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Home > India > News > Columnists > Kanwal Sibal

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Nothing will fundamentally change in Pakistan

August 18, 2008

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Musharraf was on his political deathbed for many months now. He was in convalescence, hoping somehow of full recovery, though the view of the public at large was that he would have to pass away from the scene. You can depart as a hero if the exit is well timed. But if you overstay your welcome you can be hooted out. Musharraf has now left not to protect his country's interests but his own skin. Impeachment was being threatened. It would have been shattering for a man so convinced of his unimpeachable conduct of the nation's affaires. His long speech on Monday was meant to persuade himself of his own good deeds; the public had made up its mind that his utility was over and only wanted to hear what he would say at the end: Will he quit?

Musharraf had strutted on the international stage for nine long years, confident of his ability to persuade others of his sincerity, his earnestness to make Pakistan a good partner in the resolution of common problems. He had a weak hand but he won many tricks. For a country accused of terrorism and harbouring the Al Qaida, he achieved the remarkable feat of positioning himself as an ally against that very terrorism that Pakistan itself had nurtured. He got even India to agree that he was as much a victim of terrorism as India itself. We could no longer seek account from Pakistan even as we continued to suffer from terrorist attacks. He also got us to agree to resolving the Kashmir issue based on his ideas.

Having lost the confidence to solve the Kashmir problem internally ourselves, we sought his helping hand. The price of errors we made in promoting cross LOC links we are paying today, with the separatists in the valley demanding the opening
of the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad road as a right in defiance of India's sovereignty.

Musharraf was out of the peace process with India since the February elections. His departure therefore has no impact on it. A democratic government by definition should be more wedded to a dialogue, though in India there is some nostalgia about Musharraf's role. The blasting of our embassy in Kabul and the spate of terrorist attacks in India have chilled the atmosphere of the dialogue for the moment. But Sir Creek and Siachen are doable if Pakistan wants it. Trade and people to people contacts should improve.

The civil-military equation in Pakistan has changed for the time being, but the military will continue to be a powerful force behind the scenes. They are structurally entrenched in a system of which the political parties are a part. On India, Afghanistan, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, it is the military that will be the decisive factor. General Kiyani is wise to cut the military's losses by receding into the background. This will better preserve the influence of the armed forces.

Nothing will fundamentally change in Pakistan. The political parties will soon be at each other's throats. Nawaz Sharif wants to be prime minister. One hopes the civilian leadership will not make a mess of things again, opening the doors once again to military rule.

The current turmoil in Kashmir adds more unpredictability to India-Pakistan relations.

(The author is a former foreign secretary of India)

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