The Deep Rot Within

Indian Express, May 28, 2003

Pakistan’s military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, will visit Washington and meet President George Bush on June 24. Musharraf’s visit substitutes the visit by Prime Minister Zafarulla Jamali that was scheduled for April and cancelled due to the war in Iraq.

Although Pakistanis elected a Parliament in October and Musharraf nominated a civilian PM earlier this year, no one really believes that the country has reverted to civilian rule. It is for that reason, perhaps, that the US decided to invite the General so that talks can be held with the real wielder of power instead of a stand-in.

In Washington, Musharraf can expect to be thanked for his cooperation in the war against Al Qaeda and offered a long-term commitment of economic assistance. But he is also likely to be told of the deep misgivings that analysts and policy-makers have about the long-term direction of Pakistan.

There is still apprehension that Pakistani authorities are pursuing mutually contradictory policies and that Musharraf is not willing to undertake the fundamental shift that is needed to make Pakistan a more normal country than it has been in a long time.

Two characteristics of the Pakistani State make it difficult for Pakistan to function as a democracy and as a civilian-led society. The first of these is that Pakistan has become a rent-seeking state, living off the rents of its strategic location since its involvement in US-sponsored treaties of the Cold War era.

The principal instrument of attracting foreign, mainly US, support for Pakistan has been the value of its military and intelligence apparatus. During the Cold War, the Pakistani military-intelligence machinery was of use to the West against the Soviet Union. After 9/11, Washington looks upon Musharraf’s military regime as a key ally in the global war against terrorism. The military’s status as the principal attraction for international interest, and the economic assistance that comes by way of strategic rents, vests considerable power and legitimacy in the military’s desire to control and direct the country’s politics.

Conflict with India is the military’s raison d’etre but it now sees itself as Pakistan’s only effective institution and therefore the only group worthy of running the country.

Pakistan is also a ‘‘manipulated state’’, the second characteristic that distorts its politics. This means that political actors do not always function on their own and that much that appears to be political bickering is actually the result of manipulation by the military-controlled intelligence services.

Behind-the-scenes funding of political parties, creating and breaking up political alliances and engineering defection of politicians from one party to another is often part of the Pakistani intelligence services’ agenda. Quite often, what passes off as politics is actually the military’s covert handiwork. The objective is to ensure that the political process does not acquire a life of its own and that the military’s ascendancy remains unquestioned.

The October election and subsequent domestic developments must be seen in the light of these more permanent realities of military supremacy in Pakistan. Jamali ostensibly leads a civilian government, cobbled together for him by the intelligence services.


He lacks national stature, did not lead the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), also known as the king’s party, in the general elections, and is dependent on several smaller factions including defectors from Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) for parliamentary support.

He and the coalition he leads have no natural constituency and the thing that binds them is the willingness to bend to the will of Pakistan’s permanent establishment. In any case, Musharraf retains the power to dismiss the PM, his Cabinet and the National Assembly and is refusing to allow Parliament to review constitutional amendments he promulgated as a package — the Legal Framework Order (LFO) — at the time of parliamentary elections.

Before holding elections, Musharraf had declared his preference for a centralised system of government. ‘‘Unless there is unity of command, unless there is one man in charge on top, it will never function,’’ he had said. Pakistan’s mainstream political parties, bar associations and leading civil society organisations have questioned Musharraf’s right to arbitrarily alter the country’s Constitution but it is the recently resurgent Islamists against whom he says he has declared war that have led the charge against the military ruler.

To keep the politicians from threatening his power, the General is likely to cut a deal with the Islamists though that could undermine his international support, which is dependent on his commitment to take on militant Islamists.

Jamali faces, in many ways, the dilemma that was faced by Muhammad Khan Junejo when he was appointed Prime Minister by General Zia-ul-Haq in 1985, after seven years of Martial Law. Like Junejo, Jamali must balance his position as the military’s creature with civilians’ aspiration for asserting greater influence over policy. Junejo found that the balancing act was not easy. In the beginning, Junejo was extremely deferential to his military benefactor, causing him to be seen as a mere puppet. The moment he started exercising his constitutional authority, or failed to ‘‘defend’’ Zia against parliamentary criticism, the General felt slighted. The weak and embattled PM finally fell afoul of Zia when he agreed to the Geneva Accords for Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in April 1988.

Zia dissolved Parliament and dismissed Junejo under powers he had given himself earlier. Elections to a new Parliament could be held only after Zia died in a mysterious plane crash and the new Army Chief, General Aslam Beg, opted to control the government from behind-the-scenes.

