Making peace with Pakistan – II

Making peace with Pakistan – II
Crushing terrorism is crucial for progress
by H.K. Dua, who was lately in Pakistan

AT his news conference after his talks with Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, President Musharraf looked relaxed, somewhat exuberant, over the outcome of the meeting which he described as “historic” at one stage and “a leap forward” at another. There could be hyperbole involved in this, but it was too clear from his body language and what he said in his answers that at the end of the day he was feeling considerably relieved.

The hosting of SAARC and a meeting with the Prime Minister of India has given him a sort of legitimacy he had been looking for after the coup in which he had grabbed power from Mr Nawaz Sharif. International legitimacy, like charity, begins nearer home. The denial of a dialogue always amounted to India not acknowledging that he was Pakistan’s leader with whom it could discuss peace and normalisation of relations. The Kargil war and the fiasco at the Agra Summit had indeed created a credibility problem for the General and this he had been trying to overcome for some time.

Significantly, this is the first time India has agreed to come to a sort of agreement with Pakistan’s Army and not a democratic government headed by a political leader. The Simla Agreement was signed with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the Lahore Declaration with Mr Nawaz Sharif. Bhutto went back on the Simla Agreement and was later executed by the Zia regime. The Lahore Declaration was rejected by the Army and General Musharraf. The Kargil operation was launched on the sly and Mr Nawaz Sharif was sent into exile. Apparently, the General has sought to convey that it is better for India to deal with Pakistan’s Army, which in effect has been ruling the country for most of the time since it was created 56 years ago – and not with the politicians’ governments that have been coming and going out of office. The referendum and the general election which he had organised and won are the implied arguments for getting a mandate and legitimacy at home.

Incidentally, there is no mention of the Simla Agreement or the Lahore Declaration in the joint statement issued after the Islamabad talks earlier this week. This is unlike previous occasions when India always insisted on a reference to the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. It could be that the two leaders have agreed to discuss the Indo-Pakistan problems in future within a new and unspelt framework. For India’s comfort there is no mention either of the UN resolutions which Pakistan used to insist upon earlier, despite the fact that plenty of water has gone down the Jhelum during the last five decades and the resolutions have become dated and irrelevant to the present situation and the continuing argument on Kashmir.

President Musharraf had recently said in an on-the-record interview with Reuters that Pakistan would not insist on UN resolutions, but his Foreign Minister, Mr Khurshid Kasuri, and later Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Jamali said the President was quoted out of context.

General Musharraf, who also holds the post of Chief of Army Staff, said a few days ago that he would give up his uniform by the end of the year. The statement was perhaps made in the domestic context. But he could also be conveying to the world that he intended to rule Pakistan as an elected ruler and not as the Chief Army Staff. He was also sending out the signal that the Army top brass would remain united behind him even after he gave up the Army job and retained only Presidentship. Hopefully, he is right and remains confident to put into effect the assurances he has given to Mr Vajpayee at Islamabad.

The key assurance given to India is that he will not allow terrorists to use territory “controlled” by it. This means his commitment applies to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir also. The provision in the Islamabad statement – considered important by India – can certainly be interpreted as Pakistan agreeing to dismantle terrorists’ training camps that had proliferated in Pakistan and PoK as well as the communication networks set up for them to facilitate their cross-border activities against India.

“No extremism will be allowed in Pakistan”, President Musharraf said at his news conference. When asked about how extremists groups would react to the peace moves being made through talks with India, President Musharraf said he intended to deal with them sternly. “We must negotiate strongly and deal with extremists strongly”, he said to assure India. “We will adopt more measures to curb religious extremism”.

Militant Islamists in Pakistan turned against President Musharraf soon after he decided to support the United States’ fight against terrorism. But he, while giving help to the Americans in fighting Al Qaida, adopted a different policy on Pakistan’s borders with India. Despite post-Nine Eleven developments, Pakistan went on calling the terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir “freedom fighters”. And despite commitments to the contrary, Pakistan went on supporting terrorist groups as a policy to extract concessions from India on Kashmir.

President Musharraf seems to be changing tack and trying to give up this two-faced policy on terrorism and in the process meeting India’s demand that a dialogue could begin only if Pakistan gave up the path of “jihad” and terrorism.

Of significance is the statement by Mr Brajesh Mishra, Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary, who flew to Islamabad for behind-the-scene negotiations with Mr Tariq Aziz, President Musharraf’s Chief of Staff, saying that the two countries would jointly fight terrorism. As Pakistan has realised that terrorists are nobody’s friends, cooperation in anti-terrorism operation can be more effective and create a kind of trust all well-meaning neighbours should have in each other. This kind of cooperation is necessary but how it will work is not known. May be it is yet to be worked out by the two sides.

Actually, terrorism has become a threat to President Musharraf himself, as is evident from the two serious attempts that were recently made on his life not far from his official residence in Rawalpindi and the General Headquarters of the Army, which in effect is the seat of power in Pakistan.

“I have nine lives”, said the President at his news conference to assure the audience that he was in a position to deal with the extremists and ensure stability in Pakistan.

Apparently, President Musharraf has realised that some of the terrorists Pakistan was encouraging all these years to harass India in Jammu and Kashmir have become fairly autonomous and have joined hands with Al Qaida which after Nine Eleven had turned against President Musharraf. The two kinds of terrorists, those on the western borders and those closer to the Line of Control on the eastern side, can together pose a serious threat to Pakistan. This nexus between the two might be persuading him to turn against them.

India would certainly like President Musharraf’s promised fight against extremists to succeed. And his success in crushing terrorism will determine the progress and quality of the “composite dialogue” the two countries have agreed to embark on to resolve all outstanding issues, including Kashmir, which remains the toughest nut to crack.