Souring relations

Print edition : November 13, 1999

THE days of lambasting "Indian hegemony" are back. The Lahore process stands undermined as the new Pakistani leadership reverts to a classic anti-India mode which has continued for much of the last 52 years.

A new process of engagement will have to be negotiated between India and Pakistan, signals coming from the military leadership suggest. Already, the General, in his remarks to the BBC's Urdu Service, has given short shrift to the Lahore process and the related agreements. And, that process of engagement is nowhere in sight.

Stressing that India's sole intent was to "sideline" the Kashmir issue and focus on the other issues in the "two plus six" Foreign Secretary-level talks, the General said India was wrong to believe that Pakistan could be browbeaten like other "smaller" nations. Denying that Pakistan posed any threat to India, Gen. Musharraf claimed that in terms of size the Indian Army was three times that of Pakistan, and Pakistan's population was one-ninth that of India. And New Delhi was getting set to test an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). "What kind of threat can we pose to India? We are a small country," the General said.

Obviously, the General's initial announcement that he was unilaterally pulling back troops moved to the international border with India did not amount to much. The fact that there was no intention to extend the withdrawal to the Line of Control (LoC) or even to discuss the issue with India revealed the intentions behind the announcement.

On November 6, the Pakistani Foreign Office criticised the Government of India for getting the Kathmandu summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) postponed. Giving sufficient indication of the new terms of discourse with India, the Foreign Office accused India of scuttling the summit in "reckless pursuit of her compulsive hostility and her persistently negative attitude towards dialogue and peaceful resolution of disputes". Such language had been absent for some time from Foreign Office statements.

In his November 1 press conference, the General said Indian hostility would be met with hostility, peace with peace and threats with threats. "I will ensure the honour and dignity of this country. Nobody threatens us without getting a threatening response...." the khaki-uniformed Army chief stated in response to questions. He made it clear that Pakistan wanted a Kashmir-first solution, or at least a simultaneous resolution of the Kashmir issue along with other issues. "We would like to resolve all our differences, and when I say all our differences I mean the core issue of Kashmir first of all - or simultaneously at least."

"But if there is any design to address issues other than Kashmir and sideline the Kashmir issue, I am not a part of it. The Kashmir issue has to be addressed and with that all other issues can be addressed. If this is the attitude we see from across the border, I can assure that I will be going far ahead of them (the Indians) in this area," the General added.

When he was asked about a recent article written by former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral about his relationship with Sharif, the General found it to be an interesting issue. He said there was a "very close relationship" across the border. Whether it was a business relationship, setting up factories or investing money "there" (in India) - all this was being investigated as part of a general probe into charges against the former Prime Minister. There was also the issue of "meeting people secretly" and considering "them" closer than "our own people".

Evidently, the General has not been able to rid himself of the "commando" image that he has vis-a-vis Kargil and India. In initial rounds of plainspeaking, Musharraf had not indicated his views on the dialogue process with India. Now, by undermining the Lahore process, the General has confirmed that the Pakistan Army is the stumbling block in the normalisation of relations with India. Nawaz Sharif, who approved the Kargil operation, had a flawed India policy; but that policy was low on hawkishness.

India will now find a more hawkish policy in Islamabad towards it - one that will make mutual engagement difficult. Clearly, Sharif's muddled approach to India, led from the front by Gen. Musharraf, has ruined the prospects of any rapprochement.

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