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Volume 4, No. 4 - October 2004

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Summitry in New York
G. Parthasarathy

Spin doctors who accompany Indian Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers on visits abroad routinely use terms like 'breakthrough' and 'historic' to describe meetings that their bosses hold. This is particularly true when summit meetings take place either in the White House, or with Pakistani leaders. When India's youngest Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi met Pakistan's youngest Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in Islamabad in 1989, there was no dearth of hangers-on in Rajiv Gandhi's entourage gushingly telling him how good the two young Prime Ministers looked on television and how the new generation of leaders would set aside the mindsets of the past and usher in a new era of eternal friendship. Barely a few months after this
Summit, Pakistan's leaders were fomenting insurrection in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) with shrill calls for "Azadi" (Freedom). A decade later, Prime Minister Vajpayee embarked on his now famous bus journey to Lahore, only to find his dreams of a 'breakthrough' shattered on the high hill tops of Kargil. What India's Pakistan-obsessed media and bleeding-heart liberals failed to understand was that both in 1989 and in 1999, elected Indian Prime Ministers were dealing with counterparts in Pakistan who had little say in influencing the policies that Army Chiefs like Generals Aslam Beg and Pervez Musharraf were controlling - policies aiming to 'bleed India with a thousand cuts'. Unlike sentimental Indians, the Pakistani military establishment conducts its policies towards India not out of any sentimentality, but on the basis of prevailing domestic and international power dynamics.

What were the prevailing domestic and international factors influencing Musharraf when he met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on September 24? Domestically, he was finding a lack of adequate support for his plans to continue as Army Chief beyond December 31. While he could quite easily stage another bogus 'referendum' and announce that he had secured public support for his plans, this route could further expose his lack of democratic and constitutional legitimacy. Secondly, with two four star generals scheduled to retire on October 7, he could never be sure of the unquestioned loyalty of an officer at least seven years his junior, who would become Army chief, if he decides to go the constitutional way, and relinquish his job as Pakistan's Army Chief. Musharraf knows better than anyone else, that political power in Pakistan grows out of the barrel of a gun. Things would become infinitely more complicated for him, if he became internationally isolated and lost the support of the Americans. The Americans, in turn, do not want him to get embroiled in tensions with India, but rather to focus his attention on stabilizing the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, where around 70,000 Pakistani troops are now deployed, fighting remnants of the Al Qaeda and its supporters.

Adding to Musharraf's complications is the fact that his favourite jihadis from groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) are now targeting him personally. The other hot Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) favourite, the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) is now a house divided, with the leadership of Hafiz Mohammed Saeed being called into question and a senior leader, Maulana Ibrahim Salfi, assassinated in broad daylight. Within Kashmir, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) remains another house divided, despite attempts by diplomats like Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri and Foreign Secretary Riaz Khokar to bring them together, under the tutelage of Syed Ali Shah Geelani. It is interesting that even as Musharraf was meeting Manmohan Singh in New York, the 'moderate' APHC leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq was said to be busy meeting the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) leader Sardar Qayyum and ISI Chief General Ehsan-ul-Haq in Saudi Arabia. Failure to re-establish a united fifth column like the Hurriyat would be a setback for Pakistan's efforts to keep the pot boiling in the Kashmir Valley. Given these developments, it is only logical for Musharraf to buy time by continuing the dialogue process with India, while making it clear to his domestic audience that he still remains committed to the ISI's larger strategic objective of weakening India from within. Musharraf played his cards very well in New York, telling his domestic audience that he had not forsaken larger objectives, while persuading the international community that he was a changed man, fully opposed to terrorism.

Not surprisingly, the statement that Musharraf read out after his meeting with Manmohan Singh was worded to lend itself to different interpretations. This is going to be controversial, especially as Delhi's United Progressive Alliance (UPA) Government has been less than pro-active in focusing domestic and international public and media attention on the details and implications of Pakistan sponsored terrorism. The Government has also not effectively rebutted Pakistan's charges of human rights violations, or exposed the gross violations of human rights in PoK. Musharraf made it clear that there could be no improvement in economic relations till the Kashmir issue was resolved to his satisfaction. He had earlier described Indian allegations of Pakistani support for terrorism as being 'hackneyed'. Dr. Manmohan Singh, however, subsequently asserted: "Terrorism did come up in our discussions and I mentioned unambiguously to President Musharraf that the starting point of the whole dialogue process is the commitment given by Pakistan in the January 6 statement, that territory under Pakistan's control will not be used for terrorist activities." For good measure Dr. Singh added: "We cannot discuss substantive issues and Confidence Building Measures if terrorist activities are not controlled. Therefore, there is no doubt that this is the pre-condition to moving forward."

There have, however been two important, but unpublicized developments in recent talks with Pakistan. During discussions with Khurshid Kasuri, External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh made it clear that India was concerned about the lack of representative institutions, democratic freedoms and meaningful autonomy in PoK and the Northern Areas in the PoK. It also seems that Dr. Manmohan Singh has thrown the ball back in Musharraf's court by asking him to spell out what he believes could be the basis of 'reasonable' and mutually acceptable solutions to the issue of J&K.

General Musharraf's game plan is now reasonably clear. He will not raise the level of terrorist violence beyond India's threshold of tolerance. Given the dissensions within jihadi outfits supported by the ISI, General Ehsan ul Haq will be given time to prepare new strategies to keep the pot boiling with terrorist violence. At the same time, coercive pressure and threats to their lives will be used to get the Hurriyat leaders to fall in line. In negotiations with India, the effort will be to get India to accept the gas pipeline project and agree to a pullback of its forces from Siachen. There is no dearth of people in India, including some in Manmohan Singh's Cabinet, who would like us to accept these Pakistani wishes with no quid pro quo, either on developing normal trade and economic relations, including transit rights to Afghanistan, or on ending cross-border terrorism. But it appears unlikely that Dr. Manmohan Singh will oblige them!

While it is in India's interests to press ahead with moves for demanding more democratic freedoms in PoK and suggesting measures to open the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus service, much is now going to depend on how the Government manages the situation within Kashmir, so that people there realize that increasing pressure has to be put on Pakistani jihadis, by identifying their hideouts and eliminating them. No effort can be spared to demonstrate to people in J&K that playing the Pakistani game, as elements in the Hurriyat are now doing, has no future. The scope of Delhi's interlocutor in J&K, N.N. Vohra's political dialogue needs to be expanded to take into account the views of all sections of the people in the State.

Given the way that developments in Kashmir and Manipur have been handled in recent months, there is little reason to be optimistic that this task can be carried out imaginatively by the Home Ministry. Delhi will have to formulate policies to respond appropriately and pro-actively to Pakistan's efforts to destabilize the situation within India.

There is no place for sentimentality on this score.

Courtesy: South Asia Terrorism Portal


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