The general elections may be around the corner, but Pakistan continues to careen dangerously out of control. Specific incidents and events are not the issue, but the totality of developments that have been taking place, beginning last year.
A convenient date would be March 9, 2007, the fateful day on which President Pervez Musharraf began his ill-advised campaign to edge out Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry from the country’s Supreme Court. This enraged the community of lawyers, who have since led the civil protest movement against Musharraf.
Parallel to this, the general also managed to botch up the Lal Masjid situation. The mosque, located near the ISI headquarters in Islamabad, had a reputation for radicalism since the time of Zia ul Haq. It had links with the North West Frontier Province because it drew a number of its students from there. The mosque was used by radicals who railed against Musharraf’s US policy and even called for his assassination, yet he failed to act against it. In early 2007, students of the mosque’s two madarsas — one for men and the other for women — began to enforce a puritanical law in parts of Islamabad. They shut down video shops and assaulted people they said were involved in immoral activities.
Finally in July 2007, Musharraf sent in the army. A bitter clash took place, leaving scores dead. While the senior imam of the mosque was captured, his younger brother Abdul Rashid Ghazi was killed. The army action led to the breakdown of a truce between the Pakistan army and anti-government tribesmen in North and South Waziristan, and a spate of suicide bombings aimed at Pakistani army personnel, and even the ISI.
Musharraf’s meltdown has led to a great deal of nervousness across the world. Concerns over the safety of the Pakistani nuclear arsenal have been voiced in the US and India. But New Delhi has few options beyond tailing the US. For the present the Pakistan army remains a strong force and is unlikely to take kindly to any Indian intervention. Yet there are things that India can do to help Pakistan. But first New Delhi must understand that there are things it must not do to help Islamabad.
First, see Pakistan as a basket case. It is easy when you are up in South Asia, to see the other as down and out. It was just the other day, in the early 1990s, when in their arrogance of having helped the US win the jehad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Islamabad thought India could be brought low by supporting separatist movements. In the wake of the 1989 elections, India was indeed in bad shape, its polity shot to hell, separatist movements taking roots in key states like Punjab and its economy in a shambles. The ISI could have been excused for thinking that one more push would have India come apart. But it did not. So, let’s be clear that Pakistan is not about to keel over, just as India was not at that time.
Second, New Delhi must not delay its internal negotiations with Kashmiri parties on the issue of autonomy or whatever. In the past year, while Musharraf has grappled with the judiciary and the mullahs, the India-Pakistan talks have maintained their formal continuity. But there has been little forward movement. But there is one element in which India does not need to involve Pakistan — the issue of internal democracy in Jammu & Kashmir. Addressing the second round table meet on Kashmir in May 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said that the first task was to see “what are those political institutions and arrangements which can strengthen the relationship between the Centre and the state.” In line with this he had set up a working group under former Justice Saghir Ahmad to come up with a report on the issue of autonomy or self-rule. Though four other working groups on issues relating to economy and cross-border trade have finished their reports, little or nothing has been heard about the workings of the autonomy group.
Third, India must not demand that the US and other countries accept Indian primacy in South Asia. This is a mug’s game. Indian primacy cannot be got by request or grant. It is an existential fact. Anyone who tries to deny it — like Pakistan has in the past 60 years — has had his head buried firmly in the sand.
Fourth, India must not pander to Pakistan's sense of entitlement on Kashmir or Afghanistan. Islamabad has no locus standi in J&K and we must deal with it as such. There are issues that have arisen in the wake of the Pakistan-engineered tribal invasion in 1947 — the creation of Azad Kashmir, the UN resolutions and the no-man's land status of the Northern Areas — that need to be worked out through negotiations, but not the status of the state.
In normal times — and you can count the period 1947-1979 as “normal” in the context of Pakistan-Afghanistan affairs — the relationship between the two was positively chilly. New Delhi need not insert itself into the equation to deny Pakistan what it did not have in the first place — a pliant Afghanistan. Pakistan’s ability to “manage” Afghanistan of the Taliban era was strictly limited. Islamabad is learning now that the seemingly barbarian Taliban were shrewder than the ISI thought. Instead of Pakistan getting strategic depth, it is the Taliban which has obtained it in the NWFP, Balochistan and Swat at the expense of the Pakistani central authority.
Fifth, we must not encourage fissiparous trends in Pakistan. In other words, do unto Islamabad what Islamabad has been doing to us. As long as Pakistan remains together even in a tattered form, there is hope that it can be repaired. But if it falls apart like Yugoslavia, there will be little chance of putting it back together again. To say that such a development would be counter-productive would be to make an understatement.
Sixth, New Delhi must not privilege the Pakistan Army over the mainstream political parties and civil society in the country. It is one thing to deal with the army when it wields power, it is quite another thing to be happy about it. India's strategic position must always be that the final settlement on anything will have to be with a democratically elected government. India’s relations with Musharraf have been quite proper, and they should continue to be so as long as he is the head of the government. But New Delhi needs to clearly put across the message that while it deals with the army, it does so at sufferance, and not because it thinks that the army is the only viable political institution in the country, because it is not. Fortunately, Musharraf’s own actions have brought this message home to Pakistan far more effectively than through anything that India could have done.
Seventh, we must not give up on Pakistan. It is tempting to say “The hell with you”, redouble the border fence, strengthen the army and maintain bare minimum relations with our western neighbour. This is not an option. While we need not worry about millions streaming across the border from a failed state, we need to understand that “shining” or “incredible” India will not be going anywhere if its neighbours, in this case Pakistan, do not go with it. A Great Power does not have the option of turning its back on failing neighbours.
In the meantime, the new army chief in Pakistan can take six steps to set things right: Get the president to resign, restore the Supreme Court and higher judiciary, set up a neutral caretaker government, get all-party consent for a neutral commission and then hold the elections.
The article was published in Mail Today February 12, 2008