Saturday 11 May 2013

Pakistan elections and India (PO)

M D Nalapat

Friday, May 10, 2013 - During the 1980s,official and “semi-official” ( ie NGOs,commentators and academics close to those in government) unhesitatingly backed Benazir Bhutto,the articulate and attractive daughter of the founder of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (or “Zulfie” to his many friends in India). When Benazir became the first lady to hold the post of Head of Government in any modern Muslim-majority country,there was celebration in Delhi.The expectation was that she would sharply tone down the rhetoric against India,and would work towards the normalisation of ties that was envisaged by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at Shimla in 1972.

At that conference,where unbiased obsevers believe Z A Bhutto got the better of the Indian PM, more than 93,000 PoWs held after the 1972 war were sent home to Pakistan,without any binding commitment from Rawalpindi about accepting the ceasefire line in Kashmir as the international boundary between India and Pakistan. Bhutto played skilfully on the distaste of policymakers in India towards the Pakistan military,telling his interlocuters that only by strengthening his position by - in effect - unconditionally releasing the PoWs could it be assured that there would never again be military rule in Pakistan. About Kashmir,if those participating in talks on the Indian side are to be believed, Bhutto claimed that “over time”,he would ensure that the 1948 ceasefire line got accepted as the boundary. However,once he got the PoWs back as well as other steps which reversed the military gains for india of the 1971 war,Prime Minister Bhutto took no steps whatsover to convert the Line of Control into the international boundary.To this day,the LoC remains exactly that.the LoC.

And when daughter Benazir took power in the elections which followed the death of General Zia,after a brief period of bonhomie when Rajiv Gandhi was still Prime Minister,she reverted to the hawkish line of the Pakistan military,allowing the floodgates of assistance to those eager to replicate the Afghan jihad in Kashmir.Indeed,some of her speeches were extreme by any standard,such as her public characterization of then Kashmir Governor Jagmohan, who she said would be subjected to the “jag jag mo mo han han” treatment.Such language dismayed her many admirers in India,as did the fact that she participated fully in the recruiting,training and arming pf youth fro Kashmir eager to win freedom from India.

Despite her moderate views and Sufi outlook in her personal life,Benazir acted as a willing booster for Bill Clinton when the US President devoted resources to building up the militia that by 1994 became known as the Taliban, so much so that in the US and the EU,the role played by Washington in setting up the militua has been forgotten,and instead of the true “Fairy Godmother” of the Taliban, then US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Robin Raphel,it is Benazir who is being accused in the strategic literature there of having midwifed the Taliban together with her friend and supporter Naseerullah Babbar. Analysts in the key member-states of NATO have an infinite capacity to airbrush away any mistake that they have made,pinning these instead on the dupes who carried out the policies originated within the NATO bloc,and so it is with the Taliban.

Apart from those who had been personal friends of Benazir Bhutto,and who were entranced by her poise and charm,policymakers in India saw the inheritor of Z A Bhutto as a hard-headed realist who would do whatever was needed to ensure that her influence remained intact. Indeed,more than Benazir,it was husband Asif Ali Zardari who was more willing to take on the religious radicals and the military,and would have done so four years ago,if he were not weakened by the fact that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed the Pakistan army against the civilian government,and specifically supported General Kayani over President Zardari. This was despite the fact that Zardari is - the way the Bhutto family overwhelmingly remains - Sufi. He has not a trace of the conservative religious upbringing of his chief political rival Nawaz Sharif,whose family was the beneficiary of the goodwill of General Zia,who sought to ensure as close a fit as possible between the societies of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

What about Nawaz Sharif? The Sharif family’s close ties to the Pakistan Jamaat-i-Islami — which, unlike the Indian branch,is extremely conservative - may give some pause, but overall the perception of the PML(N) leader is that he is a man with whom business can be done. The Kargil conflict has not been laid at his door,although it is impossible that at least a single officer did not tell the then PM what his (hand-picked) Chief of Army Staff was planning. An ideal scenario would be for both Zardari and Sharif to work together to restore Civilian Prerogative over the military in Pakistan, but this is seen as unrealistic. However,the expectation is that Sharif would not plunge Pakistan into the full-throated backing for armed groups fighting the Indian state the way Benazir Bhutto did in her first stint in power. War between India and Pakistan is bad for business,and the Sharif family is seen as first and foremost a business family, with politics being only the means to ensure business success.

However,the real favourite so far as Delhi is concerned is Imran Khan. The former cricket captain captured not only several wickets but also many hearts in India,especially in the homes of the rich and well-connected. The elite of India have many friends within the elite of the UK,and in country homes across England, there are several welcome mats for the handsome Pathan batsman. Of course,should he come to power,Imran is likely to go the way of Benazir Bhutto,talking moderation but practicing a hawkish policy. The reality is that India does not have any champion within Pakistan,except the commonsense and peaceful instincts of the Pakistani people.

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