WALTZING WITH MUSHARRAF: LET PAKISTAN TAKE THE LEAD

By Lt Gen Ashok Joshi (Retd)

A lot is being made of President Musharraf’s speech of January 12, 2002, which of course, is very appropriate. He held forth on the theme of modernization of Pakistan, and rule of the law, a la Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, with great fervour and sincerity. He condemned obscurantism and sectarian violence prevalent in Pakistan, carried out in the name of Islam. He came down heavily on terrorism, and reminded Pakistan of what it had brought upon itself on account of the interfering mullahs. He vowed to modernize Pakistan, and set it upon the path of progress. No head of Pakistan is known to have ever spoken in this manner with the possible exception of the late Mr. Jinnah. And even that comparison is far-fetched in that Jinnah had merely said that all citizens of Pakistan had equal rights irrespective of their religion.

India has been advised to appreciate a modern mind at the helm of affairs of Pakistan and urged to ‘give him room’, in India’s own interest, because General Musharraf represents the face of ‘modern and moderate’ Islam. The stated logic in support of this advice is that if Musharraf is not allowed time and opportunity, by an impatient India, things could turn out to India’s disadvantage. On the other hand, if India were to pull back troops, talk to Pakistan, and strengthen Musharraf’s hand, India could avert the possibility of some fundamentalist seizing power in Pakistan. In the mean time, General Musharraf would fulfill India’s justifiable and just demands within reason.

In a curious, rare, and totally unexpected turn of events in the wake of nine-eleven, Pakistan has found itself in an unenviable situation. The interests of G7, Russia, and even China seem to converge, more or less, to the disadvantage of Pakistan. Pakistan has had to deal with circumstances that changed dramatically and cataclysmically. For some time to come, it has to learn to live with the following:

    1. Russian, Chinese, G7, and US suspicions that Pakistan is a powerhouse of Islamic fundamentalism.
    2. The US and G7 actions aimed at counter-terrorism which directly or indirectly threaten Pakistan.
    3. The US military presence in Pakistan that renders Pak nuclear capability hors de combat.
    4. Hostile government in Afghanistan.
    5. Dwindling support from Pan-Islamic movement and institutions.
    6. Indian pressure to withdraw support to the terrorists causing trouble in any part of India including J & K, on the pain of military action.
    7. Indian demand for the custody of twenty terrorists.

General Musharraf has coped up with the international pressure as best as he can. He threw in his lot with the US when he sided with the coalition against terrorism, and his judgment seems to have been vindicated. He obviously believes that the worst internal crisis is over, and the bulk of Pak population is with him. Now he wishes to neutralize the Indian menace with the help and assistance of the US and G7. Modernization of Pakistan is music to their ears.

As India carries out its periodic review of policy and plans, one of the main questions that needs to be addressed, is to decide if India should trust President Musharraf to lead Pakistan towards amity with India. What Musharraf said about Kashmir is one of the most striking parts of his address. It showed him at his strategic best when he strengthened his position internally by not diluting the age-old Pak stand. And, at the same time, he seized upon the US-UK ambiguity with regard to Kashmir, and invited their intervention as quid pro quo for services rendered. Here was an opportunity for them to help Pakistan without losing out on their principal concerns.

Musharraf, during his January 12-speech and otherwise, has been addressing Pak concerns within the ambit of the terms of reference laid out for him by the US, on the one hand, and the wishes of his major constituencies in Pakistan, on the other hand. He has not addressed Indian concerns at all except to the extent that they got addressed fortuitously.

Most Indians feel that even if Kashmir question were to be resolved amicably, it would not lead to amity in the subcontinent. This conclusion is based on the following:

Pakistan is uncomfortable with Hindu-culture and India both. It looks upon Hinduism as an all-absorbing octopus. It looks upon India as an implacable foe that is waiting to undo partition. Pakistan is keen to protect the ‘purity’ of Islam from the contagion of the subcontinent. It cannot do so without ridding Islam of Indian encrustations—pirs, durgahs, auliaya, Kabir, et al. Most people in Pakistan would like to believe that their forefathers embraced Islam as a rebellion against the social structures, myths, inequities, and all pervasive darkness of Hinduism. In their view, the ‘land of the pure’ epitomizes this rebellion. Acknowledgement of the life and existence of their forefathers in the Hindu fold may give rise to uncomfortable questions, and even worse, cast doubts on the nature of the great divide posited in support of the two-nation theory. The boundary-wall that Pak has raised around itself protects it in one sense, while containing it in another sense. Denunciation and rejection of the Hindu past and roots may be comforting on one plane—it keeps the octopus away. But, on another plane, it makes life without hostility to India an impractical proposition in Pak eyes. When this logic is taken a step further, the size of India cannot but cause uneasiness in Pakistan.

The neat solution that Pak found to this problem--and it worked up to a point in last fifty-five year--was to (i) attract support and help from Pan-Islamic movements and institutions on the one hand, and (ii) to sub-serve the US and Chinese purpose in the geopolitical context, on the other hand. Right now, the algorithm seems not to be working. Pakistan has to take a new look at its basic postulates and policy objectives. General Musharraf attempted doing just that, but did not go far enough, as far as India is concerned.

At least some in India expect that a modern Pakistan will be less hostile to India. This expectation, hopefully, will be fulfilled. Musharraf might have contributed to this process greatly, if his efforts aimed at modernization are sincere, and India has no reasons to raise doubts at present. But for this change—modernization--to come about, it would take not less than twenty to twenty-five years, corresponding to a generation. Musharraf is unlikely to remain at the helm of affairs all these years. Is he capable of bringing about a decisive change in the Pak-psyche? Perhaps he is. Perhaps the ground was already prepared for planting the seeds of modernization in Pakistan. India must trust good luck, but verify before proceeding further. If Pakistan is ready to modernize, the first indications must come from Pakistan. India cannot repose its trust in Musharraf before Pakistan does; it must not pay cash now in return for a post-dated cheque that Musharraf has proffered. Given the nature of Indo-Pak relations, Indian approval of President Musharraf’s policy of modernization may rebound to his discredit.

It is a sobering thought to remember that the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi trusted the late Mr. ZA Bhutto to usher in democracy in Pakistan, and normalize relations with India. Simla agreement could not fructify because Pakistan was not ready for change.

If there are firm indications from Pakistan that it has opted for modernization, India could repose trust in President Musharraf and wait—wait for Pakistan to accept the reality in the subcontinent and become a partner in progress. Additionally, India should resist recommending own preferences to Pakistan. If Pakistan chooses not to be ‘secular’ or democratic, it need not be any of India’s concerns. India’s concern with Pakistan, at least in the near future, should be restricted to matters that have a direct and immediate impact on India.

Kashmir will get resolved as a by-product. The idea that Kashmir problem can be resolved to the satisfaction of both the countries is misleading and ill founded. Let Pakistan take the lead and modernize. In the mean time, India must cope up with recrudescence of terrorism.