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'Musharraf agreed to shift stand on Kashmir for army's credibility'

Lalit K Jha in Washington | March 18, 2009 15:41 IST

Former President General Pervez Musharraf [Images] was ready to give up Islamabad's [Images] traditional stand on Kashmir during secret talks with India in 2006 in order to regain credibility to Pakistan army [Images] post 9/11, a US analyst has said.

After September 11, the Pakistani army had lost its credibility in the
international community mainly because of its well-established relationship with the extremists groups, said Steve Coll, a Pultizer prize-winning American journalist, who has written several investigative stories on Kashmir.

Pakistan army took the extraordinary steps that it did to enter into these negotiations over Kashmir, essentially threatening to reverse decades of policy in this negotiation with India, it was not coercion that brought them to the table; it was aspiration," he said in his testimony before the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.

"They wanted, Musharraf in particular, the international legitimacy, the credibility. He wanted to be
celebrated at international events as a peacemaker. He wanted Oslo to pay attention to him," Coll said in response to a question. The only way to achieve stability in South Asia, he observed, is through normalisation between India and Pakistan. And "that's why the Kashmir negotiations matter, not in and of themselves but as a pathway to normalisation," he argued.

Coll, currently president and CEO of the New America
Foundation, had written an investigative article in The New York Times, saying that India and Pakistan held several rounds of secretive talks and were on the brink of achieving a breakthrough in Kashmir before Musharraf got plunged into domestic political turmoil, resulting into his ultimate fall.

Testifying before the Commission, Coll
said there is an understanding in the Obama [Images] administration and broadly in the Congress and elsewhere that the time has come to rebalance US policy to emphasize the pursuit of a stable, modernizing, democratic constitutional Pakistan, not because it's an American idea but because it's a Pakistani idea.

"The problem now is that this
constitutional order is undergoing a period of considerable instability," he said. Some of the aspects of that instability are without precedent in recent Pakistani history, particularly the role of an Islamist insurgency that has captured significant swathes of territory in the country, Coll said. Now, the US, under such difficult circumstances has to also confront the role of the Pakistani security services historically in promoting, funding, arming, and equipping, sometimes with American cooperation, the very Islamist groups that now threaten that order, he observed.

One of the real problems in American policy in the past
has been trying to find an effective, consistent policy to engage with the Pakistani army and to encourage and at times if necessary coerce it to change its conduct in relation to these banned Islamist groups, Coll argued.

Commenting on the proposed Kerry-Lugar bill, Coll said to some extent though it is necessary but insufficient. "It was meant to address the problem of Musharraf's authoritarian rule and to address the recognition that too much US aid had gone into the Pakistani security services without proper accounting, without proper shared understanding of what that aid was intended to accomplish," he said.

Coll said the US has struggled in the past with identifying the
policies that can encourage and persuade the Pakistani security services to break once and for all with the jihadi groups that have been an instrument of Pakistani foreign and regional policy for decades. He said the US has failed in the past, and particularly since 9/11, because it has not enunciated clear standards of expectation that can be used to measure the attitudes and conduct of the Pakistani security services.

"It's been observed by many people that the
United States wrote, essentially, a blank cheque to the Pakistani security services after 9/11. But what would it mean to write a different kind of cheque -- in other words to have a more constructive engagement?" Coll said.

© Copyright 2009 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.

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