Pakistan: “Too Nuclear to Fail”
An impression is gaining ground that talks with Islamabad, at the official level as of now, may help take the sting out of Pakistan’s propaganda that India was being difficult but in reality these cannot achieve much. Just the fact of a transparent “contact” between the two countries is, for the time being, an end in itself because it will help avert possibly disastrous misunderstandings.
If the two Prime Ministers meet on the margins of SAARC summit in Bhutan at the end of April, the occasion will produce positive photo ops but nothing much of substance.
Call it realism or pessimism, but it is rooted in the reality that there really is no “durable” civilian authority in Pakistan with whom business can be done.
The scene for a near breakthrough in Indo-Pak relations was set when Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister. Since he had evolved from the Hindu nationalist RSS, he could, with a wave of the hand, ask the Hindutva brigade to pipe down. The allegation of a “sell-out” could never attach to him.
Prime Minister Manmohan carried forward this policy with sincerity I am all too personally familiar with.
It remains his dream to improve Indo-Pak relations, to visit Gah the village where he went to school. But he is handicapped by traumatic events like Mumbai terror attacks at a time when the BJP sits in the opposition minus Vajpayee who is ailing.
On the Pakistan side, there was Gen. Pervez Musharraf, author of Kargil (so no one could accuse him of a sell-out either), but mellowed with extended authority. He could match steps with both Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.
For President Bush, he was a “reliable ally”, so reliable in fact the US looked the other way even as Musharraf played both sides of the street in the war on terror. The Lal Masjid, after all, was an extremist facility under the noses of both Musharraf and the Americans.
With the 2008 elections approaching in the US, and the seven year old war in Afghanistan showing no results, pressure on Musharraf was stepped up.
When Taleban fleeing Afghanistan were checked at the AF-Pak border, Karzai and Musharraf harmonized with each. But remember there were spells when Karzai and Musharraf were not even on talking terms. Whatever the level of enthusiasm with which Musharraf was in the war, the blowback from the war was severe for him and the Army.
To protect Musharraf (“great ally”) from taking the flak singly, it was decided that the severity of the blowback would be distributed three ways – the Presidency, Army and the Prime Minister. Benazir Bhutto prevailed on Washington and London that she would not only fight the war to the finish but also handover A.Q. Khan to the Americans for interrogation.
Musharraf, feeling the heat from Washington, blundered into sacking the Chief Justice causing the lawyers agitation. He was shown the door and Benazir was assassinated soon upon arrival.
With the US Congress eager to deliver a democracy in Pakistan in the absence of a victory in Afghanistan, a half baked election brought Zardari to power, even though Nawaz Sharif emerged the more popular among the people largely because he did not carry the odium of being a US nominee.
Zardari, Mr. 10 percent, inept administratively, corrupt, is possibly the most unpopular leader Pakistan has had. Sooner or later, he is on his way out.
So, who does New Delhi talk to. If another election brings in Nawaz Sharif the Americans should be pleased to the extent that, not being a US nominee, Nawaz will be popular and by that token be able to check rampaging Anti Americanism.
But on India he will operate under the double constraints of competitive politics and the Red Line which the army will draw.
Sad, but the emerging conventional wisdom in New Delhi seems to be that the only coherent and durable institution in Pakistan is the Army. What then does New Delhi do? It cannot be seen to be undermining Pakistan’s democracy. And yet there is this creeping realization that in the ultimate analysis power rests with the Army which repeatedly declares itself as “India centered”. Where does one go from here?
Situation is even more complicated because the US does not seem to have a long term strategy for AF-Pak, only tactical moves.
“Reduction of Indian presence in Afghanistan” would relieve pressure on Pakistan and they would therefore be more focused on the war on terror; give them $8 billion every year; they need laser guided bombs; soften up their eastern front……. and so on. The bottomline is that “Pakistan is too nuclear” to fail!
All of this has caused the skeptics in the New Delhi establishment to wonder if placing all the eggs in one basket was such a good thing. The torrid love affair during those years of nuclear debate is turning cold. Some of the eggs are now being distributed to other baskets as well.
Americans must know, of course, that the Indo-US strategic partnership does not hinge merely on inconveniences on AF-Pak. The two are comprehensively enmeshed on several vital issues – nuclear, military, space technology, intelligence; business and so on. Not to forget the sons and daughters of a vast section of the Indian establishment parked in US campuses, with many of them looking for permanent residence and Green cards, recession or no recession.
This confidence in Washington that a testy statement here and there by Holbrook or Gen. McChrystal, the centrality of Pakistan to the US, none of these can derail the “comprehensive Indo-US” relations, must, occasionally, leave Indian policy makers feeling somewhat stranded.
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