INDO-PAK SUMMIT 2001
July 12, 2001
As General Musharaf and his delegation prepare to leave for New Delhi airport, my thoughts go back to another airport and another tarmac.
I recall Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Islamabad on a chill December day as the sun shone warmly. The hope for peace and freedom filled the air as the band struck the music and the Pakistan Army Guard smartly marched passed.
The military and its political supporters sabotaged that spring in Indo Pak relations. It is with a sense of personal moral vindication that I watch the army chief, twelve years later, realize the wisdom of my politics and seek to follow my footsteps in defusing tensions with our larger neighbour.
I do feel a sense of national loss. Twelve years, and many thousands of deaths later, Islamabad begged for a meeting “any time and any place” when a dignified opportunity was available earlier.
The Musharaf visit is controversial for three reasons: legitimacy, military history and Kashmir history.
As an unelected and unrepresentative leader, Musharaf lacks legitimacy. The very army he leads can turn around tomorrow and make this argument when he joins the ranks of former chiefs. Moreover, he lacks the moral and political authority to co-opt the people.
Pakistan’s military history bodes ill for his visit too. Each military dictator was anxious to offer a no war pact to India which India rejected. Both countries believe that Islamabad can afford an insurgency but needs to avoid war. True to military history, Musharaf made the same offer.
Then there is recent Kashmir history. Musharaf was the architect of the Kargil crisis where thousands of Pakistani soldiers and Kashmiri militants lost their lives. Musharaf, like Lady Macbeth, finds it difficult to wash the stains of their blood from his hands. When he flies into Agra with his seventy-man delegation, the ghosts of three thousand Pakistani soldiers, buried secretly, fly with him. He will see their faces as they starved to death in the icy peaks of Kargil when supply lines stopped.
There are the faces of the living, those forced to retreat when America ordered the unilateral withdrawal from Kargil. Can Musharaf offer something to compensate the earlier humiliation? For what the martyrdoms, for what the operation and unilateral withdrawal, for what the refusal to salute if the conclusion was an embrace two years later in Delhi.
A new, elected, government is free of the constraints of the burden of Kargil. And Kargil was a heavy burden. That is why, it is argued, that peace was better left to an elected and representative government. That is why, it was argued, far better for Musharaf to focus on the democratization process. But it seems “making up with Vajpayee” was a better option than “making up with the Opposition”.
Much of the debate on the Musharaf visit focuses on the intentions of the man as he makes his way to Agra. His accommodation overlooks the famous Taj Mahal, the monument of love built by a Muslim Emperor for his Queen. New Delhi hopes the vision can inspire a fresh romance between the two countries.
But are such hopes well founded?
There is a thinking in New Delhi that more is squeezed from a dictator than a democrat. Pakistanis may believe that democrats pioneered the lasting peace moves between the two countries but Delhi hears other arguments. They remember Zia who defended the loss of Siachin posts as “worthless ice where flowers cannot grow”.
Premier Vajpayee can lose little in sounding out a Musharaf who pleaded from every platform for “a meeting, any time and any place”. There is much that Premier Vajpayee can gain. Entertaining Musharaf to tea and pastries, showing him his old home, the shops and the shrines, pausing to mention Kashmir and moving on, morally vindicates Vajpayee. His policies bring the Kargil architect to his door on his terms.
What of Musharaf?
Four explanations come to mind for the Musharaf visit. First, that Musharaf was reborn the day he seized power from Premier Nawaz. The commando, who refused to salute the hated Indian enemy, and masterminded Kargil to highlight Indian impotence, died the day the coup took place. Instead, like a butterfly emerging from the chrysalis, a soldier for peace was born yearning to replace the medals on his chest with a Nobel Prize.
The difficulty in the “rebirth” theory is that Musharaf’s base is the military Establishment and the religious parties. We are yet to see signs of change in a military establishment smarting from its Kargil retreat after winning the peaks and facing Indian pounding.
The second explanation is that the Musharaf visit is a tactical move on the lines of Kargil deception. Catching the enemy unawares is the name of the game.
The third explanation is that the hourglass is ticking away for Musharaf. The way to win international approval for his continuation in power, Musharaf needs to show he is a man the Indians can do business with.
The fourth explanation lies in Pakistan’s Northern Front. Embroiled with the Taliban, under pressure from UN sanctions, Islamabad desperately needs to release the international pressure from the Afghan front. What better way to mitigate the bad cop image than tactically playing good cop in New Delhi?
The press speculated on the agenda of the talks between the two leaders when they hole up in the Retreat together. Islamabad’s press speculated on non-papers, of far reaching and secret understandings reached by both sides.
That appears doubtful. More likely are continuation of the PPP led agreements.
The PPP agreements that could be taken up in New Delhi include:
First, a continuation of the non-attack on each others nuclear facilities agreement. Given the nervousness of the international community over nuclear affairs, nuclear risk reduction measures can come under discussion;
Second, the re-deployment to Kargil negotiated in the summer of 1989 can be considered.
Third, the expansion of trade for which much work was done by Commerce Minister Mukhtar.
Fourth, greater travel facilities between the two countries in the light of the PPP proposal at SAARC conference in December 1988 for visa relaxation.
Fifth, mutual reduction of troops that was discussed by the two sides during the 1989 talks and for which much progress was made by the intelligence chiefs of both sides.
Sixth, the Iran Pakistan India pipeline project sanctioned by the second Benazir government.
The Middle East Peace talks and the Good Friday Agreements on Northern Ireland sparked a flurry of speculation that the Pakistan’s military dictator could make a dramatic breakthrough on Kashmir. That appears unlikely. However, the foundation for a continued dialogue at the highest levels between the two countries could be laid. The regional association SAARC was to provide that opportunity to India and Pakistan. But its meetings were irregular.
Musharaf goes to New Delhi as Islamabad’s weakest ruler. Lacking legitimacy, internal unity and fiscal manoeuvrability, his visit to New Delhi is full of pitfalls. Lacking good advice, or foreign policy experience, he failed to build the internal consensus that was so necessary to ensure a better base. Some tested his will to build internal consensus, but he found it hard to swallow the release of ten political dissidents and a date for elections in exchange for political support on his perilous New Delhi journey.
And if its difficult to swallow the release of ten political dissidents, we can imagine how much more difficult it is to swallow the death of three thousand innocent soldiers who gave their lives in the mountainous glaciers for their Motherland’s honour on the Commanders orders.