Options for Kayani

If there is a fire next door, neighbours are bound to get worried. The latest terrorist attack at a major naval station near Karachi may have been frustrated by the government forces but the crisis in Pakistan is much more serious than the events of the last two days portray.

It should worry India, other countries in the region, the United States and other world powers. Untackled, it can engulf  the subcontinent, the US and other countries who would not know how to handle Pakistan erupting.

Pakistan is sitting on an explosive mix of jihadism, terrorism of varied hues and a militarist hubris born out of nuclear weapons it has piled up during the last few years.

India can legitimately tell Pakistan that the present situation is the outcome of the past mistakes like excessive reliance on military for building a nation state and using terrorist groups as an aid to policy towards India in the east and Afghanistan in its north-west. It will. however, be politically incorrect for Indians to indulge in “we-told-you-so” attitude, even if India has been victim of terrorism exported by Pakistan.

The US has been unpopular in Pakistan for some years by now. The killing of Osama Bin-Laden in Abbotabad just a few miles from Islamabad earlier this month has shown the Pakistan Army lose face with the people. The attack on Karachi Naval Base, which is actually a joint establishment of the Pakistan Army, the Air Force and the Navy, has sharply brought out how the Pakistani military establishment has failed to tackle threats from terrorist groups who can spring a surprise and attack even a highly protected base.

The civil authorities at the federal headquarters or in the provinces are too weak to protect Pakistan from terrorist groups. This was evident when Pakistan’s parliament failed even to condemn when Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was killed by his guard for criticizing the blasphemy laws forced upon Pakistan by the jihadi groups. Even Gen. Ashfaque Pervez Kiyani did not condemn the jihadi groups for endorsing Salman Taseer’s murder.

More important is the fear that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons can be captured by the jihadi groups who can blackmail the world, pushing it towards a bigger conflagration.

A  serious possibility can also be visualized  of the breaking- up of Pakistan as a nation. And splintering of the country  can lead to more turmoil and no one in Delhi or elsewhere in the world would really  know how to handle the fragments.

The scenario of a Pakistan broken into pieces can be more grim for India and the world than  Pakistan as  one country has been, even if it has been a problem nation for India and the rest of the world. India has no solution for Pakistan’s problems, endemic or otherwise; nevertheless, gloating over its troubles as some people are prone to, is not warranted. What is needed is cool reflection and working out different policy options to tackle contingencies.

It is not only India that should worry about the present situation acquiring a critical mass. Responsible powers of the world – the USA, Europe, Russia and nations in Pakistan’s  neighbourhood, would need to get into consultations at different levels to take a view of the developing situation in Pakistan.

Even the Chinese , who have sought to restore Pakistan’s shattered morale after what happened at Abbotabad, would need to ponder the possibility of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling into the hands of jihadi groups and also about Pakistan splintering into small states.

In Pakistan itself a large number of people are deeply worried these days about the present and the future of their country. Among the Pakistan Army top brass also there could be a few generals who would know the dangers that have arisen for the state of Pakistan partly because of dalliance between the Army and the jihadi groups which it used for several years for foreign policy purposes as well as for keeping a check on the rise of the  democratic forces.

On the other hand, there could also be elements in the Pakistan Army who were recruited by Zia-ul-Haq to inject Islamist  ideology into the Pakistan Army. Some of these officers may have been weeded out, but there could be others who would have by now become senior officers working in concert with jhihadi groups.  General Kiyani would be knowing who these officers are and  how a mutually-accommodative relationship with the jihadi groups has brought Pakistan to this pass.

General Kiyani certainly cannot be comfortable with the image his army is having in his country and in the rest of the world after Abbotabad.

He has had also to see the ignominy of his ISI chief appear before parliament and explain why the army could not detect the US marine helicopters attacking Osama’s house in Abbotabad. Men in uniform in Pakistan are not used to appearing before the civilians who are always the object of sneers in army messes..

The Karachi attack has been another blow. Hence his need to take steps to retrieve the lost image. How he goes about it remains to be seen.

Theoretically, there are many options:

He can be funny with the Americans on the Afghanistan border; or indulge in adventurism on eastern borders with India. Both these are risky propositions; hence, unlikely.

He could also stage a coup, send civilians back home and grab absolute power under the plea that only the Army can save Pakistan.

The best option for him, however,  is to cut the terrorists’ umbilical cord and strike at the jihadi groups in Pakistan. This way perhaps he can save Pakistan from descending into chaos.

Whether he chooses this course or follows another remains to be seen.

– The Asian Age, May 26th, 2011

The Mohali Initiative

“To lead is to choose,” said Piere Mendes-France, one of the far-sighted statesmen France threw up after the second World War. It seems Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made his choice: He has opted for making another attempt at seeking peace with Pakistan.

How far Prime Minister’s Mohali initiative to have talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani will take the two countries along the peace track remains to be seen, but statesmen who pursue a vision that is in the larger interest of the people can ultimately succeed and prove the usual skeptics wrong.

