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October 13, 1999
Pak coup won't harm India's security, says MEA
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
The India government is keeping an extremely tight lip on the developments in Pakistan. With the situation still unclear and events changing fast, it is unwilling to take a stand.
While the ministry of external affairs refused to comment on the situation, observers of Pakistan and sources in the MEA said they were not too surprised. "The very fact that the whole take-over by the Pakistani army went off so smoothly only proves that the entire plan was hatched earlier though only implemented yesterday," sources in the MEA point out.
The first fallout of the take-over is that the Indo-Pakistan talks, which were to be resumed shortly, will now be put off until some political authority is established in that country. "It is really the United States that has been pressurising New Delhi to hold talks with Pakistan, including on the Kashmir tangle, and now of course no such talks can occur," the sources added.
Earlier, India had stalled resuming the talks on the grounds that until the election is over and the new government takes office, such talks would be meaningless. Now, with the turmoil in Pakistan, no talks are likely at least for the next few months.
It is not just a question of a government taking charge in Pakistan but that of the legitimacy of the government in the eyes of the world. "Certainly if the army chooses to rule Pakistan for the next few years, it will not be recognised by the world powers and any talks with such a regime will be meaningless. Yet, whether and when elections will be held is anyone's guess," the sources pointed out.
However, they added that the developments in Pakistan would not really hamper Indo-Pak relations. "One fact that stands out is whether the government is military or civilian, their view of India remains the same. If anything, military regimes are more cautious than civilian governments," the sources said.
Speaking about the era of Zia-ul Haq (1978-89), the sources said, "Except for the covert support to terrorists in India -- first to the Khalistani separatists and later to the Kashmiri separatists -- our relations were quite. The democratically elected government not only continued supporting the Kashmiri separatists but we even had the recent adventure in Kargil. Hence, the type of government really does not make much of a difference."
Questions have been raised about the control over the nuclear button, but MEA officials are not unduly concerned. "It will have to be a real mad man to try anything of that sort on the subcontinent, and right now there is no need to worry. But of course, the situation is being closely watched."
There has been some speculation about a desperate Pakistani army getting adventurous across the border, especially in Kashmir, but MEA officials doubt if that will really happen. "They are too busy getting their house in order right now," the sources said.
For newly sworn-in Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the military take-over must give a feeling of deja vu. In 1978, when Zia-ul Haq overthrew Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Vajpayee was the foreign minister.
The MEA officials were clear that India had no intention commenting on what it views as an internal matter of Pakistan. Unlike the Western nations, who have strongly condemned the dismissal of Nawaz Sharief and warned the army to respect the country's constitution, New Delhi has not done likewise.
MEA sources feel that the developments can only help to serve India in positive light. "For years we have been warning the West about the situation in Pakistan, about how powerful the military is and how it actually controls the cross-border terrorism rather than the civilian government. The take-over has only vindicated our position that the civilian government has very little control over many aspect and institutions in Pakistan," the sources said.
One gain is that the latest development in Pakistan will also help further strengthen Indo-United States ties by showing to the US that the only dependable country in the subcontinent is India. "Here we have just completed a mammoth election and sworn in our new government, and there a government falls yet another time to the military. How much more of a contrast can one provide?" the sources said.
Moreover, with the US Senate refusing to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the single biggest hurdle in Indo-US ties, relations over the coming months are expected to be smooth. "Right now, we have no thorns and lots of reasons to cooperate closely," the sources added.
According to MEA sources, the US remains concerned about the influence of the Taliban over the Pakistani army, which in turn is widely believed to have control over the nuclear arms possessed by Pakistan.
"Given the turbulent situation in Afghanistan, a strife-riven and economically broke Pakistan is the last thing the US wants. The fear of a civil war in nuclear-armed Pakistan is real and the US will leave no stone unturned to settle the situation in that country," the sources concluded.
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