New Delhi has to persuade Islamabad that it has no desire to weaken its neighbour
IN APRIL 2003, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee went to Srinagar and extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan. The surprised Pakistanis took it, and what followed is now history. Last week, PMManmohan Singh did much the same thing by inviting both Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and PM Yousuf Raza Gilani to witness the World Cup semi-final between India and Pakistan at Mohali.
To show that Manmohan’s overture was not just to the two leaders but the entire people of Pakistan, the government also drastically relaxed visa rules for Pakistanis and made the visas valid for six months. The initiative could not have come at a more opportune moment because if it is followed through with the purposefulness that he has shown so far, it could breathe new life into Pakistan’s dying civil society.
That civil society — which includes just about everyone in that country who had believed in Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s original vision for Pakistan as a democratic, modern and essentially secular State — is close to death because it has been pummelled relentlessly by the Pakistan Army and the religious parties. It is now being given the coup de grace by the ever-strengthening Pakistani Taliban and al Qaeda.
Two months ago, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer was gunned down by one of his own bodyguards because he wanted changes in Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws. The unexpected religious hysteria this brutal act touched off led to a spate of death threats against Pakistan People’s Party leader Sherry Rehman, who had the gall to be modern, moderate and an outspoken critic of the blasphemy laws and a woman. She had to go into hiding. Last month, Minority Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was shot dead by motorcycle-borne gunmen belonging to the Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan (TTP), the Fidayeen-e-Muhammad and al Qaeda, Punjab Chapter.
Pakistan is in shock, and understandably, many are in a state of denial. An unnamed source told Dawn that both Taseer and Bhatti would not have been killed if their bodyguards had adhered to the standard operating procedure laid down for ensuring the safety of their charges. They did not do so because both Taseer and Bhatti often asked them to leave them alone, and were unprotected at the time when they were slain. Their deaths, in short, were at least partly their own fault.
This is sheer nonsense. Taseer was killed by one of his own bodyguards with the tacit connivance of at least some of the others. Bhatti had dispensed with his bodyguards only when he went to his mother’s house. He may have visited her often, but was unlikely to have followed a fixed pattern. So someone close to him had to have been in touch with his assassins to tell them precisely when he would be at his mother’s house.
Therefore, the two murders have one feature in common: both were betrayed by the very people who were supposed to guard them. Al Qaeda and the TTP have thoroughly infiltrated the security police. The message they have sent is chillingly clear: We rule. Your lives are no longer yours, but ours. You live at our pleasure. Beware of forfeiting it.
The terror this has struck in the hearts of Pakistan’s elected leaders can be gauged by Gilani’s frantic assurances, within hours of Taseer’s killing, that the government had absolutely no intention of amending the blasphemy laws, and the PPP’s insistence that Rehman withdraw the private member’s Bill she had introduced in Parliament to soften the severity of the blasphemy laws. The assassinations and the public response therefore spell the end of Pervez Musharraf’s dream of turning Pakistan into a moderate, democratic and Islamic State based on the Turkish model.
The obsession with India has become the most deadly threat to Pakistan’s future
With its democracy virtually paralysed, Pakistan’s future now rests entirely in the hands of its army. But despite the largesse being showered upon it by the US, the army is still running with the Taliban hares while hunting, half-heartedly, with the NATO and American hounds.
The reason is its idée fixe that India is, and will always remain, its main enemy. This obsession has become the most deadly threat to Pakistan’s future. Like Shia zealots waiting for the reappearance of the 13th Imam, the Pakistan Army has kept all but 1.2 lakh of its 1.1 million army and reserves on the Indian border in readiness for the climactic battle against India that it knows will come one day.
In preparation for it, it has appropriated the bulk of Pakistan’s domestic resources and US and Chinese military aid to buy tanks, howitzers, anti-tank missiles and launchers, Cobra helicopters, frigates, submarines, anti-ship ballistic missiles and F-16 aircraft capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Even after it began to fight the TTP in the FATA region in earnest in 2007, it continued to prepare its infantry for war in the plains by mechanising another three of its infantry divisions and creating several more independent brigades.
The same fear of India has made it adopt an ambivalent stance towards the al Qaeda-linked tanzeems in Pakistan. So great has been its anxiety to retain these as “non-state instruments of foreign policy” that it has continued to protect some of their key members, like al Qaeda’s military chief Ilyas Kashmiri, even after they came within a hair’s breadth of assassinating Musharraf in 2003.
Even the outbreak of full-scale hostilities against the TTP has not altogether ended the Pakistan Army’s ambivalence. Until the start of this year, it had committed no more than 1.2 lakh troops to the war in FATA and Khyber Pakhtoonwa. The bulk of its 6 lakh-man army and 5 lakh reserves remain on the Indian border.
Today, Pakistan is reaping the whirlwind that its army and ISI have sown. More than 26,000 civilians and security personnel have lost their lives in the civil war that has raged since 2008. The tanzeems nurtured by the ISI have mounted 215 suicide bomb attacks on Pakistani civilians in the past three years, and now served notice on the State itself. The Pakistan Army has always regarded itself as the country’s protector. If it wishes to fulfill this duty at this critical hour, it will have to unlearn everything that it has taught itself in the past 63 years.
Manmohan’s task is clear. He has to persuade Islamabad that whatever India may have done to Pakistan in the past, it has absolutely no desire to weaken, much less destroy, it today. This is because it has everything to lose and nothing to gain from doing so. It knows that a weak, failing Pakistan is more likely to become a haven and launchpad for al Qaeda than a strong, stable Pakistan. Therefore, India wishes to work with Pakistan in containing the terrorist threat and not against it.
For that very reason India has no desire to sequestrate any part of the waters of the Indus’ tributaries that flow into Pakistan. On the contrary, it has every reason to coordinate its programmes with Pakistan so that both can get the most out of them within the Indus Waters Treaty framework. Today, it is only decades of carefully nurtured mistrust, fed by rumour, ignorance and disinformation, that make Pakistanis believe that India wants to harm them in this utterly heartless and self-defeating way.
India wishes to work with Pakistan in containing the terrorist threat and not against it
THE PAKISTAN Army also needs to re-examine its conviction that India is giving large amounts of economic aid to Afghanistan only in order to turn its government and people against Pakistan. Granted that India has strong ties to the former Northern Alliance, and therefore to the Karzai government, but without a common border with Afghanistan, there is not much that India can do to affect political outcomes in that country.
But the Pakistan Army needs to ask itself not only what India can do in Afghanistan but what it wants to do. For instance, Islamabad’s desire for ‘defence in depth’, and the consequent need to eliminate Indian influence from Afghanistan, stems from its fear that India might back a future Afghan regime that challenges the sanctity of the Durand Line. But this fear is groundless because India has not given the slightest indication that it will do so. On the contrary, in 1978, the then foreign minister Vajpayee had accepted the line as Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan.
When asked last year why he considered India to be Pakistan’s main enemy, Gen Ashfaq Kayani had explained that this assessment was not based on what India might want to do but what it could do. This way of assessing a threat only makes sense so long as one is confident of being able to handle the secondary threats that the nation faces. This might have been true in the 1990s and during Musharraf’s early years, but Pakistan is now being consumed by the threat that its army once not only discounted, but helped to spawn.
After the assassinations of Taseer and Bhatti and the collapse of the civil society, to continue to think of India as Pakistan’s main enemy is to connive in one’s own doom.
Prem Shankar Jha Is a senior journalist