June 7, 2001


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B Raman

Waiting for Musharraf

General Pervez Musharraf, self-styled chief executive of Pakistan, is as good a communicator as the late General Zia-ul-Haq, but with a difference. Whereas Zia effectively concealed his ambitions and arrogance behind a veneer of humility, Musharraf makes no effort to conceal his personal ambitions. He perceives himself as Pakistan's man and general to whom the nation has turned for salvation in the hour of its greatest crisis and who owes it to the nation to fulfil his mission of making Pakistan a reinvigorated political, economic and military power, capable of holding its own against India.

Since seizing power on October 12, 1999, Musharraf has projected himself as a rational thinker, uninfluenced in his policies and actions by religious considerations. But having been closely associated with Osama bin Laden and the various Afghan mujahideen groups before 1996 and with the mediŠval Taleban thereafter, he understands the power of religion and its utility for achieving the strategic designs of Pakistan vis-Ó-vis India.

Though he often stresses the need to forget the past in Pakistan's relations with India and to look to the future, his actions, like those of other corps commanders of the Pakistani Army, are strongly motivated by a desire to avenge what they look upon as Pakistan's humiliation at the hands of India in 1971 in then East Pakistan and again in 1984 in Siachen.

He doesn't deny his role in clandestinely mounting the Kargil operation in 1999, but projects it as a justified riposte for "Siachen 1984". Similarly, he doesn't deny that he often resorts to craft and deception in the national interest in dealing with India, but justifies it as the only way of dealing with what he looks upon as a crafty and devious neighbour.

The attitude of the Pakistani Army towards India has always been governed by a curious amalgam of feelings of psychological insecurity and professional overconfidence. Their feelings of insecurity arise from what they consider India's military superiority in terms of numbers and the quality of equipment and its typical [in their eyes] Hindu cunning. Their professional overconfidence arises from their conviction that a Hindu soldier is no match for a Muslim and lacks the will to succeed in the battlefield without which all acquired military equipment would be of no avail.

While they feel confident that they can, any day, in any terrain, hold their own against the Indian Army, they feel diffident about their ability to detect and counter what they fear as the typical Hindu cunning.

The Pakistani Army has a greater respect for and fear of the Indian political class than it has for Pakistan's. They think that in Kargil, a setback on the ground for the Indian Army was converted into a strategic political victory by the Indian prime minister through his deft handling. They look upon their political leadership as no match for India's.

Pakistan's generals are not prepared to admit that they suffered a decisive military defeat at the hands of the Indian Army in East Pakistan in 1971 due to professional inadequacies. They believe that the 1971 defeat was brought about not by the superior skills of the Indian Army, but by the incompetence of their own political leadership and the consequent unfavourable circumstances on the ground in East Pakistan.

General Musharraf looks upon Afghanistan as his and the Pakistani Army's greatest success story since 1947 and, like other generals, has convinced himself that this success can be repeated in Jammu & Kashmir. He and his corps commanders interpret the sudden turnaround in India's attitude and the initiative of inviting him to New Delhi as indicators of the onset of battle fatigue in the Indian forces. They are not certain whether there has been a simultaneous weakening of the will of the Indian political leadership to retain Jammu & Kashmir.

They look upon the present situation vis-Ó-vis J&K as similar to the situation in Afghanistan in 1987-88, when, in their view, a battle-fatigued Soviet Army started pressing its political leadership to look for ways of an honourable exit from Afghanistan. Zia provided them such an exit without a loss of face for Moscow through the proximity talks in Geneva. They feel they succeeded because Moscow had at that time a political leadership without strong ideological and nationalist convictions.

Pakistan realises that the ruling Indian political leadership in 2001 cannot be compared to the establishment in Moscow in 1987-88. In its eyes, the present political leadership in New Delhi has very strong ideological and nationalist convictions and will not bend as Moscow did in 1987-88. The memories of what they see as Pakistan's political defeat in Kargil in 1999 continues to trouble them and they are wary of Kargil repeating itself in the political and diplomatic arena in the months to come.

Musharraf thinks that any perception in Pakistan that he threw away at the table in New Delhi what the jihadis had achieved through their blood on the ground in J&K could mark the beginning of the end of the present phase of the army's political ascendancy in Pakistan.

He and his kitchen cabinet of Lieutenant General (retd) Moinudeen Haider, the interior minister, Lt Gen Mahmood Ahmed, director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, Lt Gen Muzaffar Usmani, recently designated deputy chief of army staff, and Lt Gen Mohammed Yousef Khan, chief of general staff, realise the importance of economic strength as a core component of national security. They also realise that religious fanaticism/jihad is a double-edged sword or boomerang. While they are able to use it against India today, it could turn against Pakistan tomorrow.

They are not convinced that normal trade relations with India constitute the answer to their economic problems. They are deterred by the experience of Bangladesh, which, they think, has become a captive market for India's cheap and poor quality goods. They would rather become a captive market of China.

At the same time, the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline is seen as a part solution to their economic problems -- in the form of an annual transit fee of US$600 million from Tehran and concessional oil supplies to meet Pakistan's growing needs. Hence, the desire to treat the pipeline as a standalone issue without linking it to normal trade relations.

One should not, however, underestimate Pakistan's willingness and ability to undergo hardships if considered necessary in the national interests. Its economic difficulties originated with the 1990 sanctions under the Pressler Amendment. Despite this, they have refused to bend to outside pressure on the nuclear issue.

Similarly, despite strong criticism of their support to the jihadis in J&K and to the Taleban from the US and other countries, they have not moderated their policy. The feeling is that for the first time since 1971, they have an opportunity of changing the status quo in J&K, thanks to the jihadis, and if this opportunity is lost, they will not get another like it again.

Pakistan, therefore, seems determined to continue its support to the jihadis even if it means continued diplomatic isolation and economic hardships. India should not nurse the illusion that the forthcoming summit or the economic pressure on Pakistan by other countries could make Islamabad change its policy.

How to continue using the jihadis against India till they achieve their objective in J&K without them becoming a Frankenstein for Pakistan? This is the question being intensely debated in the GHQ, without any answer being found.

Despite the military leadership's harping on the theme of a nuclear flashpoint, it feels confident of its ability to prevent any irrational or accidental use of its nuclear capability. It feels confident of India's ability too in that regard. As a result, the subject of nuclear confidence-building measures does not enjoy the same priority in the debate in Pakistan (outside the seminar circuit) as it does in New Delhi.

Nonetheless, India has a vital interest in progress on this issue, keeping in view the increase in the jihadi hordes in Pakistan.

How to avoid euphoria over and the romanticisation of the forthcoming summit? How to keep the summit businesslike without unwise exuberance and ecstasy? How to douse undue expectations? How to keep the bilateral dialogue sustained at various levels without getting caught in a quagmire over J&K? How to provide greater focus to the nuclear confidence-building issue? How to benefit from the Iranian gas pipeline without adding to the resources of Pakistan which could be diverted to the jihad? How to disabuse the general of any false impression that India is looking for an honourable exit from J&K? How to ensure that India's realpolitik of dealing with a military dictator does not damage the cause of democracy in Pakistan?

These are the questions that should engage the attention of our policy-makers between now and the visit of the self-styled chief executive.

The writer is a retired additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is currently director of the Institute for Topical Studies in Madras.

Internal security slips, but he red carpet is out
The treacherous road to peace
Supping with a rogue general
This is not Nirvana
Dancing with wolves: India and the rogue states

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