerations of political expediency. To be sure, the Pakistan President is a shrewd tactician, but opportunism rather than vision seems to be the leitmotif of the military regime. Moreover, in an Indian view, the General swiftly buckles under pressure and threats but is rarely amenable to the power of reason or dialogue. There is a huge body of evidence from the recent past that can be garnered to support this assertion.
Gen. Musharraf's flip-flop on Pakistan's support to terrorism in Kashmir is just one example. The international and Indian pressure mounted on the military regime, in the aftermath of the December 13, 2001, attack on India's Parliament, clearly forced the General to make his famous January 12, 2002, speech, and admittedly the infiltration from Pakistan into Jammu and Kashmir came down for a couple of months. But as soon as the pressure relaxed, terrorists began operating with impunity in Kashmir with Pakistan's support. Similarly, the Indian threat of military action after the terrorist attack on the Army camp in Kaluchak on May 14 this year again saw the General promising, a week later, to put an end to infiltration, only to dilute his commitment in an interview to The Washington Post once the threat of war had receded. Subsequently, not only was the farsighted Hurriyat leader, Abdul Gani Lone, assassinated, but scores of moderates were killed in a desperate attempt to subvert the electoral process in Jammu and Kashmir. In Lone's case there is reason to believe that elements within the core of Pakistan's establishment decided to eliminate him after his confrontation with the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence in Dubai. What does this reveal about Gen. Musharraf? Is this the commitment and vision of a statesman? Or is it the skulduggery of a dictator who believes that he can continue to vacillate on terrorism in Kashmir since the U.S. desperately needs him as its satrap in the region?
Second, the myth being perpetuated by Pakistan-watchers, across the Western world, that only the Pakistan army, particularly under the leadership of Gen. Musharraf, can build the foundations of peace with India. True, Pakistan's army, because of the long history of praetorian rule, is unarguably the most powerful institution in the country, but it is also the organisation that has the greatest vested interest in the continuing conflict with India. The growth in power and influence of Pakistan's armed forces has much to do with the long saga of enmity with India. There is little evidence, beyond anecdotal instances and an occasional statement, to suggest that the army today is willing to deny itself the most important reason for its existence and sustenance.
Superficial budgetary cuts in Pakistan's defence expenditure reflect in reality the pressure from international financial institutions, rather than the acceptance that the conflict with India cannot be continued. Instead, the belief that the strategy of bleeding India "through a thousand cuts" has worked is still finding expression in the statements of important voices within the armed forces. Admittedly, a deal with Pakistan's army is likely to be challenged in the short term within the country only by extremists, but the armed forces have the least incentive to make peace with India. More important, in the long term, it should be clear that the road to stable peace in the subcontinent can only be on the basis of shared values, especially those that are backed by public opinion and rooted in mature democratic political systems. This has been the experience across the world, and there is no reason to believe that India and Pakistan are exceptions to this strong global norm.
Moreover, Gen. Musharraf has shown no evidence of a readiness to compromise or do a deal with India. It is clear to even the most naive watcher of South Asia that at the moment there can only be two ways of making peace between India and Pakistan. The preferred Indian route, driven by numerous examples from other regions, is to end violence, establish confidence-building measures at the military and particularly the nuclear level, normalise relations in all areas and engage in a dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir even while recognising that there is no instant mantra that can resolve the bilateral aspects of the problem. The only other way, which finds backers within Pakistan's establishment, is to take head-on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir. But even here, the only way out, as many rational Pakistani analysts admit in private, is to accept a solution on the basis of the status quo, and work towards converting the Line of Control into a Line of Peace, to use the words made memorable by the Pakistani leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto before the Shimla Agreement. In the days preceding the U.N. General Session, there were reports that Pakistan may be willing to accept such a conclusion, but such an outcome was categorically rejected by Gen. Musharraf in New York.
But if the Pakistan President is unwilling to build confidence in other areas until the Kashmir problem is resolved, and also rejects the only possible solution to Kashmir acceptable to India and the international community, and, meanwhile, continues to support the forces of terror in Kashmir, what purpose can be served by engaging him? Surely, the purpose of a dialogue should not merely be to accord legitimacy to a dictator because he happens to be the flavour of the season in the U.S. State Department. This is a message that needs to be conveyed to India's friends in the West in the starkest terms.

(Source: The Hindu, 17/09/02)