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Will the peace process survive Musharraf?

March 12, 2007 14:52 IST

The 'Ides of March' are upon us and it looks increasingly difficult to predict the future of the Musharraf regime in Pakistan. Under pressure by the Americans (Vice President Cheney's recent visit) to do more against the Taliban and a nation that has seemingly placed the US as the prime hate object, dethroning India, Musharraf is indeed caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

On the other hand, despite hiccups due to the Mumbai train blasts of last year and the recent one on the Samujhauta Express, the India-Pakistan peace process seems well on track. There is widespread popular support for normalisation of relations with India. Even a part of hardline Muttehida Majlis E Amal, a grouping of religious parties, led by Maulana Fazalur Rehaman of the Jamaat Ulema E Islam rooting for it, despite the opposition by the Jamaat E Islami.

Prima facie, this should calm Indian fears of any slide back into hostility, should Musharraf be dethroned. But in the new geopolitical reality, new emerging powers have developed vested interest in Indo-Pak hostility. In addition, there are pseudo-realists in Pakistan who still dream of dismembering India and annexing Kashmir. A deeper analysis of the threats to Mausharraf and the peace process is essential to understand the coming events that would have a major impact on India.

Understanding the dynamics of the peace process

It is not very often that a fringe group like Inpad (Initiative for Peace And Disarmament) and UIPs (Un Important Persons) like this author, have the satisfaction of seeing their suggestions taken up at international levels. Inpad had presented a blueprint of Kashmir conflict resolution at the XIIIth World Peace Congress held at Melbourne, Australia, in December 1998. The main elements of this were,
• Both parties accept that each has a legitimate claim, India on the basis of being a secular country that has 140 million Muslims and cannot accept secession on basis of religion in a part without jeopardising its future, while Pakistan can legitimately claim that once the secession of Muslim majority areas was accepted then Kashmir must become part of Pakistan.
• Both are in a no-win situation in that India will be embroiled in counter-insurgency there and Pak is militarily too weak to annex it by force.
• If the problem cannot be solved, then why not take measures to reduce the misery of the people of Kashmir? This could be achieved by:
1. Opening borders for Kashmiris for trade and movement
2. Giving a say to the respective legislatures in each other's areas to allay fears of terrorism ( India) and human rights violations ( Pakistan)
3. In tandem with the above, normalise India-Pakistan relations so as to create a peace constituency.

Changes in geopolitics

Despite this formulation being widely circulated worldwide, there was very little forward movement till 2000. It was around that time that the US finally began re-orienting its policies to a post-cold war world. In a world without the Soviet Union and with a resurgent China, the US realised that irrespective of its day-to-day policies, a strong India was a necessary bulwark against the threat of Chinese hegemony in Asia. With this the bottom was removed from Pakistan's anti-India and Kashmir policy. 

Some explanation is necessary for the above preposition. Pakistan, which is 1/10th of India, has no capability to confront it militarily. That it successfully did so for the last 40 years or so is mainly due to the support by the West. According to former American Ambassador to Pakistan, Robert Oakley, 'Pakistan has been floating on a sea of American aid'. It is the American military aid that enabled Pakistan to have a qualitative edge against India all these years. To give one example, while we managed to get the 155 mm Bofors guns in the 1980s, Pakistan had 155 mm guns as early as 1965! Without American support, Pakistan's policy of seeking parity with India was doomed to failure.

On Kashmir, led by Duncan Sandy, a veteran British diplomat from the Second World War, the Americans embarked on a policy of twisting the Kashmir issue before the United Nations from the Indian complaint of Pakistan's military aggression to one of the very legality of its accession with India. The brilliance of Sir Zafarullah Khan and the shortcoming of Gopalaswamy Iyengar (the respective Indian and Pakistani representatives at the UN) had very little to do with this. In October 1993 when, according to the then Corps Commander Lt Gen Padmanabhan, 'The militants had hijacked the Hazratbal shrine', I was present in Srinagar. The episode ended in a meek surrender by the militants, giving a blow to their morale. Just as it happened, the then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (according to wags, better known as Mad On line Not all Bright) issued a statement supporting the Kashmiri separatist cause. The BBC played its role by planting a false rumour that the shrine was burnt down, resulting in riots and the death of many innocents. My calls to BBC from Srinagar (I happen to be on their panel) were never returned. There used to be frequent processions in Srinagar by the separatists chanting slogans like 'Bill Clinton zindabad'. This recounting was necessary to show the Western approach as it was till the year 2000. As pithily put by the late V K Krishna Menon (in his interviews with Michael Breacher, Canadian author of Krishna Menon's View of the World), 'Pakistan, like Israel, was the Imperial outpost in Asia'. Supporting Pakistan on Kashmir was part and parcel of the policies that also saw Americans encourage AQ Khan to obtain nuke technology and later bale him out of trouble in Holland. Once the Americans changed their approach to Kashmir, Pakistan had no choice but toe the line.

In addition, after the 'overt' nuclearisation of the subcontinent in 1998, the use of force to solve the Kashmir issue was no longer an option. A kind of 'no war possible' pact came into existence. Both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif recognised this and the peace process was begun with Lahore Bus Diplomacy in 1999. Despite many other events that brought the two countries to the brink of war later, this premise stands. Vajpayee by his visit to Minar E Pakistan, underlined the Indian 'recognition' of the reality of Pakistan and its acceptance by India. (This was a much more nuanced approach than that of his successor Advani of the 'Secular Jinnah' fame). Vajpayee also bailed out the Sharif government by buying $200 million worth of sugar to help save Pakistan from financial bankruptcy. Musharraf overthrew Sharif in October 1999 blaming him for the failure to exploit the Kargil 'victory', but soon came to mother earth.