During the decade (1988-1999) that the military did not directly wield power, Pakistan was said to be run by a troika comprising the President, the Army Chief and the Prime Minister. Although General Zia’s successors as President were civilians, they wielded powers under Zia’s constitutional amendments.

These powers were used to dismiss every elected PM and to prematurely dissolve Parliament thrice, each time with the military’s involvement. After the 1997 election, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, whose political career had been launched by the military and the ISI, got Parliament to revoke the President’s power to dismiss the PM and dissolve Parliament. In 1999, Sharif was toppled in the military coup that brought Musharraf to power.

Jamali is likely to be extremely cautious, given the experience of Junejo and Sharif, both of whom started out as the military’s political proteges like Jamali. He knows that Junejo and Sharif found no protection against removal from office once they crossed the military’s path. The only pragmatic option for him is to enjoy the perks of office without trying to assert his views in the realm of government policy. But doing so would mean that he would not be able to raise either his own stature or that of the office that he has now been given.

The wild card in Pakistan’s domestic politics remains the Islamists. Unified under the banner of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), Pakistan’s religious parties have been able to take advantage of the political vacuum created by Musharraf’s suppression of the mainstream PPP and PML.

While traditionally the Islamists have been allies of the military, they could leverage their new political strength in making demands on Musharraf, thereby limiting his ability to operate as a free agent in domestic matters. On the other hand, the Islamists could also be useful for the military as an excuse for dragging its feet in areas such as relations with India and the US. Instead of refusing to cooperate fully in clamping down on anti-India Kashmiri militants, for example, Musharraf and the military could simply argue that domestic political compulsions do not allow them a freer hand.

Whatever the outcome of the political power play inside and outside Parliament, there is no immediate prospect of the military, as an institution, relinquishing its pre-eminence in political matters.

The US can, at best, ‘‘advise’’ Musharraf to set things right, focusing on what matters to Washington (at this moment, the war against al-Qaeda) but that is unlikely to address Pakistan’s deeper-rooted malaise.

Peace in South Asia: Why Now?

Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 13, 2003

The recent thaw in India-Pakistan relations, marked by the exchange of ambassadors and restoration of road, rail and aviation links, brings to an end a particularly tense phase in the unending conflict between South Asia’s nuclear rivals. This easing of tensions is not, however, a substitute for a much needed, sustained and comprehensive peace process addressing all outstanding issues in the region.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars and come to the brink of war several more times since they emerged as separate countries after the bitter partition of 1947. At issue, mainly, is the Himalayan territory of Kashmir, which both see as integral to their nationhood.

Pakistan has tried to secure international support for its position that the predominantly Muslim Kashmir should belong to it, by supporting a militant Islamist insurgency in Indian-controlled parts of Kashmir. Following a terrorist attack on India’s Parliament in December, 2001, India mobilized nearly one million troops along its border with Pakistan, withdrew its ambassador to Islamabad and suspended communications links. Since then, U.S. intervention has been credited with averting the outbreak of hostilities twice — the closest that two nuclear-armed nations have come to war since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee seems keen to redefine his country’s troubled relations with Pakistan. This desire for a place in history prompted him to make what he has described as his “third and last attempt” at seeking peace with Pakistan. Mr. Vajpayee ignored suggestions by members of his cabinet that India should consider pre-emptive action against Pakistan, using America’s doctrine of pre-emptive war in Iraq as a precedent.

According to India’s hard-liners, Pakistan’s support for Islamic insurgents in Kashmir deserved a military response. But Mr. Vajpayee decided, instead, to pick up the pieces from two previous failed meetings (1999 and 2001) with Pakistan’s military ruler General Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistan’s newly appointed civilian Prime Minister, Zafarullah Khan Jamali, extended Mr. Vajpayee an invitation to resume dialogue out of Pakistan’s own need for regional stability, and to fend off international criticism of Pakistan’s lax attitude toward Islamic militants. Although Pakistan has earned praise from the United States for helping apprehend al-Qaeda and Taliban remnants escaping from Afghanistan, it has not clamped down on the Kashmiri militants. Pakistan needs a thaw in relations with India to deflect criticism of its dual policy on Islamic militancy. Gen. Musharraf also sees negotiations with India as an opportunity to gain domestic support, which has fallen as a result of his post 9/11 alliance with the United States.

In the past, the mere event of dialogue between India and Pakistan has led to euphoria for an international community exhausted by the intractable nature of the conflict. But each round of engagement has been followed by disappointment. The peace process promised during Mr. Vajpayee’s 1999 visit to Lahore was interrupted by war in the Kargil region. A 2001 summit at Agra did not result even in a joint declaration because India demanded an immediate end to terrorism in Kashmir, while Pakistan sought settlement of its claims over Kashmir’s legal status.

