Musharraf Will Have to Share Power to Make Kashmir Formula Work

Wednesday 10 November 2004, by Najam SETHI

LAHORE, October 29: General Pervez Musharraf is acting
like the proverbial cat among the pigeons. He has once
again scattered friends and foes at home and abroad by
his latest utterances on how to resolve the Kashmir
dispute - “identify the region, demilitarize it and
change its status”.

His “2+5 region” formulation is lucid, focused, and
positive. But many questions arise. Is it old wine in
new bottles? Is he sincere in making it? Is it a
tactical political move for personal or institutional
reasons or does it reflect a strategic vision-change
in the national interest? Is the timing right or
wrong? Is it aimed at Pakistanis at home or the
Indians next door or the international community
abroad? What are the prospects of success or failure?

At least seven Kashmir “options” are posted on a BBC
web site. Certainly, after the Lahore summit in
February 1999 Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif
and India’s prime minister Atal Vajpayee used retired
civil servants and personal confidantes Niaz Naik and
RK Mishra respectively to secretly explore a couple of
options, especially the “Chenab” solution.

It is therefore interesting that the “option” implied
by General Musharraf today on the basis of his “2+5
region” formulation is partly a variation of the same
Chenab theme and partly an extension of it. It also
follows at least two rounds of secret talks between
the Pakistani NSC secretary Tariq Aziz and the Indian
NSC advisor JN Dixit, and is a response to the
Musharraf-Manmohan one-on-one meeting in New York in
September during which the Indian prime minister
explicitly challenged the Pakistani president to
articulate what particular “option” he had in mind.

What is new is the fact that General Musharraf has
explicitly addressed the Indian refrain against a
“religion-based” option by talking of “homogeneous
ethno-geographical regions”. What is unprecedented is
that instead of only conveying his option secretly to
India via interlocutors he has opened it up for public
debate in Pakistan. What is remarkable is the courage
with which he has offered to reciprocally demilitarize
the “regions” as a prelude to a final settlement
rather than as a consequence of it.

Questions about General Musharraf’s sincerity, of
tactical versus strategic considerations, of timing,
and of aims and objectives are all interlinked.
However, his route, trajectory and cause can be
gleaned from recent history.

As an army chief in 1999, he sabotaged the Lahore
summit at Kargil. As a coup maker in 2000, he was
insistent that he wouldn’t dialogue with India unless
it was ready to resolve the “core” dispute of India.
But as a national leader in 2001, he was ready to show
“flexibility” in talks with India.

In fact, he stunned a group of select Pakistani
editors prior to his departure for the Agra summit in
India by arguing that without “flexibility” - an
abandonment of the maximal positions by both countries
- there could be no forward movement in dispute
settlement.

In Delhi he similarly stunned a group of select Indian
editors when he publicly posited his “four-step”
approach to conflict resolution - step one, start a
dialogue; step two, reflect the ground reality by
focusing the dialogue on Kashmir and bringing the
aggrieved Kashmiris into the loop; step three, link
progress on other contentious issues with that on
Kashmir; step four, eliminate maximal solutions to
Kashmir unacceptable to either of the three parties to
the dispute and start exploring the remaining options
on Kashmir.

Three years later, after the failure at Agra and a
near-war with India, he has returned to his original
fourth-step by unilaterally abandoning Pakistan’s
maximal position and unilaterally formulating a
three-point “option” approach to core
dispute-resolution.

General Musharraf’s ascension from army chief to
national president during a critical five-year
transition phase in Pakistan has affected his
perspective on many issues, in particular those that
impinge on Pak-US and Pak-India relations. Two
critical questions immediately arise. Has this been a
linear and predictable development? Is this
perspective-change based on short-term tactical
reasons or are long-term strategic considerations at
the root of it?

A mathematician or statistician would plot General
Musharraf’s statements and movements on Indo-Pak
relations in the last five years as a graph of
anti-India bellicosity and draw a straight line though
the high and low points of the curve to determine
whether or not there is a long term trend in greater
or lesser hostility.

If no such trend can be discerned, the conclusion
would be that his stop-go movements amount to
opportunistic and tactical steps. But if the trend is
positively skewed in the direction of détente with
India, then the conclusion would be that his
meanderings represent tactical adjustments to a
changed strategic perspective or vision of ground
realities. What does the record show?