Every ruler in Pakistan, from Liaqat Ali to Musharraf, once in power, has felt the need to mend fences with India in order to survive in power. But equally true is the fact that those out of power use anti-India rhetoric to get into power.

Ides of March and Musharraf

It was indeed an extraordinary spectacle when last year Musharraf wrote his biography and got it released in the US to garner dollars. Seems he was preparing for his exile in the LOO (Land of Opportunity). It was but natural for him to wish to avoid the fate of many high-ranking ex-armymen who are forced to drive a cab in the US or open a kiosk (no exaggeration, I have met some in Washington, DC, and readers can check out for themselves).

Things have gone from bad to worse for Musharraf. His military campaign against the Baluchis, his on/off campaigns against the resurgent Taliban, have made him extremely unpopular among his own people. He has however remained steadfast in his attempt to retain American friendship.

But in Pakistan, a military ruler is not really concerned with popularity in the country. His fate is decided by the group of Corps Commanders (many in Pakistan also call them as Crore Commanders). This is Musharraf's real constituency.

The importance of Musharraf

Recently Musharraf undertook a major revision of the Pakistani educational system, trying to remove anti-India and anti-Hindu (the two are synonymous in the eyes of many Pakistanis) poison. Thus he has shown that he is serious about addressing the 'core issue' between the two countries, i.e. the hate India syndrome as the touchstone of Pak nationalism. He has brought back the study of pre-Islamic history of Pakistan. It is indeed an irony of sorts that while an avowedly Islamic Pakistan is trying to own up its Hindu/Buddhist past, we in India under the HRD minister are going in the opposite direction, wherein everything ancient from yoga to ayurveda is dubbed communal and non-secular. It is like the Egyptians denying their link with the Pharaohs or the Iranians disowning King Darius (which, as a matter of fact, the Islamists in both countries do). 

As a shrewd military man, Musharraf understands the basic need of not having to fight on more than one front. While he deals with extremists within, he needs peace with India. Musharraf as well as all the right-thinking Pakistanis know that they face no military threat from India. This is not based on any wishful thinking but is due to the fact that India does not stand to gain anything by doing away with Pakistan. Whatever their rhetoric, both the major political parties are united on this as an increase in Muslim population that would entail is not a prospect either of them relish.

Immediately after 9/11 when Musharraf had made his famous U-turn, the Israeli prime minister was quoted as having said that never in his life did he think that at night he would praying for a long life to the military dictator of Pakistan. Today it would be Dr Manmohan Singh who would echo these very sentiments. Fortunately, so far it is Dr Singh who seems to control the foreign policy of India and not our Lady of Renunciation.

What could happen

The first thing to understand about Pakistan is that it has no developed institutions and the only organised force is armed force. The coups in Pakistan take place suddenly and without any warning. The past is a guide for it  The recent sacking of the Chief Justice by Musharraf may well be due to the pressure exerted by the hardliners within the army (the Inter Services Intelligence is part of the Pakistani army), since the judge was trying to rein in the unchecked powers of Military Intelligence. Rather than a sign of strength, this is actually a sign of weakness on the part of Musharraf. Generally it is also well-known that the Americans are involved in all changes in the government in Pakistan. 

But given the American preference for Musharraf and their fear of Talibanisation of Pakistan, this time may be an exception. It is to be expected that a successor to Musharraf, besides the familiar 'anti-corruption' drive, would also like to play the 'Kashmir sell-out' card. Thus in the short run at least, the peace process may be rolled back. The Chinese may welcome this since the continuing Indo-Pak blood feud is in their interest. If a new ruler then decides to distance himself from the US (unpopular among the masses due to the perception of it being anti-Muslim), the Chinese may welcome that move. The new general in power may well then opt to make Pakistan a Chinese client state instead of an American one. To garner support he may also announce further 'Islamisation' of Pakistan and go back to the Zia ul Haq formula.

But China is only emerging as a economic power and is not in a position to give economic aid to Pakistan on the American scale. Without that aid and a tightening of screws by IMF, the World Bank and Asian Bank et al would lead to economic bankruptcy and hordes of economic refugees coming to India. So in addition to Bangladesh, India would receive a flood of illegal migrants from the west. The 'secualrists' may well see in this an opportunity to grant them citizenship wholesale and create another vote-bank. There will be enough bleeding hearts in India to accommodate these refugees. The day will not be far when like in Assam, the fate of elections in India will be decided by illegal migrants. There are enough home grown fanatics on both sides of the religious divide in India who would also welcome this as they seem to be ill at ease due to the peace process between India and Pakistan. They would be then extra active and eager to pour oil in troubled waters. 

When will it happen?

The forces gathering against the continuation of Musharraf in power are so overwhelming that it seems to be no longer 'whether' but 'when'. While a violent coup cannot be ruled out, given the history that Pakistan has always had bloodless coups, Musharraf may well be given a chance to leave the country.

But the likely coming events are likely to put Indian diplomacy in a difficult situation. Luckily for us, with the possible exception of the Chinese, all the major powers and neighbours of Pakistan are similarly in dread of the Talibanisation of Pakistan. There is every chance that the world community will succeed in containing the newly-emerged Taliban in Pakistan as it will have to grapple with an economic collapse. But all this will take time and in the interim India will have to keep its powder dry and be prepared to face hostility, increased terrorist strikes, engineered communal riots and even nuclear threats.

The coming few months may well test Indian nerves and skills. Of course a possibility exists that Musharraf may come on top and curb the extremists within Pakistan. None would be happier to be proved wrong than this author. But being realistic and without access to the feelings and views of Pakistani armed forces men, one fears that the best outcome may not actually happen. Then like Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar all that one can say is, 'Beware of the Ides of March!'

Anil A Athale