February 2004 News

A Positive Shift In Stance

13 February 2004
The Hindu
Amit Baruah

Chennai: From the days of Kargil and unstinted support to jihad, Pervez Musharraf, has come a long way to build bridges with India. HE IS playing a new hand. For a man who backed 'jihad' in Kashmir to the hilt after coming to power in October 1999, and planned the Kargil misadventure earlier, the Pakistan President, Pervez Musharraf, has come a long way. Gen. Musharraf today is seriously engaged in building bridges with India. The November 2003 ceasefire and a series of confidence-building measures that led to the joint press statement of January 6 between Islamabad and New Delhi reflect the new reality. A successful summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation preceded the Islamabad meeting between Gen. Musharraf and the Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. As one gazes hopefully into the future, a reality check is in order. The Pakistani establishment for decades has fattened itself on a diet of unadulterated hatred towards India. The 'jugular vein' line on Jammu and Kashmir has been a constant propaganda vehicle used by the military-intelligence complex. While in Islamabad for the SAARC summit, a Pakistani friend asked me: 'Have we capitulated? Is this a sell-out?' The question was sharp and direct - it was reflective of the Pakistani public opinion in the aftermath of the General's commitment that he would not allow the Pakistani territory to be used to support terrorism in any manner. For a Government which said it had nothing to do with the violence in Kashmir and other parts of India, for a Government which said that the movement in Kashmir was an indigenous 'freedom struggle', this concession is a significant one. An irony of monumental proportions is that Gen. Musharraf and his military managers have as their important domestic ally the Muttahida Majlis-e- Amal (MMA), the key constituents of which are the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiat ulema-e-Islam (JUI). Though the Jamiat has taken a different tack on relations with India, the Jamaat is staunchly opposed to any kind of rapprochement with New Delhi unless Kashmir is handed over to Pakistan. Without doubt, the overwhelming majority of Pakistani public opinion wants an end to the hatred that has governed Islamabad's policy towards New Delhi. At the same time, Pakistani 'pride' is key to the whole rapprochement effort - a 'sell-out' on Kashmir will be difficult to 'sell' to the people at home. The paradigm for attempting to 'sell' the peace process (applicable to India as well) was set by the National Security Adviser, Brajesh Mishra, on January 6 when he said there were no 'winners and losers' in the new India-Pakistan equation. This, possibly a 'pre-agreed' phrase, was picked up by the Pakistan Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, and Gen. Musharraf himself, during their subsequent interactions with the press. The moment one side is tempted to say that a victory has been scored (say on the issue of terrorism), it will erode the carefully crafted edifice of the peace process itself. Hence the stress on a 'win-win' situation. While both sides have so far scrupulously adhered to this approach, the Pakistani establishment has a problem on its hands. Reversing an 'active jihadi' policy set in motion by the military dictator, Zia-ul-Haq, in the 1980s, is clearly a tall order. Well-wishers of the peace process argue that there has been a change in the mindset of Pakistani Punjab as well as in the thinking of the large body of retired Generals spawned by the Army. The 'personal' liberalism of the serving and retired Generals and their families has, so far, not been reflected in state policy. But now, according to many informed Pakistanis, the change is apparent. However, it will not be easy to 'purge' or 'cleanse' the entire system of militant Islamists who have been so carefully nurtured and promoted by an establishment which is now turning its back on its 'own'. At least since mid-2001, Gen. Musharraf has been central to the process of promotions in the Pakistan Army to the rank of Brigadier and above. Whether he has been able to sideline all the Islamists in the higher ranks is, however, debatable. But it is evident that the Pakistani establishment is today willing to trade with India without 'resolving' Kashmir first; extreme resistance to a 'building block' approach towards a final settlement seems to have been abandoned. Chambers of commerce in Pakistan have joined the rest of their SAARC counterparts in calling for a free trade area. For those who have seen 'violent' responses earlier to minor additions to the list of items that can be traded with India, this is a welcome departure. One 'major plus' as far as Pakistan is concerned is the involvement of the United States in the peace process with India - a long-standing demand and desire of Islamabad. The only problem is that the 'terms' of the engagement with India currently prevent the Pakistani establishment from going to town on this. Printer friendly page


Return to the Archives 2004 Index Page

Return to Home Page