India spent 18 months after General Musharraf’s coup
d’état in coming to terms with the fact that it would
have to deal with him rather than any elected civilian
democrat in continuing the peace process started at
Lahore in 1999. By the time the invitation for Agra
arrived in Islamabad, thanks to some behind-the-scenes
international diplomacy, General Musharraf had already
softened his rigid stance by calling for
“unconditional talks, anytime, anywhere”.

Domestic considerations played a big role in his
changing perspective. He was beginning to realize that
even an accidental conflict with India, let alone one
provoked by Pakistan, would derail his reform program
- especially his economic agenda that was critically
dependent on American support and goodwill through the
IMF - and undermine the stability and longevity of his
non-representative regime.

So the hard-liner general quickly donned the habits of
a national leader and switched from a policy of
“fight-fight” via the jihadis in Kashmir to one of
“talk-talk, fight-fight” with India. Accordingly, in
2000, there was a unilateral announcement of a brief
ceasefire in Kashmir by the Hizbul Mujahideen. The
five-hour hectoring visit to Pakistan by President
Bill Clinton only served to highlight General
Musharraf’s strategic predicament.

But if General Musharraf’s moves were still tactical,
India’s response was not dissimilar. After five
decades of studied “neutrality”, India was ready to
woo America into a strategic relationship with it
tilted against Pakistan. So India reciprocated the
Pakistani moves and ordered a ceasefire of its
security forces in Kashmir In due course, each side
tried to outdo the other in its efforts to woo the US
by various “peace overtures” Pakistan offered a
partial withdrawal of troops along the border and
unilateral restraint, while India offered to start
talking to the Kashmiris. Meanwhile, the war in
Kashmir continued to rage.

In 2001 India dramatically offered talks at Agra. Its
invitation followed two significant overtures. The
first by India was in the form of unexpected support
to President Bush’s ballistic missile development
program, which enormously pleased the Americans.

The second was by America which facilitated a high
profile visit to Washington by India’s foreign
minister Jaswant Singh, and similarly high profile
visits to New Delhi by US deputy secretary of state
Richard Armitage and the then head of Centcom, Gen B J
Shelton.

The Indian invitation to General Musharraf was also
preceded by threatening war games along the border
with Pakistan and buttressed by aggressive attempts to
fence the LoC in Kashmir and end the ceasefire in the
valley. India too was tactically readying to
“talk-talk-fight-fight” The ambiguity of their
respective tactical positions was demonstrated time
and again.

India proposed talks in the context of the bilateral
Simla Agreement and the Lahore Summit in which Kashmir
did not much figure. This compelled Pakistan’s foreign
minister, Abdul Sattar, to start back-pedaling into
the “core-issue” approach by insisting on the context
of all previous agreements on Kashmir, which included
the UN resolutions.

This provoked Jaswant Singh to say, on the eve of the
Agra summit, that while Kashmir could be discussed, it
could not be negotiated away since it was “an internal
matter” of India. Under the circumstances, it is worth
asking with the benefit of the hindsight whether the
military commanders of Pakistan and the political
leaders of India were at that time ready to affect a
strategic shift in their perspective of Indo-Pak
relations.

There were two contradictory signals coming from
Pakistan. One was General Musharraf’s unilateral
demonstration of “flexibility” in dialoguing with
India. The other was his manifest determination to
keep fighting the jihad in Kashmir. Similarly, on the
Indian side, the agreement to talk was offset by the
imposition of a counter-precondition pertaining to the
centrality of cross-border terrorism.

In the event, the dialogue at Agra failed to clinch
and both sides degenerated into “fight-fight” The
jihadi attack on the state parliament in Srinagar in
October, followed by another on the national
parliament in December, provoked India to move its
army to the border and threaten all-out war with
Pakistan by the close of the year.

Meanwhile, 9/11 was already changing each country’s
strategic perspective of the other. While Pakistan was
tactically keen on suing for peace with India as it
readied to tackle the domestic blowback from its
support to America in Afghanistan, India was
interested in tactically exploiting the American
doctrine of unilateralism to bolster its case against
Pakistan’s indirect interference in Kashmir.

