By Balbir Punj
01 February 2016
Unfortunately, India is yet to figure out how to empower the civilian leadership in Islamabad so that it can free Pakistan from the chokehold of the Generals and their Jihadis
On Republic Day, as India showcased the strength of its multi-party democracy as well as its military and civilian might, regrettable events occurred with regard to Pakistan, carved out of India more than 65 years ago to safeguard Muslim interests, which showed that the latter had further lost its core legitimacy. This is best brought out in US President Barack Obama’s praise for the Indian initiative to restart the peace dialogue with Pakistan while demanding that Islamabad “delegitimise, disrupt and dismantle” terrorist networks operating under its canopy.
The US Congress recently withheld funds to Pakistan on exactly the same issue, thereby sending the message that the US political establishment stands firmly with the President on the issue. Earlier, the futile exercise of the Pakistan Army chief knocking at every door in Washington, DC, underscored that the game is now over for all the three power centres in Pakistan the civilian Government, the Army and the terror organisations.
The US President also specified that “terrorists must be brought to justice”, something Pakistan has failed to accomplish not only with regard to the attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot but also over long years, despite periodic assurances that the perpetrators will be punished.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s had given assurance to this country that his Government will take action against the terrorists from Pakistan, days after the Pathankot attack. But we are yet to see any concrete or effective action. Is it that Mr Sharif is constrained in taking action? If so, what are his constraints and who are the real masters in his Government?
A brilliant analysis of the multiple forces working in and on the Pakistani Government has been done by well-known columnist and author Ayesha Siddiqa. Her book, Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, has laid bare the power strings that have made the Army in that country a dominant player in decision-making.
She admits that the raison d’être for the military is its opposition to India. Now, that is no new discovery. Her country has gone through what she says is a civilian peace response to Army intervention; to stop Army influence directly or through manipulated terror an outcome over the last 60 years that, she terms as the “tragic cyclic process in which hopeful overtures end with some act of terrorism, then tension and finally an effort to begin again.”
The outreach of India’s then Prime Minister AB Vajpayee to Mr Sharif, was followed by the Pakistan Army’s Kargil infiltration. Soon after, Mr Sharif was ousted from power and exiled to Saudi Arabia. Every time peace initiatives were made, the Pakistan Army or terror organisations or both intervened to thwart any progress. All this is the history of the “tragic cyclic process” over the last 60 years and more.
What is new in Ms Siddiqa’s January 25 article in an Indian daily is her contention that increasingly traders and politicians from all parties are convinced that there has to be a peace process and it must lead to peace. In fact, the columnist asserts that, “The two main parties realised that greater political empowerment and improvement of civil-military balance required improving relations with India.” Whether it was Benazir Bhutto or Mr Nawaz Sharif, who were in power throughout the 1990s, each of the Pakistani Prime Ministers came forward with warm responses to India’s overtures of peace.
Many analysts on this side of the border have also perceived India-Pakistan relations in the same view. They have argued that India must initiate the process rising above the stalemate and hostility so that civilian forces in Pakistan are strengthened in their power equation with the military. Some peaceniks here have also held candlelight vigils at the Attari border in support of peace.
The Pakistani analyst says that, as of now, “Peace remains elusive as all major political parties put together are unable to change the Army’s perspective”. She points out what India should also acknowledge the reality in her country: “The political parties may represent an alternative pole in the power politics of the state but they are still not in a position to challenge the military’s political prowess.” More important is what she underlines in this context: In one way or the other, all major political parties are a product of the Army General Headquarter. This is at the core of India’s problem with Pakistan.
The Indian Prime Minister can only discuss political matters with his counterpart in another country. Military commanders similarly can only talk with their military counterparts in a foreign country, whether it is friendly or otherwise. Conceding the truth in the Pakistani columnist’s contention that all political parties put together cannot challenge the military in her country, there is no way an Indian Prime Minister can open dialogue with the military leaders of another country.
The matter takes us to a political logjam. Ms Saddiqa’s column also reveals that the Pakistan Army has effective control of the media — the military is the largest business-owner in Pakistan, according to data mentioned in her book and a politician or party that goes beyond the Laxman rekha set by the military in political engagement with India, can be quickly silenced by a negative campaign in the mass media.
Not only are the military, for whom the Indian bogey is the means of expanding its power and retaining it, the extremist-terrorist groups also, priming the masses to be anti-India. Any settlement through the military, in the unlikely event of achieving it, will not survive so long as the extremist forces oppose it.
So the question boils down to: What can India do? The margin for the political establishment in Pakistan for dealing with India is too narrow and volatile. Perhaps, the military in Pakistan may respond to US demands for its own survival but then again, the mullahs will stir the masses against America.
So, again, the question is: How far will the Pakistan establishment go in suppressing, if not eradicating, the terror machine that it has hand-held for long as a secret weapon against India? This is a matter of speculation. Perhaps the political leaders there will have the statesmanship to unite and contain the military and wean the masses away from the Mullahs. “These are high hopes!” those in the know of things are bound to exclaim. Meanwhile, Pakistanis will continue to pay 10 times the price for their favourite Paan from India, which will be coming through Dubai, as cross-border trade is yet to be revived.