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Between the line

When do Americans quit?
October 5, 2011


A US think-tank has proposed a dialogue between India and the Pakistan
army. The proposal has merit to the extent that the army is a stark
reality in Pakistan polity and it has been there in one form or the
other for more than five decades. On the other hand, the problem that
India faces is how does it reconcile its democratic credentials to the
character of unelected army? One is answerable to the people while the
other seeks their obedience. It is not possible for the two to be on
the same page. Yet, if issues like Kashmir have to be settled, the
army’s nod is necessary.
There is probably a case for an unofficial, behind the scenes contact
with the Pakistan army. Even this contact will evoke criticism in some
circles on both sides. Once, during General Zia-ul Haq’s regime a
proposal to have talks was mooted. I recall how let down the liberals
at Lahore felt when they heard this. They argued that such a step
would give credibility to khaki. New Delhi abandoned the idea. There
was also a belated thinking within the establishment about the effect
on the Indian forces over the “recognition” of the Pakistan army as a
political entity.
Zia rationalized that the army’s control in Pakistan as a necessity in
the absence of any other stable alternative. He wanted his forces to
have the same status that the army enjoyed in Turkey. He assured me
that they would intervene only when the constitution broke down. I
told him that the case of Turkey was different. Over the years, it has
created conventions and had draw a Laxman rekha beyond which the
Turkish armed forces did not act. In Pakistan, the army had intervened
whenever it had thought fit to do so.
That may have been the reason why Zia would often tell me that you
(India) would be better off in settling Kashmir and other matters with
the army because if and when democracy returned to Pakistan “you would
have problems.” It is true that New Delhi has not reached anywhere
with the “democratic” government at Islamabad. But it is equally true
that the army never left Pakistan alone.
Pakistan has a “popularly elected government” at the helm with the
Prime Minister, the National Assembly, the Senate and other symbols of
parliamentary democracy. Yet there are no two opinions that the
Pakistan chief of army staff is the last word when it comes to India
and Afghanistan.
Taking up India first, there is no movement on any issue, reportedly
because of army’s disinterest. The militants’ training camps have not
been dismantled despite assurances by Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gilani
to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Nor is there a change in the pattern
of militants’ activity. For the army, this is a low-cost war, bleeding
India. According to the US media, the ISI is reportedly helping the
Lashkar-e-Toiba, a group of terrorists, which is responsible for the
Mumabi blasts. It is more than two years since Pakistan Home Minister
Rehman Malik promised Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram to curb the
Lashkar effectively. Till today, the case has not had a proper
hearing. Either its dates are postponed or the judges are transferred.
Islamabad has no heart in the case.
India’s defence minister A.K. Antony is not given to making false
statements. He has alleged that the Pakistan army has blessed opening
of more training camps and developing newer routes for infiltration
into Jammu and Kashmir. Islamabad may not like the charge. But it is
not explainable why attempts by the militants to cross into India are
increasing and why the clashes on the border are getting uglier, with
casualties on both sides? India lost an army official a few days ago
in the Kapuora area, 100 kilometres from Srinagar.
As for Afghanistan, Pakistan treats the country as its “strategic
depth.” Islamabad’s main grouse against New Delhi is that it does not
lower its presence in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai who visited
India this week has established firmer relations with India which will
train and equip his forces, much to the chagrin of Islamabad. However,
Karzai’s problem is similar to the one which US Admiral Mike Mullen
has raised: “Militant Haqqani network acts as a veritable army of
Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency.” Mullen has gone
further by warning that if Pakistan does not discipline Haqqani
Islamist militia, America will do that, meaning thereby that it may
operate in Pakistan territory from where the Haqqani networks operate.
Islamabad’s hostile reaction to America is natural. General Pervez
Kayani enunciated at a meeting of NATO military chiefs that while his
country was committed to the struggle against terrorists, Pakistan had
“sovereign right to formulate policy in accordance with its national
interest and wishes of the people of Pakistan.” There can be no
exception to that. But Islamabad should have learnt by this time what
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has said: You think that you can
keep a wild animal in the backyard and it will only go after your
neighbour?” India is paying for it. Pakistan itself is a prey to it.
Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reads the situation correctly when
he says that there is something “fishy”. At an all-party conference,
he has said that when everyone is pointing at Pakistan, it should do
soul-searching as there must be some reason why other countries do not
accept Pakistan’s contentions. The Asif Ali Zardari government or
General Kayani may reject his viewpoint. But he has gone against the
tide and told the people that Pakistan may be at fault when it finds
most countries in the world not taking it on its face value.
Prime Minister Gilani may be right when he says “they (US) cannot live
with us, nor they can live without us.” Yet the American government
has lowered its tone but not the tenor. It has gone ahead with the
operation against the Haqqani tribe. Washington has announced that it
will start pulling out its forces from 2014.
The point is not whether this would happen ultimately, but whether the
proposed exit by the US can bring Afghanistan and other countries in
the region to chalk out a joint strategy to root out terrorism in the
absence of American and NATO forces. Pakistan is deluding itself if it
is depending on China. It would not want to enter the arena where it
could get hurt. In this scenario, General Kayani’s mistrust of Kabul
and New Delhi will not help because they will be on the Pakistani side
if and when it decides to eliminate terrorism in the region.

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