The India factor

Print edition : November 06, 1999

PAKISTAN'S policy approach vis-a-vis India has been drawn up with the concurrence of the military for a long time now. It used to be done behind the scenes, but after the October 12 coup it will be done up front. In effect, a de facto reality has acquired de jure legality.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf has announced that there will be no change in matters of foreign policy; since Pakistan's foreign policy is largely India-centric, this means that no real surprises are in store for New Delhi.

In his October 17 address, Gen. Musharraf seemed to adopt a "positive approach" towards India; he announced his "unilateral" decision to pull back the additional troops that had been moved close to the international border with India during the Kargil War.

However, Foreign Secretary Shamshad Ahmad stated categorically that the offer of military de-escalation would not be extended to the Line of Control (LoC), where the real problems between India and Pakistan lie.

The "clarification" by the Foreign Secretary exposed Gen. Musharraf's announcement for what it was: an attempt to convince the international community that the new military rulers of Pakistan were not unreasonable.

Gen. Musharraf said: "Pakistan has always been alive to international non-proliferation concerns. Last year, we were compelled to respond to India's nuclear tests in order to restore strategic balance... In the new nuclear environment in South Asia, we believe that both Pakistan and India have to exercise utmost restraint and responsibility... I wish to assure the world community that while preserving its vital security interests, Pakistan will continue to pursue a policy of nuclear and missile restraint and sensitivity to global non-proliferation and disarmament objectives..."

India and Pakistan, he added, "must sincerely work towards resolving their problems, especially the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir... India must honour the U.N. resolutions and its own commitment to the people of Kashmir... Pakistan would welcome unconditional, equitable and result-oriented dialogue with India..."

There is little that is substantively new in his approach; the only new formulation involves the use of the word "equitable". The other phrases have been used over and over again by Ministers and officials.

Interestingly, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan William B. Milam has gone out of his way to spell out his Government's view of who was responsible for the Kargil misadventure. Milam, who addressed a press briefing on October 18, was asked about Musharraf being the "architect" of Kargil.

His response: "I am concerned this has been rooted about, but you know my information - and I am pretty knowledgeable on this - is that Kargil was a collective failure on all parts of Government. Yes, of course, it was an Army operation, so Gen. Musharraf obviously had a part in the decision. But - don't kid yourself - that operation was agreed to by the civilian Government completely. So 'architect of Kargil' is, perhaps, a bit strong... It certainly has a connotation that I think is misleading. Whether the reputation is going to last despite the facts, whether this will get in the way of resumption of the dialogue, I don't know. I hope it doesn't."

In another statement that is seen to be significant, Milam disagreed with the perception that Gen. Musharraf leaned towards extremism or presided over a rogue Army. Stating that the General was the opposite of an extremist, the envoy described him as a "moderate" who had acted out of "patriotic motivations".

The U.S' perception of Gen. Musharraf and the India-Pakistan dialogue is crucial. In the eight rounds of negotiations between Strobe Talbott and Jaswant Singh (on the one hand) and between Talbott and Shamshad Ahmad (on the other), elements of what Washington and Islamabad call a "restraint regime" had been identified. The Lahore summit in February 1999 was intended to expedite discussions on this and related issues.

Since the U.S. is quite prepared to do business with Pakistan, it is clear that Washington will want New Delhi too to engage with Islamabad. Milam said he hoped that the image of Gen. Musharraf as the "architect of Kargil" would not act as a roadblock to this process.

As far as India is concerned, observers feel, it must act in its national interests. It must continue to insist that Pakistan stop training and sending militants across the borders forthwith, and such messages should be delivered loud and clear. Considerable caution must be exercised in the future to prevent "other Kargils".

No pressure should be allowed to come in the way of promoting India's national interest, it is felt. If the U.S. insists on a resumption of the bilateral dialogue, Washington must be asked to ensure that the terrorist-training camps within Pakistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir are wound up, and that official support to numerous groups fighting in Kashmir ends.

Clearly, that is a tall order. However, India can ignore this ground reality only at its own peril. Handshakes, smiles and hugs are doubtless important symbols of entente, but they are no substitutes for an end to Pakistan-backed militancy in Kashmir.

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