By M D NALAPAT
Voices are calling for India to join China and the United States in the legitimisation of the endemic usurpation of civilian authority by the Pakistan army.
The reflections of A.S. Dulat on what “could have been” in India-Pakistan relations reveal a faith in the “untapped” goodwill of the Pakistan military that is shared by several officials and scholars in the Lutyens Zone. He once claimed that the 2001 Agra summit between A.B. Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf would have been a success but for L.K. Advani. This assertion is as far from the truth. In a very readable book (Devil’s Advocate) that has more than a few revelatory paragraphs, television personality Karan Thapar detailed how L.K. Advani (while Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of India) and then Pakistan High Commissioner to India, A.J. Qazi met in secret on numerous occasions in a remarkably convivial manner in order to “improve India-Pakistan relations”, with the Deputy PM clearly searching for a “give and take” process he could help implement. Naturally, in a pattern set since 1947, India would do the giving and Pakistan the taking. Even in 2000, the Pakistan High Commissioner met Advani at his Pandara Park residence, late at night for over 90 minutes, with Karan Thapar acting as the taxi driver waiting patiently by the gate (for Qazi to return from his meeting with the “Iron Man” of the NDA). Advani showed his willingness in public towards dealing with Musharraf-ruled Pakistan the very day after the Pakistan army organised an attack on the Parliament of India on 13 December 2001. Advani went up to Qazi in the grounds of the Imperial Hotel (where a banquet that both were attending was being held). At the banquet, the High Commissioner of Pakistan and the Deputy Prime Minister of India held hands and gazed into each other’s faces with evident affection, as related by Thapar. To believe that an individual with such a publicly demonstrated commitment towards making peace with Musharraf’s Pakistan would “sabotage” the Agra summit is to indulge in a misreading of the truth. For the then Home Minister would never have opposed a Musharraf-Vajpayee summit, given his interaction with Qazi. Agra legitimised a military dictatorship set up through a coup, and marked the beginning of the rehabilitation of the “Kargil Jihad Commando” within the international community. Advani respects Vajpayee to the degree that he (though the obvious successor) led the clamour for Prime Minister Vajpayee to not follow through on the then PM’s 2003 offer to resign. By then, Vajpayee was in extremely poor health, and had Advani taken his place, the next year it would have been the BJP and not the Congress Party that got a higher number of seats in the Lok Sabha.
The chance to become Prime Minister usually comes only once in a lifetime, and while Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi seized theirs in 1996, 2004 and 2014 respectively, Advani let go his best chance to become PM in 2003. The easiest opportunity for Rahul Gandhi to have become PM was in 2012, by which time Manmohan Singh had lost practically all the good name he had earned during his 2004-2009 stint in the job and it made political sense for the Congress Party to replace him. Rahul Gandhi was electorally more viable than the other two names doing the rounds at that time, that of Palaniappan Chidambaram (a byword in North Block for his mastery over the intricacies of the handling of moneys flowing through banks and stock exchanges) and Pranab Mukherjee, the Finance Minister who imposed a 97% income tax rate and subsequently opposed the introduction of colour television when Indira Gandhi got re-elected in 1980. In a country hungry for change, had Rahul taken charge by 2012, and put in place a new and efficient Council of Ministers, the Congress Party may have reached three figures in the Lok Sabha in 2014, while the BJP may not, as a consequence, have secured a majority on its own. These days, although every day some Congress functionary or the other talks of Rahul Gandhi as the “next PM”, the reality is that for the coming Lok Sabha polls at least, votes for his party would actually get boosted were Rahul to declare that he was not in the 2019 race for the job now held by the former Chief Minister of Gujarat. And any regional leader who publicly backs the Congress president for the PM’s post in the coming polls will lose votes for his or her party to the advantage of the BJP, which has been on overdrive to make the coming contest a choice between Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi for the Prime Ministership. This is the reason why the followers of Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee are projecting them as potential PMs, aware that such a perception would energise their voting base.
Those far away from the portals of power in Modi’s India are confused at what exactly is the Pakistan policy of the present government. Certainly there is more than a whiff of the Vajpayee era within the post-2014 government. Several of those who in 2001 were active in pushing for the unwise decision to hold the 2001 Agra summit are in high positions in the Modi sarkar. Voices within it are calling for the Government of India to join China and the United States in the legitimisation of the endemic usurpation of civilian authority by the Pakistan army. It would be a mistake were there to be negotiations between South Block and GHQ Rawalpindi precisely when the people of Pakistan are themselves shedding their fear of the army and its instruments of coercion and are protesting the subversion of the electoral system yet again by the men in khaki, this time to secure a sponsored success for Imran Khan, a “mukhota” of GHQ for two decades. Instead, the Modi government should stand by the people of Pakistan and those few political parties which have mustered the courage to take on the tyranny of the military. Giving the generals legitimacy through negotiations with them on the lines of the Musharraf-Vajpayee Agra summit would mean that India has joined the US and China in choosing a jihadi and rapacious military over the interests of the people in Pakistan, a country that can survive only should the army be made to relinquish control over the civilian apparatus of governance.