Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The India-Pakistan Peace Process: Looking Beyond Musharraf

The India Pakistan peace talks are seen as an important process which was long over due to unshackle the two countries trapped in their congenital mutual fixations. But the process should not be seen as a conclusive one as there have been instances in the past where a dramatic crest was achieved and then relations plummeted to an equally remarkable trough. The Lahore visit of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1999 which was followed by the Kargil war being the most recent. Owing to such a cyclical nature of ties, it is suspected that the current thaw will be followed by another freeze and this time around the object of doubt remains President Musharraf.

A series of articles in the press and elsewhere hypothesize this proposition, is President Musharraf trustworthy? In the study of international relations, it would be fallacious to read so much into the predilections of a decision maker. A leader works within the space offered by the external and internal environments and not strictly by his whims and fancies. Along with this he is also expected to calculate the cost and benefits of the trajectory along which he turns foreign policy.

President Musharraf should be less an object of study than the environment, external and domestic, that have pushed Pakistan towards the peace process. In the external environment, the war on terrorism would be the most decisive and important pointer to the changed international landscape in tolerating terrorism of the kind Pakistan fuelled for a decade. For any leader in Pakistan, to persist with a similar course of action, especially in the post-9/11 scenario would have been acting against the reading in the grain. It would also be important to note that since the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, most countries responsible for financing and arming the mujahideen, the United States, People’s Republic of China and Saudi Arabia, even before 9/11 had ended all relations with the Taliban. It was only Pakistan which still needed their services to fight the proxy war in Kashmir. And the Pakistani tolerance of Islamic fundamentalism well beyond the Afghan conflict was a source of embarrassment to the US and China, especially when these two states became targets. It was in the late 1990’s that the Chinese realized that the trouble in the Sinkiang province was a result of the Islamic fundamentalism fomented in Pakistan and that most arms and ammunition recovered, bore Chinese marks and were the ones which had been exported to Pakistan during and after the Afghan conflict.

Secondly, the Indian state’s experience with the Pakistani fomented and equipped, terror problem has taught the Indian state a number of lessons. Operation Parakaram for whatever it was worth has shown the Indian state’s fatigue with tolerating any obvious Pakistani support. Parakaram may be described as a failure and a lack of resolve on part of the India state, but for that period of sixteen months, it had the Pakistan army on its toes and the international community’s pressure which resulted in the two promises, to end the terror network, made by Musharraf on January 12 and then again in May.

The other important change that Pakistan is conscious of is the new international profile of India. To mark it after the nuclear tests in 1998 may seem a folly, but the engagement between the United States and India was the most comprehensive after the Strobe Talbott- Jaswant Singh talks. With the economy in high gear, driven by the Information Technology engine and the international media discussing India as the next big thing after China, Pakistan is envious of the Indian success story. And all this, despite the bleeding neck in Kashmir.

In the domestic environment, Pakistan is dealing with the ugly head of a rising trend towards extremism. The mullah-military alliance that gained ascendancy during the struggle against the Soviets made Pakistan the centre of Islamic jehad and this resulted in rising sectarianism as well as the proliferation of arms and ammunition, which were financed with the narcotics trade from the North West provinces and from Afghanistan. This rising tide of Islamization, if nothing, has produced greater cleavages in Pakistani society and intensified their own internal conflicts.

It would be pertinent to mention President Musharraf’s efforts at institutionalising the role of the armed forces in the formal power hierarchy. This could be an extremely important development. With the Pakistani army at the center of action in the nation hopefully the bogey of the Indian threat may be dispensed with. This is based on the assumption that in the past, to stay central to Pakistani polity the army harped on the Indian threat. But now with incipient insitutionalisation of the role of the military, this high cost option will be given up. In conclusion, it can be said that while there are obvious limits to the role that environment can play; it would be fallacious to locate the success or failure of the India Pakistan peace process entirely in Musharraf.

This was a short retort written in reaction to the Indian media's and strategic circles debate relating to Prez. Musharraf in June 2005.

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