Achieving peace between two sides with a huge gap in their positions is never easy. The first stage is usually to create trust and confidence, followed by agreement over the elements necessary in a final deal. In the case of India and Pakistan, there is not even agreement or international consensus on what an acceptable final outcome might be. If resolving a conflict is difficult even after general recognition of the key elements of a settlement, one should not underestimate the complexity of dialogue between two sides that haven’t moved past their stated positions in five decades.

The key to a sustained and comprehensive peace process is political will on both sides. By agreeing to resume relations, India and Pakistan have indicated their willingness to talk to each other. But in the past both sides have used dialogue only to score points or buy time while hoping to change on-ground realities in their favour. For talks to yield results, Pakistan will have to recognize that use of force, including covert support for militants, must be completely halted. India, on the other hand, will have to concede that its incorporation of Kashmir is not final and should remain open to discussion.

After bridging this huge gap in their negotiating positions, the two countries must then proceed with normalizing commercial and cultural relations. International actors, such as the U.S., can facilitate dialogue and nudge the leaders of India and Pakistan to the negotiating table. Ultimately, Indians and Pakistanis must learn to trust each other, and that is only possible when they start dealing with one another instead of turning their faces away. The world must hold its optimism until that happens.

No Room for Hardliners

Indian Express , May 7, 2003

The recent thaw in India-Pakistan relations comes after a particularly difficult phase that began with the terrorist attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001. The two countries will now exchange ambassadors (or High Commissioners, in the vocabulary of the British Commonwealth) and restore civil aviation links. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has described this as his third and last attempt at seeking lasting peace with Pakistan, a reference to his February 1999 Lahore visit and General Pervez Musharraf’s trip to Agra in July 2001, neither of which led to a sustained peace process. On both occasions, the mere event of high-level dialogue created euphoria that was followed by disappointment. The Lahore process was interrupted by the Kargil misadventure while the Agra talks did not result even in a joint declaration. This time, too, celebrations of a thaw would be premature unless both sides have learnt some lessons from the past.

Bringing about peace between two sides with a huge gap in their positions is never easy. The first stage is usually to create trust and confidence followed by agreement over the elements of a final settlement. Building trust itself can take a long time and challenges continue to arise even after agreements and declarations have been signed. In the Israeli-Palestinian process, for example, the two sides have come a long way from their original positions. The Palestinians now accept Israel’s right to exist, something they did not acknowledge for several decades. Israel, on the other hand, now accepts that the Palestinians are more than refugees to be resettled, a national group deserving of a homeland. But the two sides still do not trust each other and within each camp hardliners still insist on refusing to recognise the other’s rights. And these hardliners often have the ability to act as spoilers in the arduous peace process.

Although a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine is accepted as the desirable final outcome, numerous plans and roadmaps have had to be formulated and subsequently revised or set aside. In the case of India and Pakistan, there is no agreement or international consensus on what an acceptable final outcome might be. If resolving a conflict is difficult even after general recognition of the key elements of a settlement, one should not underestimate the complexity of dialogue between two sides that have never gone beyond their stated positions in five decades.

The key to a sustained and comprehensive peace process is political will on both sides. International actors, such as the United States, can facilitate dialogue and nudge the leaders of India and Pakistan to the negotiating table. But whether dialogue is used for point scoring, as has been the case in the past in South Asia, or for actually overcoming differences is up to the two parties. Professor Lincoln P. Bloomfield observed last year, ‘‘If the irony and the tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that both sides are right, catastrophe could befall South Asia because both sides are wrong — India for denying the population of Kashmir genuine self-determination, Pakistan for fostering terrorism, and both for blustering when prudence is called for’’. Expecting Islamabad and New Delhi to overcome their belief in the absolute righteousness of their respective positions might be too much at this stage. But the two sides can try and control the bluster, which has run previous peace efforts aground.

In India, the bluster usually starts out with the hardliners of the Hindutva brigade, which portrays Pakistan and Muslims as the sources of all evil and refuses to recognise the merit of India-Pakistan dialogue. The Hindu Mahasabha attacked Gandhi for advocating an end to communal riots at the time of partition in 1947 and for demanding that Pakistan be given its share of undivided India’s assets. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh was critical of the Indus Waters Treaty between Field Marshal Ayub Khan and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Indira Gandhi came under attack for the Simla accord, after Pakistan’s defeat in the 1971 Bangladesh war. Now Prime Minister Vajpayee is being criticised by the RSS for backing away from coercive diplomacy that was not going anywhere anyway. For the votaries of Hindutva, Pakistan is not a neighbour to be engaged but rather an enemy to be defeated or eliminated. Real or perceived historic grievances and the need to settle scores, rather than contemporary realities of international relations, dictate this extremist mindset. The misfortune is that the extremists often end up setting the terms of discourse, swaying even the moderates in the direction of finding ways to punish the opponent instead of figuring out how to resolve the outstanding issues.

