Benazir and India: Lessons for the future in the past | india | Hindustan Times
Today in New Delhi, India
Dec 05, 2016-Monday
-°C
New Delhi
  • Humidity
    -
  • Wind
    -

Benazir and India: Lessons for the future in the past

india Updated: Jan 02, 2008 03:14 IST
Amit Baruah
Amit Baruah
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Civilian governments in Pakistan have been the veneer under which the army has pursued its own foreign policy, especially towards India. The two terms Benazir Bhutto served as Prime Minister of Pakistan (1988-90) and (1993-96) only confirm this fundamental fact.

In the next few weeks, Pakistan will have a civilian prime minister, one who hasn't been selected like Shaukat Aziz or Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali by President Pervez Musharraf. In that sense, a new prime minister will be more like Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif in his two terms in office.

As Pakistan is beset by internal crises, the India-Pakistan front is calm and stable. While keeping one's fingers crossed, it can safely be asserted that bilateral relations between India and Pakistan have never been better in the past 60 years of conflict and tension.

There will, of course, be some changes when a civilian prime minister takes office. India will have to ascertain the commitment of the new government towards the spadework that has been done in the back-channel of communication between the two sides.

It's entirely possible that India will have to simultaneously engage President Musharraf, new army chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani as well as the new prime minister who emerges from the soon-to-be officially postponed elections.

Benazir was a young woman of 35 when she became prime minister. Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was 44 when he visited Islamabad. Their relative youth inspired hopes that India and Pakistan

Speaking in New Delhi on December 31, 1988, on his return from Pakistan, Rajiv Gandhi said, "I felt that there is definitely a mood on both sides to try and get things back on the track to normalize the situation between our two countries.

"I can also say with confidence that we believe that the (Pakistan) People's Party's policies will be much better than the earlier policies, essentially on the more difficult areas," the young prime minister said.

A critical agreement on prohibition of attack against Indian and Pakistani nuclear installations was signed during Rajiv's visit during which the two prime minister are believed to have met three times.

At that time, Kashmir was not a "core issue". In her first term, Benazir as prime minister also helped India with information that led to the arrest / liquidation of leading terrorists in Punjab. Soon, she was being taken to task for being "pro-Indian".

But she was not a "free agent" when it came to Kashmir. After the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan in February 1989, the Pakistani establishment went whole hog in stoking militancy in Kashmir.

"A Kashmir cell within the ISI was assigned the tasks of recruiting, training and arming the Kashmiri militants. Pakistani support tilted away from the JKLF (Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front) and toward Jamaat-e-Islami and its militant organization, Hizbul Mujahideen," Hussain Haqqani, once a close aide to Benazir and Nawaz Sharif, writes in his Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military.

The point here is that Benazir Bhutto as an individual, even if she had wanted to rein in the ISI on Kashmir, did not have the power to do so. This power vested with the army and its chief. Not with a civilian prime minister.

The story was a bit different in 1993 when Benazir took power for a second term. She basically played along with Pakistan's permanent military-intelligence establishment in this period, which saw the formation of the Taliban, which was apparently the work of her Interior Minister General Naseerullah Babar (retd).

She was also hawkish on India and Kashmir, giving New Delhi sleepless nights by raising the human rights issue in Geneva. Neither did she or then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao develop any kind of equation. It was a period of virtual non-contact between India and Pakistan.

Haqqani notes that during Benazir's second term, Pakistan's "official position on Kashmir hardened as the ISI insisted that the government stop apologising for the freedom struggle in Kashmir. Pakistani Islamist groups organized openly for jihad in Kashmir and raised funds from the public."

Today, Pakistani establishment support for insurgency and terror in Kashmir has diminished even though it exists. That's a major change as a civilian prime minister is expected to take office in Islamabad, possibly from the PPP.

But the fundamental won't change: the army, in all likelihood, will want to retain control of India policy. Hopefully, given the positive change towards India in recent years, the army and the prime minister will be of one mind.