Both sides were clearly still in tactical mode. An
interesting insight into General Musharraf’s confused
perspective at the time can be gauged from an incident
that took place during a meeting in Islamabad between
General Musharraf and a select group of Pakistani
editors a few days after 9/11.

After General Musharraf had finished explaining the
need for an urgent about-turn on the Taliban policy
“because the ground reality had changed”, one editor
asked him whether or not he also believed that the new
ground reality would inevitably have an adverse impact
on his pro-jihad policies, which would in due course
turn the jihadis against him and compel him to take
off his ‘kid-gloves’ against Islamic extremists of all
shades.

General Musharraf was outraged and stormed out of the
conference in a huff. Indeed, well into 2002, despite
a tactical call to end all cross-border support in
January 2002, with the Indian army breathing down his
neck he was still inclined to privately insist that
there was no question of wrapping up the jihad.

That is probably why he saw no reason to change his
domestic political strategy of scuttling the
pro-peace-with-India mainstream political parties and
enabling the pro-jihad Islamic parties of the MMA to
enter and claim a big stake in parliament.

The fact that he was ready to do a subsequent deal
with the MMA over the LFO instead of one with the PPP
in 2003 demonstrated his changing tactical modes and
static strategic perspective on national and
international issues.

Four years down the line, however, the inexorable
logic of 9/11 and his support for, and dependency on,
Washington, followed by the dangerous Dr AQ Khan
fiasco last year, has brought him squarely face to
face with the new strategic ground realities.

Ground-reality #1 is that the war against the Taliban
has had to be logically extended to the war against Al
Qaeda terrorism.

Ground reality #2 is the fact that Al Qaeda is
organically mixed up with Islamic extremism of all
kinds in Pakistan, whether in the form of violent
sectarianism, or non-state actor jihad, or
anti-American political Islam in the form of the MMA.

Ground reality #3 is that militant Islam wants to
assassinate him physically while political Islam wants
to deprive him of his powers and erode his liberal,
pro-West policies.

Ground reality #4 is that he cannot therefore be
strategically anti-Taliban and anti-sectarianism while
being tactically pro-jihad and pro-MMA.

Ground reality #5 is that the Pakistan Army’s
corporate interests continue to lie in an alliance
rather than a rupture with Washington.

Ground reality #6 is that, sooner rather than later,
therefore, there will be a rupture between General
Musharraf’s Military and Political Islam and the
historic Military-Mullah Alliance will be
strategically tested.

Determining evidence of this strategic rupture will
come in the form of two positive developments: an
alignment and accommodation of the military with the
pro-West mainstream liberal political forces to
develop a representative national consensus on many
contentious domestic issues - including the
civil-military relationship - along with a strategic
shift in establishing longer term peaceful relations
with India and Afghanistan. The Military-Mullah
Alliance will have to be irrevocably replaced by the
Mainstream-Military Partnership.

General Musharraf’s political system is inherently
unstable. His alliance with the MMA is falling apart
by the force of strategically changed regional
realities. His economy won’t be strong enough for a
long time to withstand any major internal or external
political jolts to the system. He cannot but be aware
of all this.

Meanwhile, the peace dividend to Pakistan - and
therefore to the Pakistan Army - from burying the
hatchet with India beckons in the form of lucrative
regional oil and gas pipelines, motorways and
preferential trade blocs - what General Musharraf’s
handpicked whiz prime minister Shaukat Aziz
confidently calls “mutual dependencies”.

“Mutual dependencies” among old enemies? This is a new
political language. This is a new national strategy. A
“solution” on Kashmir would certainly cement it. But
no progress on such a regional agenda is possible
without the fulfillment of three domestic
preconditions:

General Musharraf will have to put down stiff, even
violent, opposition from the old guard in and out of
the institutions of the state; he will have to woo the
mainstream representatives of civil society to help
him cobble the required national consensus; and in
order to do so he will have to share power with them.

The Pakistan military is a major beneficiary of the
conflict structures of the past. It can capture the
peace dividend in the future only if it can
strategically reduce its military demands over Kashmir
and its political demands over civil society.

The year 2005 should show the way ahead. General
Pervez Musharraf’s new and open policy options on
Kashmir are only the first halting steps in that
direction. Much more rocky ground will have to be
covered, especially domestically, before he can climb
the far mountain.


The writer is Editor of The Fritday Times and The
Daily Times published from Lahore

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