|HOME | NEWS | THE KARGIL CRISIS | REPORT|
July 10, 1999
Pak forces 'may pull out next week'
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
Despite the lack of positive signals from Pakistan on withdrawing its troops, the ministry of external affairs is not perturbed. The ministry, which is monitoring the situation in Islamabad closely, realises that asking the troops to withdraw is a very difficult task for Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief and it will take time. Thus it could well be into next week before some action finally becomes visible on the Kargil front.
Sharief returned to Islamabad from the United Kingdom on Thursday and immediately went into a huddle with his advisors. His joint statement with United States President Bill Clinton, whom he met last week, that the Pakistani forces and Pakistani-backed militants on the Indian side of the Line of Control will pull out has not gone down well with certain sections of the polity in Pakistan.
Many sections of Pakistani society, especially the right-wing and certain Islamic ideologues, see the capture of peaks and mountains in India as a brave act carried out by the Pakistani forces and the Mujahideen under extremely difficult circumstances, during the awful months of winter. Thus, withdrawing the soldiers will be seen as capitulation and surrender, and a betrayal by Sharief.
Sharief, MEA sources said, will have to convince his people that withdrawing now will be a strategic gain in the long term. "It will not be easy to do that," said the sources, "because there is also a political battle on. The rightwing might see this as a chance to increase its popularity by eating into Sharief's massive support base. Hence, the right-wing parties will insist that any withdrawal is tantamount to a surrender and will bay for Sharief's blood."
Thus, the sources expect that Sharief will slowly seek to convince his people of the positive aspects of withdrawal, attack his political rivals, and then ask the military to pull out.
All the while, he is expected to remain sensitive to public opinion. To an extent, that has already begun with some leaders from Pakistan voicing the need for tactical retreat to ensure strategic gains. One can expect more of such statements in the coming days as Sharief and his allies go on the offensive, speaking of how the Kargil action helped internationalise the Kashmir situation.
Nevertheless, the ministry is confident that Sharief will keep his word. And there are two reasons for this optimism. First, having got Clinton to make a joint statement, Sharief will be extremely chary of backing out. "The US, to put it mildly, will not be amused should Sharief go back on his word. They don't care how Sharief gets his troops to withdraw or what he tells his people, but he is under tremendous pressure from Washington DC to keep his word," said the sources.
For instance, some Pakistan news reports quoted Pakistani officials as saying that withdrawing from Kargil was linked to Indian troops withdrawing from the Siachen glacier. Washington DC immediately put out a rejoinder, claiming no such linkage had been agreed to by the US and Pakistan. Any further dilatory tactics by Islamabad will be met with equally strong postures from Washington, aver MEA sources.
Second, despite the hullabaloo created by the right wing political parties and certain terrorist organisations operating from Pakistan, the fact is that the political support of the right wing parties within Pakistan is low and they are no real political threat to Sharief's Pakistan Muslim League.
"How many seats do these Islamic parties have in Pakistan's national assembly? Negligible! Even the percentage of votes garnered by them in the last election was absolutely miniscule. Hence, Sharief knows they are no real threat to his huge majority in parliament. He, however, has to ensure that they don't ride on this issue to become a threat to him. Sharief is savvy enough and should be able to, somehow or the other, handle the political fallout," said the sources.
The second largest party in the national assembly is the Pakistan People's Party, led by Benazir Bhutto who is mired in a web of corruption cases. Thus, even if the withdrawal is a loss of face, with political astuteness, Sharief should be able to ride the crisis and bounce back in time for the next election. With his political base assured, the expectation in New Delhi is that he will ask his forces to withdraw sometime next week. Facing the political fallout is a less risky option than facing the wrath of the United States, goes the reasoning.
BOOK SHOP | MUSIC SHOP | GIFT SHOP | HOTEL RESERVATIONS | WORLD CUP 99
EDUCATION | PERSONAL HOMEPAGES | FREE EMAIL | FEEDBACK