Neither candid, nor guarded: Kasuri’s memoir doesn’t reveal much

  • Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Oct 17, 2015 13:26 IST
Sudheendra Kulkarni and Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri at the latter’s book launch in Mumbai after Shiv Sena activists unsuccessfully attempted to disrupt it. (Bhushan Koyande / HT PHOTO)

When General Clausewitz famously declared that war was continuation of politics by other means, he may not have had India and Pakistan in mind, but 19th century Europe. But one got to witness a completely different version of it in Mumbai last week, when thuggish right wing elements sought to most unceremoniously disrupt the launch of former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book, Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove .

Shiv Sena activists poured black soot on former BJP leader Sudheendra Kulkarni because he was going to attend the book’s launch. They, of course, could not black out Kulkarni, who boldly went ahead.

Read: Shiv Sena likens Kulkarni to Kasab, justifies stand

The Mumbai incident is emblematic of a sobering foreign-policy lesson Kasuri alludes to, for good measure, in his book: public mood and opposition parties, to a large extent, wield influence over the foreign policies of India and Pakistan. This is sometimes the more difficult hurdle to cross.

Unlike his predecessor Abdul Sattar’s 2007 book, Pakistan’s Foreign Policy 1947-2005, which is a concise history, Kasuri’s book is a memoir. A politician’s memoir becomes a good read when it reveals startling facts to the reader. Or when complicated backroom events are brought to light to give readers a fuller understanding of how history was made or squandered. Sadly, Kasuri doesn’t seem to stick his neck out enough.

This isn’t a tell-all book. For instance, Kasuri doesn’t throw new light on what might have gone wrong during the Agra Summit of July 2001. Although he took charge only in 2002, it is inconceivable that he did not have his version of the truth.

Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove: An insider’s account of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy by Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri; Penguin Viking (Rs 999; PP 851).

Yet, the Kasuri book must be judged against what it claims to be: “…the ultimate insider’s account of Pakistan’s foreign policy…” At over 800 pages, the book is a tome. Given its size, this reviewer has cut back on topics such as Pak-US relations and focussed instead on what’s foundational, like the chapters on Kashmir and the Pakistani army, an institution which has a veto power on that country’s foreign policy.

Kasuri attempts to pivot his narrative around what he believes were the most fruitful years of India-Pakistan engagement ever - roughly the period between 2003-2007 - with General Musharraf and himself at the helm.

This was when the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar bus service commenced; a ‘backchannel’ was put in place and Musharraf visited Delhi despite the Agra talks fiasco. This was also when an unprecedented joint statement was made to the effect that the peace process was “irrevocable”, no matter what. One gets the impression that Musharraf, in his heart, was convinced that if ever India and Pakistan were to resolve their disputes, there could be no better starting point than the “four-point formula” he had devised for the Agra talks. Kasuri too states that this must be a reference point for all future negotiations.

The lesson that Kasuri drew from this success is that India and Pakistan cannot progress if they care too much about domestic reactions. When Musharraf said he was willing to set aside, for a moment, the UN resolution on Kashmir even to talk about Kashmir, Kasuri knew “all hell would break loose” and hardliners in Pakistan would cry hoarse. But the general had the clout. Likewise, Kasuri writes the late Brajesh Mishra, India’s national security adviser in the Vajpayee government, asked Kasuri to go slow on the peace process after the BJP lost power to the Congress. This was in contrast to his zeal when in office.

Read: Kasuri’s memorable anecdotes

Kasuri habitually kept in touch with India’s opposition leaders so they were aware of events. That’s what made him a consummate diplomat: one who understood the real hurdles. “Unfortunately, excessive partisanship of political parties in both Pakistan and India on Indo-Pak relations prevents the two states from settling their outstanding disputes.” This is a word of advice the Modi and Nawaz Sharif governments may ignore at their own peril.

At this point, I quote some compelling normative arguments in the book.

One: “The purpose of foreign policy is not to provide an outlet for sentiments of hope or indignation but to shape real events in a real world.”

Two: “Moreover, the strength or weakness of foreign policy of any country is directly related to its domestic political and economic situation.”

And three: “In a democracy, no foreign policy can succeed unless it enjoys popular support”. (Indeed, Nixon wouldn’t have been able to warm relations with China had he fallen into the domestic trap.)

Next, Kasuri tries to read the mind of the Pakistani military and its views on Kashmir for us. Pakistan’s military is widely considered to be the Achilles’ heel of the peace process. Kasuri states that he is not a scholar on the Pakistani army. But based on his dealings with the army for five years, he concludes that “it is not averse to peace with India, provided it is just peace...”

Kasuri doesn’t quite define the contours of this ‘just peace’. If it means redefining geography, rather than history, then India and Pakistan are destined to achieve little. One of the book’s revelations is that the army’s attitude towards Kashmir tends to be shaped by the kind of officers who get promoted. A hawkish army chief tends to promote hawkish deputies and, generally, most generals “turn peacemakers, if not peaceniks” only after retirement.

Not much is said about the current army chief General Raheel Sharif’s views on India, except that he has declared an unequivocal war on terror. His predecessor General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani - “a good listener who enjoyed smoking” - Kasuri writes, “must be credited for his positive contribution” on arriving at the Kashmir framework. He backed Kasuri’s contention that Musharraf needed to trade his uniform for civilian attire. Surprisingly, then Indian foreign secretary JN Dixit told Kasuri that the general would have done better to keep his uniform on as that had helped the peace process.

Kasuri disappoints by not peeling the layered affairs inside General Headquarters Rawalpindi. “I don’t have two horns and a tail. I’m not a devil. We want peace,” an Inter-Services Intelligence general once told this reviewer on record, as a grilled bhetki from the Sutlej arrived on our table at an Islamabad restaurant during a 2011 trip. For Kasuri to repeat a similar stock line and nothing more is intellectual cowardice.

Yet, Neither a Hawk… scores in its appraisal of an era in which India and Pakistan crossed insurmountable hurdles. There are lessons in it for us all.

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