On the Pakistani side, the Islamists and ultra-nationalists have always been ready to hurl the accusation of treason at anyone seeking rapprochement with India. In 1951, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s patriotism was questioned and since then the pattern has endured. The Pakistani people are often fed a diet of myths about the country’s military capability, which makes potential peacemakers seem weaklings to those awaiting a military victory. Ayub Khan was ridiculed for having squandered the mythic battlefield victory of 1965 during talks at Tashkent the next year. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was accused of selling out Kashmir at Simla after the Bangladesh war of 1971. Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were also charged with conspiracies for their initiatives to normalise relations with India. One hopes that similar accusations will not be hurled at a peace process initiated by a serving general, acting as President of Pakistan in full uniform.

Kashmir is the most difficult, though by no means the only, issue in any round of India-Pakistan negotiations, presuming the current thaw will lead to a sustained dialogue. I commend to all potential negotiators, from both sides, Professor Robert G. Wirsing’s new book Kashmir in the Shadow of Nuclear War published by M.E. Sharpe in New York and London. It is one of the best books on the subject, attempting to go beyond the historical narrative to address the contemporary political and strategic issues.

Professor Wirsing is a well-known South Asia expert who has managed so far to avoid being labelled pro-India or pro-Pakistan even though he has written on the region extensively. Currently at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Honolulu, Hawaii, he has lived and worked in both India and Pakistan and is familiar with the attitudes and arguments of both sides. His book examines the India-Pakistan conflict in all its dimensions, beginning with the problem of regional rivalry and ending with the problem of conflict resolution. Professor Wirsing analyses the Kashmir dispute as a problem of religious identity and reviews the prospect of global intervention or ‘‘internationalisation’’. He advocates the postponement of the quest for the final resolution of the Kashmir conundrum while simultaneously upgrading it in terms of international attention. ‘‘For the most part,’’ he writes, ‘‘the Kashmir dispute is best understood less as a territorial or a moral issue than as a political and strategic — indeed a macropolitical and macrostrategic — issue. One can hardly imagine a solution to it, moreover, which does not favour one political or strategic outcome (and one side) over another. This is simply to say that there is not presently at hand a neutral or ‘win-win’ remedy.’’

Professor Wirsing feels that sustained cooperative official interaction, rather than focus on an immediate and final resolution of the Kashmir issue is the better way forward in South Asia. One cannot but be moved by his impassioned plea, ‘‘Two great nations, India and Pakistan, face one another today in a region shadowed menacingly both by terrorism and the onrushing nuclear revolution. Having far more in common with one another than either would ever admit, they enter upon the turbulent political terrain of the twenty-first century bent with a burden of fear and distrust that neither, whether acting alone or even in company with its hostile neighbour, is fully empowered to remove. If it is not soon removed, however, or at least substantially reduced, the progress made by these two countries in this new century will not escape the extraordinarily heavy economic, political and social penalties both paid in the last. To lend a determined international hand to the removal or reduction of this burden seems, in the end, an imperative of responsible global statesmanship.’’


The American Mongols

Publisher: Carnegie

Foreign Policy , May/June 2003

Originally appeared in Foreign Policy , May/June 2003

An invading army is marching toward Baghdad—again. The last time infidels conquered the City of Peace was in 1258, when the Mongol horde, led by Genghis Khan’s grandson Hulegu, defeated the Arab Abbasid caliphate that had ruled for more than five centuries. And if the ripple effects of that episode through Islam’s history are any guide, the latest invasion of Iraq will unleash a new cycle of hatred—unless the United States can find ways to bolster the credibility of moderate Islamic thinkers.

Saddam Hussein, who has led Iraq’s Baathist socialist regime for nearly 25 years, is no caliph. The U.S. military has come as self-declared liberators, not as conquerors. Yet the U.S. invasion of Iraq resonates strongly with fundamentalist Muslims because they see Saddam’s downfall—and the broader humiliation of the Arab world at the hands of the latter-day Mongols—as righteous punishment. Since the 13th century, Islamic theologians have argued that military defeat at the hands of unbelievers results when Muslims embrace pluralism and worldly knowledge. The story is drilled into Muslim children from Morocco to Indonesia: nearly 2 million people put to the sword; the caliph trampled to death; and the destruction of the great library, the House of Wisdom. The Ottoman Empire fell in 1918 for the same reason Muslims lost Baghdad in 1258: The rulers and their people had gone soft, approaching religion with tolerance and accommodation rather than viewing civilization as divided between Islam and infidels.

