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Pak NSA in India as country slides downhill

October 17, 2008 13:11 IST
Pakistan's national security adviser, Major General Mahmud Ali Durrani, is one of a rare breed of talented and perceptive Pakistan army officers who has a realistic understanding of the power dynamics of India-Pakistan relations. He is all too aware of the economic and military limitations of his own country, as it seeks to realise its army establishment's cherished goals of seeking "strategic depth" in Afghanistan and "bleeding India with a thousand cuts". 

An ethnic Pashtun from the Durrani tribe, General Durrani is suave and sophisticated and not afflicted by the anti-Indian prejudices that characterises the thinking and rhetoric of many of the army's Punjabi generals. His views reflected in his book India and Pakistan -- The Cost of Conflict and the Benefits of Peace set him out as a thinking soldier. But for his unfortunately being held responsible for the air crash in which General Zia ul Haq perished in 1988, Durrani may well have ended his career as Pakistan's army chief.

Durrani's appointment as national security adviser reflects his political skills, as he obviously enjoys the confidence of both his former boss, General Musharraf, and the new government. He reportedly played an important role in forging an understanding between Benazir and Musharraf. His presence as national security adviser also appears to have been helpful in ensuring a graceful and satisfactory exit for Musharraf.

Moreover, like Zardari and Musharraf, Durrani recognises the crucial importance of Pakistan having a strong relationship with the United States. But, hailing from the armed forces, Durrani knows that on crucial issues like relations with Afghanistan and India, no civilian government can succeed without the backing of the military establishment, with whom he will remain a useful bridge for the politicians.

New Delhi should constantly bear in mind that despite Durrani's soft-spoken approach, crucial decisions on relations with India, particularly on terrorism-related issues, will remain in the hands of the Punjabi-dominated Pakistani military. 

Pakistan today confronts multiple crises. Inflation is running at around 25 per cent, the country's foreign exchange reserves are dwindling by $ 1 billion every month; there are growing shortages of essential commodities and unprecedented power cuts. Pakistan can no longer afford its petroleum imports and has appealed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran for supply of oil on deferred payment terms. Without large-scale foreign economic assistance, the country's economy will collapse. Pakistan's defence secretary has acknowledged to its parliamentarians that the country cannot sustain itself without American-led foreign assistance.

The most serious crisis the country faces today is the breakdown in the writ of the Pakistani State in virtually the entire Northwest Frontier Province, bordering Afghanistan. Following growing American pressure and cross-border attacks, the Pakistani army is attempting to clamp down on pro-Taliban forces in the tribal district of Bajaur bordering Afghanistan. This is domestically immensely unpopular in Pakistan, where for years the Taliban and groups like the Lashkar e Tayiba, which promote terrorism in India, have been backed by the ISI and eulogised by the media.

With over one-third of its army deployed on its western borders, Pakistan's rulers have been compelled to adopt a more cautious posture on relations with India -- a course advocated strongly by their American friends. Thus, while there will be periodic ceasefire violations and infiltration across the Line of Control, Pakistan has been compelled to ensure that tensions with India do not get out of hand.

Ever since the two countries agreed on a ceasefire on the Line of Control in November 2003 and General Musharraf assured Prime Minister Vajpayee on January 4, 2004, that he would not allow "territory under Pakistan's control" to be used for terrorism directed against India, there has been a continuing and productive dialogue between the two countries. This has resulted in some expansion of trade, greater facilities for travel across the International Border, enhanced people to people contacts and new nuclear confidence building measures.

The recent dialogue has also led to a series of confidence building measures across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. After a lapse of half a century, travel across the Line of Control in the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalkot sectors has been restored. Trade across the LOC is soon to commence. There has been a detailed dialogue on a framework for resolving the issue of J&K by discussions on measures for increasing "self-governance" on both sides of the LOC, reduction of forces and acceptance of the premise of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that while borders cannot be changed, they can be made "irrelevant' and "just lines on map".

After General Musharraf quit as army chief, General Kiyani returned to the old rhetoric of "support" for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, with Pakistan's rather immature Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani chipping in, to disown General Musharraf's proposals, saying that they were "half-baked". Around the same time, both houses of the Pakistani parliament returned to their rhetorical posturing on Jammu and Kashmir.

 President Zardari evidently does not share the hawkish and outdated views of his prime minister on Jammu and Kashmir. He appears ready to look at innovative proposals like those under discussion for the past few years, to deal with J&K. These coincide with what Benazir Bhutto had been talking about for the past few years. Moreover, Zardari's views trade and economic ties with India quite differently from the country's foreign office and the security establishment, which seem to erroneously believe that concessions can be extracted from India on Jammu and Kashmir by denying India normal trade and economic ties. Zardari, however, believes that given India's economic strength and potential, there are huge opportunities for Pakistan to exploit in the Indian markets, like other countries have successfully done.

In these circumstances, while President Zardari may like to move ahead in expanding trade and economic relations with India and look for new ways to address the Kashmir issue, political opposition combined with the views of the military establishment will circumscribe his efforts to move ahead expeditiously in building bridges with India. It would be naive to expect the ISI to end assistance to terrorist groups in India and Afghanistan, though American pressure is forcing it to be more forthcoming along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

While issues like the demarcation of the border in the Sir Creek areas and increased people to people contacts are likely to see forward movement in coming months, more complex issues can be addressed meaningfully only after the forthcoming general elections in India and some stabilisation of the political and security situation within Pakistan.

G Parthasarathy is a former high commissioner to Pakistan

G Parthasarathy