Choosing your devil - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 30 January 2007

Choosing your devil

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 26th Sept 2006

October could be a bad month in India for brand name Musharraf. Yesterday’s release of the general’s autobiography, In the Line of Fire, which includes a characteristically unapologetic justification of his 1999 Kargil intrusion, is a godsend for sceptics of the peace process. “General Musharraf is trying to justify stabbing India in the back,” goes the cry, “we knew we couldn’t trust a man like him!”

It’s not just TV audiences that are polling indignation, nor just analysts suggesting that Indo-Pak peace is impossible because Islamabad is controlled by a vicious coterie of soldiers and bureaucrats who subsist by railing at India. In an astonishing allegation made in the RSS-affiliated publication, Panchjanya last week, former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee described the Manmohan-Musharraf statement at Havana as a “conspiracy against India.” 

Vajpayee was the editor of Panchjanya when it was launched almost sixty years ago; age appears to have crept up on him since then. But even if one could ascribe to senility the former PM’s suggestion that his successor is in cahoots with Pakistan to do the dirty on India, one point seems unarguable: a BJP-Congress consensus on the peace process is receding into the distance. It seems that Pakistan can safely blame democracy for India’s slow movement towards any settlement.

But Pakistan is not blaming New Delhi as much as it’s blaming Musharraf. The general is, bluntly put, taking a beating at home. One columnist in the daily newpaper Dawn, summed up what most Pakistanis believe: “(Musharraf is one day) glorifying Kashmir's freedom struggle and then overnight dancing to India's tune. India has turned the composite dialogue into a joke and yet by every word and gesture at our command we are trying to please India.” Ironically, the general is taking flak on both sides of the border. On the Indian side he’s seen as a hawk; on the Pakistani side, a dove.

Amid this shrill polarisation, New Delhi has resumed its measured and increasingly nuanced engagement with Islamabad. By calling off talks in the wake of the Mumbai blasts, the government did what was needed to placate domestic public opinion. Now, in Havana, the joint anti-terrorism mechanism has provided a face-saving way to get back to the table. After years of being the prisoner of its own rhetoric, New Delhi has learned to convey displeasure without downing shutters altogether. It now realises that reflexively rejecting any form of engagement is a self-defeating process. New Delhi painted Musharraf in the colours of infamy for years before realising that it would have to do business with him. Now it is engaging not just the general but also India’s favourite villains--Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.

To complain that the joint anti-terrorism mechanism will bring no terrorists to justice is to state the obvious. But interaction of this kind will give New Delhi a far better idea about Pakistan’s most important institutions than it has at the moment. Today, most Indians erroneously see Pakistan’s military, intelligence, diplomatic and bureaucratic institutions as a monolithic whole, single-mindedly busy trying to destroy India. The reality is far more complex, with various strands of opinion vying to influence policy --- groups of anti-India die-hards urging jehadi violence, others arguing a more rational line. The ISI is a splintered outfit. Sections of that intelligence agency obey directives from General Musharraf; other factions, deeply compromised by other interest groups, scuttle their own agency’s operations.

New Delhi must also directly engage the Pakistani army. Sections of its officer cadre are deeply resentful of Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization programme which they believe has diluted the army’s professionalism. To think that the Pakistan army derives popular support solely from “the India threat” is terribly simplistic. Just like the Indian army, the Pakistani army is respected for its integrity, honesty and excellence, an island of professionalism in a sea of governmental mediocrity, and this regard will not suffer from the absence of the India bogey. 

It is these divided Pakistani institutions that India has begun to engage, and not a day too soon. If New Delhi insists on basing its participation in talks on Musharraf saying sorry about Kargil, or on the ISI handing over bands of handcuffed militants to Indian border posts, or on the Pakistani Army focussing on a China rather than an India threat, then we should gracefully withdraw from the dialogue and reconcile ourselves to endlessly containing Pakistan, each country an albatross around the other’s neck.

The BPJ today is a party on autopilot, set on a suicidal dive towards irrelevance, and its thinking processes are inevitably drying up. It no longer finds it convenient to claim authorship of the peace process; in the present atmosphere of suspicion, it will use Musharraf’s book to fan the fears of a public for whom Kargil symbolises Indo-Pakistan relations. While the UPA has embarked on a bold course of action, therefore, it is vitally important to sell its vision and to build public consensus for a difficult process. This Dr. Manmohan Singh’s government has failed to do, as it failed to do on the Indo-US nuclear deal. And unfortunately, good moves that find no backers are unsustainable in the long run. 

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