Same old rhetoric again

Gulf News, April 20, 2005

The much hyped trip by General Pervez Musharraf to India has brought fresh promises of “confidence building measures” between India and Pakistan.

A look at previous joint statements by leaders of the two countries, however, reveals a pattern of similar commitments. The India-Pakistan peace process cannot become irreversible just with a joint statement declaring it so.

The colourful spectacle of a Pakistani military ruler at a shrine in India or an Indian prime minister travelling by bus to Pakistan makes a positive picture.

The New York Times began its report about the weekend Mush-Man summit with the words, “A cricket match brought them together. But it was talk of trade, peace and a gas pipeline that dominated the diplomatic spectacle here over the weekend as the Pakistani leader met his Indian counterpart amid signs of reconciliation between the nuclear-armed rivals of South Asia.”

But the same paper had reported on February 22, 1987 that “President Mohammad Zia ul Haq of Pakistan and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India conferred at dinner this evening and expressed satisfaction at the way they had defused a crisis over troop buildups on their border last month.”

Wire service reports on that occasion spoke of “The Indian subcontinent’s passion for cricket” while the Los Angeles Times quoted General Zia ul Haq as “laughing and joking” and saying that “he came to India ‘to see a good game of cricket’.”

Then on December 29, 1988 the New York Times once again spoke of India and Pakistan’s chance to “open a new era in relations”.

The occasion was the summit meeting between Benazir Bhutto, newly elected prime minister of Pakistan and Indian leader Rajiv Gandhi.

“Ms Bhutto’s election victory in November boosted Pakistan’s morale and raised hopes that the two youthful leaders Mr Gandhi is 44 years old and Ms Bhutto is 35 will be able to bury the bitter past and start over.”

Bhutto and Rajiv Gandhi discussed “several confidence-building agreements” and agreed to a process of dialogue.

The process ran aground with the uprising in Indian-controlled Jammu and Kashmir, which India suppressed with force and Pakistan transformed into jihadist terrorism.

Bhutto was ousted from office amid accusations of being soft on India and credibility in Pakistan’s domestic politics came to be defined in terms of adopting a hard line over Jammu and Kashmir.

Proven wrong

That supposedly changed after the South Asian neighbours tested nuclear weapons in 1998 and Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee travelled to Lahore by bus in February 1999.

But the expectation of media optimists that Vajpayee’s bus diplomacy will “reduce the chance of war” was proven wrong on the freezing mountain tops of Kargil. For peace between India and Pakistan to materialise, the domestic influence of the constituencies for hostility in each nation must be kept in check.

As in the past, Pakistan is undertaking the peace process with India under American nudging. For its part, India joined previous attempts at peace because it was unwilling to antagonise the United States.

But deep down, Pakistan’s generals expect an American role in getting them a territorial settlement in Kashmir. US military support leads Islamabad to over-estimate its power potential, which in turn makes it difficult for its military leaders to seek a realistic role for Pakistan in South Asia.

Moreover, the ascendancy of the Pakistani military in internal decision-making militates against early normalisation of relations with India. General Pervez Musharraf’s regime draws its power from the military, which in turn derives legitimacy from being able to defend Pakistan against India.

It is because of this dynamic that Musharraf continues to raise expectations within Pakistan of a solution to the Kashmir issue and keeps alive the hopes of extremist Islamists and covert operations personnel.

Notwithstanding his rhetoric of “enlightened moderation” it is clear that Musharraf’s regime wants to keep the spectre of an Islamist Pakistan alive to secure Western assistance.

Last week, Pakistani authorities cracked down on the secular Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), resulting in the arrest of several hundred party activists, to prevent a PPP rally even though fundamentalists from the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) have been allowed to hold rallies.

While the PPP members were being arrested, the government was releasing MMA activists who had violently broken up a mixed male-female sporting event a few days earlier.

Colourful gestures

The contrived strength of the MMA would allow the Pakistani military and intelligence apparatus to slow down or even derail the India-Pakistan peace process once it sees benefits in confrontation again.

Until then Musharraf will carry on the colourful gestures of peace more or less the same way as several of his predecessors have done over the years.

A more fruitful and permanent peace process would be possible if the international community works towards changing Pakistan’s internal power structure, weakening the military-intelligence combine and gradually empowering Pakistani civil society.

Then, Pakistan’s insecurities vis-à-vis its identity and territorial integrity must be comprehensively addressed. India would have to take an interest in Pakistan’s stability and prosperity rather than being seen as Pakistan’s rival or enemy.