Paradoxes in Pakistan

Print edition : July 03, 1999

Differences between the Pakistani civilian and military leaderships constitute the biggest hurdle to finding an early solution to the Kargil stand-off.

SUSTAINED diplomatic pressure exerted by Western countries, coupled with a determined assault by the Indian Army on positions occupied by Pakistani irregulars who have the full backing of that country's Army, has brought into the open the differences between the Pakistani civilian and military leaderships on the question of Kargil.

The message of the United States, which has emerged as the unquestioned "leader" of the Western world, was delivered in loud and clear terms by Gen. Anthony Zinni, U.S. Central Command chief, to Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff, on June 24, and to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the next day. The message was not a complicated one - it was only a reiteration of the statements that have emanated from Washington. Gen. Zinni said the same thing to both Musharraf and Sharif - withdraw the armed intruders from the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC), reaffirm the sanctity of the LoC, show renewed respect for it, end the fighting, exercise restraint and recommence the dialogue with India as part of the process set in motion by the Lahore Declaration.

The U.S.' choice of envoy - a military officer as opposed to a senior official of the State Department - was deliberate; the U.S. wanted its message to go down from one military officer to another. Obviously, Washington has its own perceptions about who calls the shots in Islamabad.

Pakistani gunners aim at Indian positions in the Kargil sector.-B.K. BANGASH / AP

Officially, Pakistan told the U.S. delegation, which also comprised Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gibson Lanpher, that Islamabad had no control over the militants and could not get them to vacate the Kargil heights. However, the contradictions within Pakistan now stand exposed.

For the first time since the Kargil issue began to make headlines, Gen. Pervez Musharraf spoke openly to the media on June 26 and made the surprise announcement that diplomatic contacts were under way for a meeting between President Bill Clinton and Nawaz Sharif. Interestingly, the statement did not emanate from the Pakistani Foreign Office, the Foreign Minister or the Prime Minister's Office. The question being asked by observers is: does Musharraf want right-wing opinion in Pakistan to try and scuttle a meeting between Clinton and Sharif?

The previous day the coffin containing the body of Sikandar Gul, a Hizbul Mujahideen militant killed in Kargil, was draped with the Pakistani flag, and there was on it a floral wreath from none other than Gen. Musharraf.

The events following Gen. Musharraf's statement about a possible meeting between Clinton and Sharif were significant. The official Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) gave it due prominence, but the state-run television blacked out the statement made to reporters after he addressed the 71st midshipmen commissioning parade at the Pakistan Naval Academy in Karachi. Only a brief mention was made about the General's remarks at the Academy itself, at the end of the Khabarnama, the nightly news bulletin. The bulletin did not mention a single word about Musharraf's remarks to reporters about the situation in Kargil or a possible meeting between Clinton and Sharif.

General Anthony Zinni (right), Commander-in Chief of the U.S. Central Command, with General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's Chief of the Army Staff, on June 24 in Rawalpindi.-AP

It is necessary to dwell on the treatment given to the Army chief by the state-run media because there is a parallel between this incident and the events that led to the dramatic resignation of Gen. Jehangir Karamat as Chief of the Army Staff on October 7, 1998. Karamat had made a few statements critical of the Government, the last of which was totally ignored by the state-controlled media. The present situation may not escalate into something as dramatic as the Karamat episode, but it does reveal that the Nawaz Sharif Government is unhappy with Musharraf and his handling of the Kargil situation. Till date, the Army and civilian leaderships have tried to act in unison. However, now, the strains are becoming evident. If Nawaz Sharif does want to ease out Musharraf, he only has to appoint another Army chief and confine Musharraf to the largely ceremonial post he additionally holds - Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

As the transcripts of conversations between Musharraf and Chief of the General Staff, Lieutenant-General Mohammad Aziz Khan, revealed, Nawaz Sharif himself did not know about Pakistan's Kargil operations until mid-May. Many of the Army's top brass were also unaware of it. It was an operation that succeeded only on account of its secrecy. However, Nawaz Sharif played along and backed the Army to the hilt, only to face sustained and growing international pressure and a harsh response from India.

Clearly, the Indians are not the only ones who have been taken for a ride on the Delhi-Lahore-Kargil "bus". The Americans may not exactly have been "co-passengers", but they definitely "kick-started" the "bus". They are, therefore, unlikely to look favourably upon the protagonist (Pakistan) responsible for "overturning" this "bus". Besides, the Americans had invested heavily in the Lahore process and were working separately on both India and Pakistan through Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who actively promoted Washington's nuclear non-proliferation agenda in these countries. No superpower likes to be taken for a ride, and definitely not the Americans. Having concluded that India would not accept third-party mediation on the Kashmir issue, Washington quietly worked on both the governments until the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government lost a vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha, and Pakistani irregulars and troops infiltrated into Kargil.

After hurting India militarily through the intrusion, Pakistan seemed to be unclear about its next step. Its claim that it has cut off the Srinagar-Leh road is nothing but propaganda. Clearly, Pakistan has distanced itself from the reality on the ground. Pakistan's objectives or the lack of them have been best summed up in an article written by Ayaz Amir, a former ruling party member of the Punjab provincial Assembly, in the newspaper Dawn.

The article says: "However hopeful and desperate a spin the Foreign Office may try to put on this situation, it is Pakistan and not India which is under pressure to restore the status quo ante along the Line of Control. This is not a failure of diplomacy as many pundits are screaming. It is a political failure inasmuch as Pakistan's stance, whatever we may think of it, is hard to sustain before the world's eyes. Nor do we seem very clear about what we want, which is adding to the confusion.

Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.-ZIA MAZHAR / AP

"Through the Kargil operation are we trying to acquire a bargaining chip for a trade-off in Siachen? Do we want to pose a permanent threat to India's line of communication further to the north? Is this the first step in the liberation of Kashmir? If one or more of these objectives were behind this operation, did the Pakistan high command really calculate that if a few bold thrusts (by the Mujahideen or whatever) were made across the Line of Control, the Indian response would remain localised and India would not make too great a noise about such a move? There is nothing more foolish in war than to substitute wishfulness for a realistic appreciation of the situation, but we seem to be doing this all the time.

"As in 1965 and in 1971, we are allowing ourselves to become prisoners of an unfavourable situation. On display is the same thumping, chest-beating rhetoric and the same contempt for reality. And the same desire, befitting more a child than a mature nation, that the outside world should come to our rescue and turn a developing fiasco into a face-saving diplomatic solution.

"What makes the present situation all the more alarming is the growing feeling that there is no firm hand on the tiller. Who is in charge? Who has thought up this operation which in the space of a few weeks has taken the nation to the brink of war?....

"It should not take an American Centcom commander to tell us what is in our best interests or what we should do. If we can sustain the Kargil build-up and thrust fine... but if politically our position is ill-judged and therefore untenable, we could do worse than to remember the military maxim which advises against reinforcing a failure."

NAWAZ SHARIF'S special envoys have fanned out principally to "Muslim nations" to garner support for Pakistan's position on Kargil. There are, however, few takers for Islamabad's position. But Saudi Arabia has, of course, come out in its support.

Although Pakistan would like to believe that India has done better only on the propaganda front, the fact of the matter is that Islamabad stands isolated because of the position it has taken. On various occasions, Pakistan has spoken about taking over the Kargil heights, of the Mujahideen being on the lower reaches and the Pakistanis on the upper peaks, and the most fantastic of them all: "seizing" the positions on its own side of the Line of Control (LoC).

Western media reports have spoken about the involvement of Pakistani engineers in taking over positions on the Indian side of the LoC, as well as the use of snow scooters. Clearly, the positions articulated by the G-8 countries, including the U.S. and Britain, besides the European Union countries, are on the basis of their own conclusions, and not based on the conclusions reached by India.

Pakistan has sent out its envoys. Nawaz Sharif has gone to China looking for support on Kargil, Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz has left for Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, for a meeting of Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) Foreign Ministers, and Western and other diplomats are being regularly briefed by the Foreign Office. Besides, Pakistani television, radio and sections of the print media are regularly "fed" with press reports from India and other countries that are critical of the BJP-led government.

As far as the military situation is concerned, Gen. Musharraf has vehemently denied that a war with India was imminent. He has stated that Pakistan did not have anything to do with the Mujahideen. In fact, some of his remarks in Karachi could be construed as conciliatory, especially those relating to a solution which will be acceptable to Pakistan, India and the U.S.

Despite the differences between the civilian and military establishments, it will require tremendous courage on the part of Nawaz Sharif to disown the Kargil operation or even to obtain a "face-saver". How the military establishment will take such a move remains to be seen.

Lt.-Gen. Javed Nasir (retd), who was chief of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) during the time the 1993 Mumbai blasts took place, has said that if India were to cross the LoC, then the Pakistani Army could hit a target beyond the LoC, since the Indian Army was tied up in Kashmir. "It offers (the) Pakistan Army the opportunity of the century to redeem its honour and take the revenge for Dhaka." Unlike other columnists and writers, the former General has at least spoken the truth. Kargil, Kashmir and Punjab are all about paying India back for Pakistan's 1971 defeat and the creation of Bangladesh. Pakistan may have waited a long time to strike, but there is no mistaking the reason for sending insurgents into Jammu and Kashmir, including the latest intrusion in Kargil.

Gen. Nasir said: "A major penetration by the Pakistan Army will serve as a strong incentive to the Sikhs, providing them an opportunity of the millennium to rise and play havoc with India's line of communications. These two actions will precipitate (the) disintegration of India. A major setback to the Indians in Punjab can turn the Sikhs' dream of Khalistan into reality, with the Tamils rising in the South and the Naga and Mizo tribes in the north declaring UDI (unilateral declaration of independence)." The former General is obviously living in his own world. Nasir, who is said to have plotted some of the major crimes against India, spends a lot of time with Khalistani Sikhs in Pakistan, having been appointed chief of the Pakistani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee by Nawaz Sharif in April. Other sections of his formulation do not require much comment.

The former General had this to say of the present Army chief: "In Pervez Musharraf, we have an excellent General who has the blend of dynamism (his Special Services Group) and superb professionalism. He does not panic. He is very bold and is admired for his decision-making ability. Allah chose him for the occasion. He will not only deliver but deliver beyond the expectations of all. He is (a) gift of Allah to the nation. Let India do the blunder of escalation. India's (future) generations will remember the consequences. India must not forget that (it) is a post-May 28 (1998) Pakistan it is dealing with."

This is the kind of ideology that India is up against. If Nawaz Sharif does think differently, then he will have to demonstrate it by bringing his Generals to heel and dismantling the numerous power structures. It was not as if the Prime Minister and the ISI were not aware of Kargil. Simply put, Nawaz Sharif could do little about it.

The absence of genuine democracy and the clout that the Generals and their numerous intelligence agencies enjoy pose a major challenge to India. A single civilian and democratic power structure would be far easier to deal with, both for India and the rest of the world. As Kargil demonstrates, India can never be comfortable with an imperfect democracy in Pakistan.

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