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May 30, 2001

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G Parthasarathy

This is not Nirvana

Rightly or wrongly, for better or for worse, the Vajpayee government has invited Pakistan's military ruler General Pervez Musharraf to visit India. Given the compulsions and imperatives of both sides, it is likely that this visit will take place around the middle of July.

As perhaps the only person to have been a member of the Indian delegation during both Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi's visit to Pakistan in 1989 and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Lahore bus yatra in 1999, I have learnt one cardinal principle that needs to be observed in such visits. This is that we should guard against raising undue expectations about such visits leading to a state of Nirvana in our relations with Pakistan.

There was a tendency during the Rajiv-Benazir summit in 1989, amongst those who are incorrigibly na´ve about Pakistan's internal politics, to suggest that as both Rajiv and Benazir belonged to a post-Partition generation, they would somehow produce a magic wand to mend fences. [Rajiv was too realistic to share this euphoria.]

Within a few months of this visit, a near hysterical Benazir was screaming abuses against India as the Pakistan-supported insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir picked up momentum. Likewise, within two months of Vajpayee's Lahore bus yatra, General Musharraf's men were violating the sanctity of the Line of Control and climbing the peaks of Kargil. One hopes that some lessons have been learnt and hype in any form will be avoided when Musharraf does visit New Delhi.

What sort of person is General Musharraf and what are his imperatives as he prepares to visit New Delhi?

Like most members of the Pakistani military establishment, Musharraf has strong views and prejudices about India. One cannot forget that he chose to absent himself from the welcoming ceremony for Vajpayee at Wagah. It is no secret in Islamabad that he did so because he did not want to be seen saluting the prime minister of a neighbour that he regarded as an "enemy country".

Speaking at his home town Karachi to the English Speaking Union in April 1998, shortly after the Vajpayee visit, Musharraf proclaimed that he regarded the Lahore Declaration signed by Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharief as a lot of "hot air".

He then went on to state that he felt that because India is a "hegemonic" power, low-intensity conflict with India would continue even if the Kashmir issue were resolved.

Musharraf is also the first Pakistani ruler to proclaim that it is the duty of all Muslims to support the jihad in Kashmir. In all this, he has been reflecting the view of the person who is acknowledged to be his ideological guru -- former ISI chief Lieutenant General (retd) Hamid Gul. Even Musharraf's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar is a close associate of General Gul.

Sattar has been a member of the Tehriq-e-Insaaf party nominally led by former Test cricketer Imran Khan. General Gul is the spiritual and ideological mentor of this party. Gul is one who believes that it is possible to bring about the disintegration of a secular and pluralistic India by "bleeding" India in J&K and elsewhere. He advocates that Pakistan should actively pursue this objective. Musharraf, like many of his army colleagues, evidently shares this view.

We need to bear in mind that former ISI chiefs like General Gul and General Javed Nasir have continuously advocated the need to "bleed" and force India out of Kashmir as a prelude to ending what is described as "Hindu domination" of what was once the Mughal Empire. They saw Vajpayee's Ramzan cease-fire as a sign of weakness and the lack of will on the part of the Indian Army to continue to face up to the jihadis armed and trained by Pakistan.

Gul has seen the invitation to Musharraf as a manifestation of India yielding to American pressure and being forced to engage Pakistan's military ruler. General Javed Nasir even now plays an active role in trying to foment trouble in Punjab and revive militancy there with the support of the Musharraf dispensation. In these circumstances it would be folly to expect that a general like Pervez Musharraf will have a sudden change of heart and forsake long-term objectives that his mentors and the establishment he leads have set.

Musharraf has innumerable domestic problems to deal with. Pakistan's economy is in the doldrums. With an anticipated 2.8 per cent economic growth in the present financial year alongside a 2.75 per cent rate of population growth, unemployment is spreading amidst IMF-supported price rises.

Further, it is obvious that at least for the next decade, Musharraf's Pakistan cannot meet its international debt repayment obligations and will have to go to the chanceries of the Western world, begging bowl in hand. As investment on education declines and the madarssas produce youth trained only in the rituals of jihad worldwide, Pakistan is becoming the hotbed for destabilization and religious extremism not just in Kashmir, but also across Central Asia and the Caucasus.

The mutually reinforcing links between the ISI and the Taleban add to Pakistan's growing international isolation. We are, therefore, dealing with a military ruler who is isolated from his own country's mainstream political parties, who is dependent on the jihadis and has inevitably to proclaim his loyalty and belief in the jihad that his army colleagues are promoting in Kashmir. Given his presidential ambitions, Musharraf cannot afford to stray away from or alienate either mainstream thinking in the Pakistani army establishment or the jihadis with whom the ISI has a mutually reinforcing nexus.

In these circumstances, we should recognize that we are dealing with an ambitious leader who is seeking both domestic and international legitimacy and acceptance. He heads a military establishment that is compulsively hostile to us. We should have no illusions on this score. We also have to recognize that Pakistan's blunders and our diplomatic efforts have led to the isolation of Pakistan from mainstream international public opinion.

Thus, we can enter into negotiations with Musharraf confident of our standing and acceptance as a major regional player in the Indian Ocean Region. No power in its right senses will today undertake measures that earn the antagonism of an economically resurgent and democratically vibrant India, merely to please a dysfunctional and bankrupt Pakistan. But, we should not use this to shy away from addressing bilateral problems that have bedevilled our relationship, even as we are clear in our minds about the minefields we have to traverse.

We have made it clear that we look forward to discussions with Musharraf that would be based on the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. We have stressed the need for the creation of conditions that could lead to the resumption of the composite dialogue process agreed upon during Vajpayee's Lahore bus yatra. It is quite obvious that Musharraf will not agree to the end of support for cross-border terrorism unless we are able to give him something with which he can claim victory at home.

New Delhi should indicate that it is prepared to reduce its troop levels in Kashmir and even agree to reopen the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar road link for bus traffic, if cross-border terrorism ends. We should work towards creating conditions to facilitate travel across the Line of Control in a manner which makes it as easy for a person from Pakistan or Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to visit Srinagar as it would be for an Indian to visit Muzaffarabad, Gilgit or Skardu.

The aim should be to make it clear that while we will not agree to the reopening of any questions of sovereignty of any part of India, we would be happy to work towards making Kashmir an area that unites rather than divides us.

At the same time, it would be useful to finalize and agree on confidence-building measures that would enhance and improve contacts between the foreign offices, armies, navies and air forces of the two countries and reduce the risk of conflict, accidental or otherwise.

The SAARC Vision Statement that was commended during the Lahore Summit provides the framework for India, Pakistan and other SAARC members to develop regional economic prosperity through the establishment of a South Asian Free Trade Area by 2008 and an Economic Community by 2020. We should agree to work together to achieve this goal. Given Pakistan's aversion to develop bilateral trade and economic ties with us, we should find out if they are prepared to immediately undertake such an effort.

If the answer is in the negative or made conditional on settlement of the Kashmir issue, we would have no alternative but to tell our other neighbours that it would perhaps be best to wind down SAARC activities. There is little purpose in having a regional grouping that fights shy of economic integration and cooperation.

In short, while we should be prepared to extend the hand of peace, reconciliation and cooperation to Musharraf, we should leave him in no doubt that should he choose to proceed on his present path, he would find that our patience is not unlimited. He should be made to understand that should the need arise, we would be prepared to raise the costs diplomatically and otherwise for the country he has decided to lead in the coming years.

G Parthasarathy

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