Saturday 30 July 2011

Hina charms India (PO)

By M D Nalapat
Why would an attractive 34-year old ever be made a Cabinet minister, that too in the crucial Foreign Affairs portfolio? Conventional wisdom opines that Hina Rabbani Khar has been appointed Foreign Minister of Pakistan merely because the generals in Islamabad and their civilian advisors saw the need for a fresh, moderate and attractive face to represent Pakistan to the world. As a consequence, there were low expectations of the minister, who was seen as a foreign policy neophyte closely guided by the military establishment. After two days, this view has been replaced with genuine respect for a tough negotiator who sticks to her stand, albeit in a civilised manner, rather than in the table-thumping tradition of Nikita Khruschev. Hina Rabbani Khar has been dominating television space in India, giving interview after interview to various channels, in each of which her sincerity in seeking a durable peace between India and Pakistan has been conveyed.

Within Pakistan, there exists a significant constituency that seeks to return the country to the period under Ayub Khan, when it grew at twice the rate of India. The next shot at normalcy came during the era of Pervez Musharraf. Although he was as aware as the present Foreign Minister of Pakistan about the fact that normal relations with India are essential for speedy economic development in the country, Musharraf’s desire to play to several contradictory galleries at the same time robbed his policies of the consistency needed for a satisfactory outcome. While there were brief windows of opportunity for peace, none of these were realised, mainly because the establishment in Pakistan has thus far seemed unaware of the fact that the India of today is very different from the country ruled by Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi for the first two years (1984-86) of his rule. The three were powerful enough to impose their will over the rest of the country, unlike their successors, who are too weak to ensure a similar obedience to their wishes. Jawaharlal Nehru was able to brush aside the opposition of Deputy Prime Minister Vallabbhai Patel in ordering the Indian army to cease fire when it was moving towards the taking over of the entire territory of Kashmir. Nehru preferred to go by the views of independent India’s first Governor-General, Louis Mountabatten, and the British officers of the Indian military rather than go by the demand of General K M Cariappa that the army ought to be given a further six months to clear Kashmir of the invaders. Interestingly, around this time, Mahatma Gandhi went on a fast in order to force the government to hand over a large sum of money to Pakistan. Prime Minister Nehru secretly favoured this course, but was opposed by Patel, who pointed out that to give money to Pakistan was to assist Rawalpindi in waging its war against India. However, once the Mahatma intervened, Patel had no option but to fall in line, to the delight of Nehru. Ever since the Kashmir ceasefire and Nehru’s decision to refer the issue to the UN, Nehru functioned as the all-in-all of the Congress Party and the government, implementing his personal views as policy.

Indira Gandhi took a decision at Simla four decades ago to surrender all the gains of the 1971 war with Pakistan, in the hope that the gesture would ensure that the “peace constituency” in the neighbouring country could then be made strong enough to challenge the “conflict constituency”. This was the argument used by her closest advisor ( a Kashmiri Pandit like herself), P N Haksar. The left-leaning, brilliant Haksar was entranced by the vision of peace and cooperation between India and Pakistan, and he forgot the hurt done to the psyche of Rawalpindi by the detaching of Bangladesh. With nothing other than an oral assurance by Prime Minister Z A Bhutto that the Line of Control in Kashmir would get converted into the international boundary, Indira Gandhi forced the Indian military to relinquish the territorial and other gains of the campaign. This was possible only because of the awesome power that she had over the Congress Party and the government. 

Manmohan Singh seeks peace with Pakistan with an intensity equal to that of P N Haksar. Those close to the PM say that left to himself, he would withdraw military forces from Siachen, open up the Line of Control ,and give autonomy to the Kashmir Valley on a scale that would be unprecedented in India. Sonia Gandhi would most likely support him, as she numbers several Pakistanis among her friends, and is a dedicated peacenik. Had both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi the influence of Jawaharlal, Indira or Rajiv, this is probably what would have happened, to the delight of Islamabad, Brussels, Beijing and Washington. However, the fact is that their grip on power is tenous, and they lack the strength to force through the sort of compromises that were carried out in the past by their Nehru family predecessors. Those within the Pakistan establishment - and their friends in other countries - who hope for an outcome similar to those which took place during 1947-86 are ignoring the reality that the policy dynamic in India has become much more complex. Unless at least 85% of the political spectrum agree to a compromise, it would be political suicide to attempt to carry it out. This is the reason why there are still Indian troops at Siachen.

Given the change in the polity of India, the only realistic outcome in the India-Pakistan-China matrix is to accept the status quo as the international frontier. In the case of Kashmir, special arrangements could be made to ensure that the desire of the Valley Sunnis to live in a sharia-compliant territory get fulfilled, without any change in the legal position of the state. However, it is only by slow degrees that policymakers elsewhere will begin to comprehend ground realities in India, and take decisions based on them,rather than on an India that has long since become history. The significance of Foreign Minister

Khar’s visit is that it was the first time that the actual meetings took place without the posturing and histrionics that usually accompanies India-Pakistan meetings. Her businesslike and result-oriented style has given the lie to those who accuse Foreign Minister Khar of inexperience and lack of knowledge. In fact, she put forward the Pakistan point of view with aplomb, especially her aside that the 26/11 case in Pakistan was proceeding much faster than the Samjhauta Express blast case was in India. Although she annoyed her hosts considerably, Hina Rabbani Khar made sure that the first Indian citizens that she interacted with were those who have long been firm that they wish that they themselves, and their home state of Kashmir, be part of Pakistan.

The Khar visit has shown that differences of opinion need not stand in the way of civilised conduct of business between India and Pakistan. Indeed, there is much in Pakistan that is attractive to India, including aspects of Sindhi, Baluchi and Punjabi culture. For core differences to be satisfactorily tackled, the “non-core” issues have first to get settled. The visit of the Pakistan delegation, headed by the youthful but formidable Foreign Minister, was an indication that in the country, a new generation has emerged that seeks to get liberated from the shackles of the past, and which seeks a modus vivendi with a country that can be a natural partner. In Hina Rabbani Khar, the people of India saw a new Pakistan, one very different from the country portrayed in the international media. The question is: will the Dead Hand of the Past choke off these bamboo shoots of rapprochement, or will this finally give way to the needs of the new generation in both countries, which is peace?

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