The U.S.-led invasion of secular Iraq is the ultimate vindication of this worldview, the capstone of a series of modern Muslim defeats that began with the first Gulf War and continued through the next decade with the Serbs’ ethnic cleansing campaigns against Muslims in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the repression of Islamist groups in Algeria and Egypt, Russia’s brutal military campaign against Chechen separatists, and the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Islamists see these cataclysmic events as opportunities to purify Muslim souls and to prepare for an ideological battle with the West.

Fundamentalists believe they have every reason to anticipate victory in this battle, because the story of the Mongol conquest of Baghdad didn’t end in 1258. The Egyptian Mamluks were able to halt the tide of Mongol victories in the Battle of Ayn Jalut in Palestine two years later. In less than a century, the Mongol conquerors themselves converted to Islam, and Islamic power resurged in Turkey and India after being dislodged from the Arabian heartland. The lesson, according to Islamists, is that even the defeat of Muslims has a place in God’s scheme for Islam’s eventual supremacy in the world.

In addition to the historical narrative, Muslim fundamentalists also have prophecies about the apocalypse attributed to the Prophet Mohammed to buttress their cause. These signs are described in hadith, the sayings of Mohammed passed down through oral tradition before being recorded at least 100 years after his death. One hadith that has currently captured the attention of fundamentalists is “The hour [of the world’s end] shall not occur until the Euphrates will disclose a mountain of gold over which people will fight.” The “mountain of gold” could be a metaphor for a valuable natural resource such as oil, and “the Euphrates” may refer to Iraq, where the river flows. Just as some Christian fundamentalists saw the creation of the state of Israel as fulfillment of biblical prophecy heralding the Day of Judgment, so too will some Muslim fundamentalists interpret the U.S. occupation of Iraq as setting the stage for the final battle between good, led by Mahdi (the rightly guided), and evil, represented by Dajjal (the deceiver).

Armed with prophecy and history, Islamist movements see the humiliation of fellow believers as an opportunity for mobilizing and recruiting dedicated followers. Muslims have often resorted to asymmetric warfare in the aftermath of military defeat. Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and his Fatah movement captured the imagination of young Palestinians only after Arabs lost the Six-Day War and East Jerusalem in 1967. Islamic militancy in Kashmir can be traced to India’s military victory over Pakistan in the 1971 Bangladesh war. Revenge, rather than willingness to compromise or submit to the victors, is the traditional response of theologically inclined Muslims to the defeat of Muslim armies. And for the Islamists, this battle has no front line and is not limited to a few years, or even decades. They think in terms of conflict spread over generations. A call for jihad against British rule in India, for example, resulted in an underground movement that lasted from 1830 to the 1870s, with remnants periodically surfacing well into the 20th century.

This fundamentalist interpretation of Islam has failed to penetrate the thinking of most Muslims, especially in recent times. But religious hard-liners can drive the political agenda in Muslim countries, just as Christian and Jewish fundamentalists have become a force to reckon with in secular nations such as the United States. And with over 1 billion Muslims around the globe, the swelling of the fundamentalist ranks poses serious problems for the West. If only 1 percent of the world’s Muslims accept uncompromising theology, and 10 percent of that 1 percent decide to commit themselves to a radical agenda, the recruitment pool for al Qaeda comes to 1 million.

Suspicions about Western intentions date back to the British, who came as friends during World War I and ended up colonizing and dividing Arab lands. Thus, the Americans face the difficult task of overcoming Muslim mistrust. The United States must avoid any impulse to act as an imperial power, dictating its superior ways to “less civilized” peoples. It should be prepared to accept Islamic pride and Arab nationalism as factors in the region’s politics, instead of backing narrowly based elites to do its bidding. Patient engagement, rather than the flaunting of military and financial power, should characterize this new phase of U.S. intervention in the heart of the Islamic world.

If U.S. President George W. Bush’s promises of democracy in Iraq and a Palestinian state are not kept and if the United States fails to demand reforms in countries ruled by authoritarian allies, the umma (community of believers) would have new reasons to distrust and hate. The dream of helping Muslims overcome their fear of modernity will then remain unfulfilled. And the world will continue to confront new jihads.