If ever the twain should meet...
The attack across the LoC by the Pakistan Army on August 6 was soon after Pakistan Prime Minister called for better relations with India. This act and the continuing provocation is meant to convey to peace seekers in Pakistan that peace was possible only under certain conditions beyond the reach of a civilian Prime Minister. This heightened tension is only another episode in the troubled India-Pakistan relationship and not the last.
Pakistan is as much a victim of terror as India, conveniently overlooking that Pakistan is a victim of its own demons and India is a victim of Pakistani terrorism.
Despite this and other catastrophic incidents, which are symptomatic of Pakistan’s continuing stance on India, there are many in India who still hope that normal relations with Pakistan are possible under the new dispensation in Islamabad. It is better to make a realistic assessment about possibilities of normalcy and not get disappointed by our own rhetoric and false hopes.
There are three essential ground realities. The civil-military relations in Pakistan remain tilted overwhelmingly in favour of the military. Second, the manner in which Pakistan society is getting radicalised with the liberal elite marginalised or co-opted for their own survival. The discourse even among the liberals is that Pakistan is as much a victim of terror as India, conveniently overlooking that Pakistan is a victim of its own demons and India is a victim of Pakistani terrorism. Moreover, the present Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, a Punjabi, favours the religious right and this should put him more in natural harmony with those of the powerful Pakistan Army.
Benazir Bhutto’s swearing in was delayed until General Aslam Beg extracted a promise from her in 1988 that there would be no change in the Afghan, nuclear or defence (meaning India) policies and that Zia’s family would not be harassed. This time too, General Ashfaq Kayani met PM-designate Sharif before he was sworn in. Surely, all false notions about peace with India were cleared and the nature of civil-military relations reaffirmed.
The Kashmir issue has remained an obsession with the Generals especially post-1971, post-Siachen and post-Kargil. Bhutto, had confirmed that both General Aslam Beg and later Pervez Musharraf had boasted to her about the Army’s plan that would end with a victory in Srinagar. On both occasions, Bhutto had thrown these plans out as recipes for disaster. The persistent and near-suicidal adventurist Musharraf, now Sharif’s handpicked Army Chief, revived it in 1998-99.
It is an extremely frightening prospect that today we have a Prime Minister in Pakistan who says he was clueless that his Generals were pushing his country towards an Armageddon.
Even as Atal Bihari Vajpayee was commemorating the Minar-e-Pakistan in Lahore, Musharraf was supervising the Kargil Double Cross on his own government as much as on the enemy. Sharif denied any knowledge of the plan but Musharraf insisted that he had briefed him on January 29, 1999 (in the Northern Areas), and again on February 5 (Kel), and March 15 (ISI headquarters).
If this version is correct, then Sharif had been briefed twice before Prime Minister Vajpayee arrived in Lahore on February 19. It seems a broad Kashmir plan was discussed by Musharraf with the Prime Minister in early 1999, although details are scanty. General Ziauddin, Sharif’s loyal DG ISI later disclosed that emissaries were sent to Kabul (probably by Sharif) in early 1999 seeking reinforcements from the Afghan President Mullah Rabbani, who surprised his Pakistani visitors by offering 500,000 volunteers in response to a request for 20-30,000 for jihad in Kashmir.
Two of the major incidents that occurred in India — the Mumbai bomb blasts of March 1993 after which the perpetrators landed safely in Karachi and Kargil 1999 — happened during the watch of Sharif. It is unthinkable here in India that any intelligence chief or an army chief would launch such operations, which have immense political and military consequences without political clearance. There was some convenient double speak from Sharif claiming total innocence. It is an extremely frightening prospect that today we have a Prime Minister in Pakistan who says he was clueless that his Generals were pushing his country towards an Armageddon.
Sharif and his brother Shahbaz have been close to the Tableeghi Jamaat from where vulnerable young men are then recruited by jihadi groups. Javed Nasir, Sharif’s DG ISI, at the time of Mumbai bomb blasts in 1993 later joined the Tableegh. In 1990, Sharif was ready to introduce Shariah and in his second term toyed with the idea of declaring himself as Ameer-ul-Momineen (commander of the faithful) like the first four Caliphs.
Sharif’s closeness with the Saudis who had given him shelter in his days of exile, his natural inclinations towards Islamic right, and his Punjabiyat should eventually bring him closer to the Pakistan Army.
Stories about Sharif having met Osama bin Laden several years ago refuse to go away. According to an ex-ISI agent, PML (N) received financial assistance from Osama for their election campaign at a time when the ISI was helping him too. Money was routed through Samiul Haq and Sharif had promised a hard-line Islamic government. This was the nature of the man then and one is not sure if Sharif has since changed his mind.
There has been a noticeable increase in the influence of sectarian organisations like the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat) and other similar organisations in Punjab in the last few years marked by increased killings of Shias and other minorities. The PML(N) had sought the help of the ASWJ and other similar groups allowing the party to campaign all over Pakistan for the May elections. Jamaat-ut-Dawa, the mother of LeT, has received financial assistance from Shahbaz’s government.
Sharif’s closeness with the Saudis who had given him shelter in his days of exile, his natural inclinations towards Islamic right, and his Punjabiyat should eventually bring him closer to the Pakistan Army. He may be able to convince the Generals that he has abandoned his earlier ambitions to rein them in. His equation with the Army and the jihadis will determine his conduct towards India.
Therefore, the questions that remain are whether or not Sharif is now a changed man and seriously intends to carry the peace process forward, or is this merely a ruse to buy time as Pakistan attempts to first strengthen its position in Afghanistan. Also whether or not he is naturally inclined towards discarding the jihadi option by shutting down the infrastructure permanently and has the ability to do. Reasonable talks can only be possible then and not before.
We take immense pride in our ancient civilisational history. It is equally important though, to remember and learn from our contemporary history, act with prudence instead of conjuring starry-eyed emotion, which makes us rush into unwanted situations.