The Mohali initiative itself does not wash away a 64-year history of wars, tensions, distrust and failed efforts at  normalization of relations, but Dr Manmohan Singh apparently thought that neither country loses anything if the two Prime Ministers met on the neutral territory of cricket which always arouses nicer emotions among the people of the two countries.

While the “balle-balle” mood had filled the air on the stands, inside in one of the ante-chambers of the pavilion the two Prime Ministers met one-to-one for over an hour before dinner to discuss how best to resume the Indo-Pak dialogue that had been rudely interrupted by grisly events of 26/11.

The details of what the two Prime Ministers discussed have yet to filter down, but they shared the thought that the welfare of the two people lay in the resumption of serious attempts to sort out the differences that have kept the two nations apart all these years.

Why not take sporting ties beyond cricket was one of the minor points  the two leaders discussed. Turning distrust into mutual  trust, it was thought, would help in resolving the bigger issues that have been awaiting resolution. Also, nibbling at the disputes with positive mindsets was considered important.

Dr Manmohan Singh is reported to have referred to the developments in West Asia which are bound to have impact on both India and Pakistan, mainly because a large number of the people from the two countries were working in West Asia, and their jobs were  at stake.

He is also believed to have pointed out that the West Asian developments could lead to rise in oil prices and this will have serious impact on the economy of the two countries.

That the destiny of the people on both sides of its divide was tied together in the emerging world was the common theme that marked the spirit of the conversation aimed at the resumption of the dialogue.

The Vice-President of India and the Speaker –- Mr Hamid Ansari  and Ms Meira Kumar – have  already written to their counterparts to send a parliamentary delegation to India. This will be reciprocated by our MPs’ visit to Pakistan.  The idea is to involve all political streams into the effort and widen the constituency of peace.

Trade talks are in the offing, some relaxation of visa restriction is  on the card as discussed by the Home Secretaries who are going to have a hotline now to prevent minor issues from going out of hand.

Foreign Secretaries of the two countries who have been meeting at Thimpu will now get greater political backing to carry on with their effort so that the resolution of the sticky issues like Siachen, Sir Creek, terrorism and Kashmir and Wullar barrage can be sorted out.

Bonhomie and some Urdu couplets always prevail when Indians and Pakistanis sit  together for dinner. It was left to an MQM leader who began reciting Urdu couplets only to evoke equally warm sentiments as a side dish.

That Mrs Sonia Gandhi was also at Mohali was meant to convey to the visitors and the people at home that the Congress Party stood by the Prime Minister in his bid to resume the dialogue.

While the people in India have responded enthusiastically, the BJP and experts, as they often do, have questioned the wisdom of the Mohali initiative. Their doubts are on familiar lines: that Pakistan has not lived up to its word given back in January 2004 that it will take steps to stop terrorism; that it is not certain that the Pakistan Army is on board in  the attempt to resume dialogue with India.

It is true that India’s policy on Pakistan is ultimately decided by the Pakistan Army top brass, but it can be presumed that Mr Gilani could not have flown to Manali without having a word with General Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani,

Unlike Gen Pervez Musharaf, General Kiyani certainly keeps his own counsel. He is also known to have shared his thought that he always tended to look at his eastern borders for threat to Pakistan’s security. All these factors do not, however, obliterate the need for a dialogue.

Mrs Indira Gandhi had offered Treaty of Peace and Friendship to General Zia-ul-Haq in 1981. L K Advani should ask Jaswant Singh how far  Atal Bihari Vajpayee went in his talks with General Musharraf, despite Kargil.

Dr Manmohan Singh’s talks with President  Musharraf  were also proceeding well and they were converging on new formulations on Kashmir, like making border irrelevant without changing the boundaries. The dialogue got interrupted because of President Musharraf got into trouble after the lawyers’ agitation leading to his exit from power.

Not to resume the interrupted dialogue after a gap of two years since 26/11 is not a tenable proposition. The skeptics do not have an alternative plan  either.

The Vajpayee government had mobilized troops all along the Pakistan border  after December 13 attack on Parliament and kept them in  combat readiness for two years, but later, did not know what to do with them.

The world has not been able to abolish wars, and inter-nation conflicts. But several wars and conflicts have been prevented by leaders with a vision. They did make history of a different kind in their own quiet ways.

In our life time when the world was caught in wars, hot and cold, the nations have had serious talks and kept direct channels of communications open with the adversary.

The Americans and the Vietnamese went on meeting at Hotel Majestic in Paris while their forces were fighting in Vietnam. The Chinese and the American held endless rounds of discussions in Warsaw. The cold war was most  intense when the US and the Soviet Union went on talking to each other in Geneva for hundreds of rounds.

The plea that earlier attempts at peace with Pakistan have failed is not a valid argument against making fresh efforts to mend relations with it. The argument that talking to Pakistan is a sign of weakness on the part of Indian leadership is equally facile. Only strong and confidant nations can extend a hand of friendship without feeling embarrassed. And ask those coming from Pakistan how envious they feel of India’s strength.  That India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons has made such arguments irrelevant and specious.

There is no choice for the two countries, but to go on talking to each other until they are able to settle for durable peace, irrespective of the issues involved. Patience is the name of the game.

– The Tribune, April 5th, 2011