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Present imperfect, future tense for India

Indian officials worry that any new power-sharing structure in Pakistan will be a weak one, report Amit Baruah & Yashwant Raj.

delhi Updated: Sep 12, 2007 03:40 IST

Like everyone else, India’s foreign policy establishment was glued to television sets most of Monday, starting with Nawaz Sharif's televised departure from London, to his arrival in Islamabad and then forced departure for Jeddah.



Barring the one statement emanating from External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee that the Sharif-related incident was an “internal matter” for Pakistan, official India is not about to say anything more on the issue.



Of course, it’s an internal matter for Pakistan if President Pervez Musharraf throws out Nawaz Sharif and rolls out the red carpet for Benazir Bhutto or turfs her out too. But India is all eyes and ears for the moment.



In the short-term, Indian officials believe, not much is going to change in the dynamic with Pakistan despite the internal crisis. The composite dialogue process will continue and the two sides would continue to take small steps forward like the decision to allow trucks to cross the Attari-Wagah border.



For a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan, India needs to know who it is talking with there: can the person across the table deliver? Is he/she going to last long enough to take the talks/negotiations to a logical conclusion?



According to the officials, “delivery” would depend on the nature of, say, an agreement on Kashmir, which, it must be said, looks very doubtful at the moment. In case General Musharraf has to make a striking departure from his current positions on Kashmir, then delivery could become a huge issue.



Former high commissioner to Pakistan Satish Chandra believes Musharraf has bitten off more than he can chew in his handling of the Sharif affair. “The government will be in contempt of the Court — another big blow for Musharraf is coming.”



This fits in with his larger thesis that Pakistan is hurtling towards “the end of Musharraf's regime and the beginning of democracy, which is in our interest”. As that may lead to lasting peace. He doesn’t believe there is a chance of a genuine normalisation of relations between the two neighbours if India is dealing with the military dictatorship. But is India really better off dealing with democratically elected leaders?



Indo-Pak watchers say, “Look where Nawaz Sharif took us within weeks of the celebrated bus ride with Atal Bihari Vajpayee.” Sharif has claimed he was just as surprised by Kargil incursions as his Indian counterpart.



The former Prime Minister has reiterated time and again that his then Army chief, Musharraf, did not tell him about the plan. The latter, of course, disputes it, arguing that the Prime Minister knew what exactly was happening in Kargil.



It goes without saying that any Prime Minister worth his salt should have known what his army chief was doing. Especially Sharif, who had sent Musharraf's predecessor, Jehangir Karamat, packing in 1998.



Benazir Bhutto, who is still hopeful of striking a political deal with Gen. Musharraf, might find that she won't have much power in her hands even if the Constitution is amended to allow her to become Prime Minister for a third time.



Given that crucial decisions and elections are expected in the next few months, India might find itself dealing with some new permutations and combinations in Pakistan.



Officials point out there has been a continuous crisis for the past nine months. One that has led not only to the erosion of


Gen Musharraf's authority, but also that of the Army itself. "Let's see how the Supreme Court is going to react to this defiance (by the government of the court's order allowing the Sharif brothers to return,” said Chandra, adding, “even more interesting will be the army's response.”



The countdown has begun for Musharraf-in-uniform. PR Chari, research professor at the Institute of Pace and Conflict Studies, said, "India should remain engaged with Pakistan but should make no commitments."



Indian officials, however, are worried about the long-term trajectory of Pakistan: where the country is headed. They point out that any new power-sharing structure in Pakistan will be a weak one.



And that’s not good news for New Delhi, which wants Pakistan to take strong action against the jehadis operating against India.