NEW DELHI: Late last evening, at Spain's national day reception in New Delhi, foreign diplomats among the large gathering were making curious enquiries from their Indian acquaintances about the composition of new Vajpayee Government, the allocation of key portfolios etc. Just then the first report form Islamabad - of the sacking of the Army Chief, Gen. Pervez Musharraf - was received. With a dramatic suddenness, they switched to the how and why of this startling development. A lot was simmering, it was felt, below the surface and relationship between the Prime Minister, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, and the Army chief had been strained to a breaking point.
In retrospect, the stories in the preceding three or four weeks - of the armed forces planning strike against Mr. Nawaz Sharif - seemed to have considerable substance, and the action against the Army Chief was seen as masterly pre-emptive move. There was no cause for India to worry about - this was among the many points made then.
However, the assessments were modified when the news of subsequent developments - of the coup, then in the making, the house arrest of Mr. Sharif and his Cabinet ministers and the control of the television and radio stations by the troops - began to trickle in. It was time for the gathering to disperse, there being no chance for analysing the total situation.
As the Prime Minister, Mr. A. B. Vajpayee, said today, India was monitoring the situation which was considered a matter of concern. New Delhi would be examining, at various levels, the fast-changing developments in Pakistan form now onward. But one or two points are reasonably clear. If India had no reason to worry, when Mr. Sharif seemed to get the better of Gen. Musharraf, the reverse should be true, too, in the light of the subsequent action by the armed forces. And, as such there were good reasons for India to worry. There is no explicit anti-India move so far - no movement of Pakistan troops which could cause concern, no anti-India string in the initial rhetoric, except an implied reference in Gen. Musharraf's first television address to the nation after the coup - "Let no outside force think they can take advantage of the prevailing situation.
The final break between Mr. Sharif and the Army Chief was caused by the Government's handling of Kargil. The Army had not taken kindly to Mr. Sharif's decision, after his meeting with the U.S. President, Mr. Bill Clinton, to withdraw the troops from Kargil and, thus, undo the misadventure, conceived planned and executed by it. What was thought of as a grand strategy to cut off the Indian troops in Siachen, forcing them to surrender, turned out to be a major humiliation to the Pakistan Army. The reports ascribed to Mr. Naiz Naik, a veteran former Pakistan diplomat, suggesting a lack of coordination between the civilian government and the armed forces on Kargil were - looking back - not baseless, as was sought to be made out in subsequent official clarifications, obviously offered at the instance of the G.H.Q. India, thus, is a factor in the cataclysmic goings-on in Pakistan. Of course, there were several domestic reasons as well - the momentum gathered by the agitation of the opposition parties which had united on a single-point agenda, removal of Mr. Sharif, and the authoritarian response of the Government. The India factor may be strengthened because of the support, extended to the Army by the Muslim fundamentalists and religious bigots, who had been lambasting Mr. Sharif for his handling of Kargil. Will pressures mount in Pakistan, under the new dispensation, for a tough line on India?
The change in Pakistan may not be an unmitigated disaster so far as India is concerned. In the present-day international environment, the summary removal of the democratically-elected civilian government is certain to unleash pressures on the military leaders for undoing the blatant wrong. The Army rulers may, thus, be forced to provide a civilian facade for the new set-up while ensuring that they continue to call the shots. Likewise, Islamabad may be compelled to detach itself from terrorist outfits, operating in the Pakistani territory, which were as much a danger to India as to the interests of the Western world.
New Delhi will have to re-write its Pakistan agenda now. The prospects for resuming bilateral talks on the outstanding issues have clearly receded. This will no longer be among the first concerns of the new Government, as was the case till two days ago. Even the foreign powers will not consider it realistic to call for early re-starting of the dialogue. Their first concern would be to see the Pakistan does not slide back into military rule. Those in India, who cite the dealings with Zia regime to suggest that relations with Pakistan under military rule may well be smooth and free from tensions of the type witnessed under the democratic set-up, oversimplify the issues involved. Gen. Zia-ul-Haq, during his martial law days, did manage to have comparatively less tense relationship with India but, it was he who had masterminded the strategy for stepping up terrorist operations not only in Jammu and Kashmir but also in Punjab. Also, because of the India factor in the present case, the parallel with Gen. Zia's military regime is not apt.
This morning, India witnessed the swearing-in of a new government - the product of democratic elections, which nearly 35 crore voters had participated. In Pakistan, around that time, the Army Chief justified the dismissal of the civilian government because of its role in bringing about the collapse of various institutions. In India, Kargil, perhaps created an ambiance which was used by Mr. Vajpayee to his electoral advantage. But Kargil was the undoing of his Pakistani counterpart. The contrast could not be sharper.
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This Archives is Maintained by Md. Sadiq, 1998