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For India, signs not encouraging

It is still early to gauge the impact of Pakistan’s post-Musharraf political ferment on its relations with India, notably on the composite dialogue initiated in 2004. Vinod Sharma reports.

india Updated: Aug 26, 2008 23:54 IST
Vinod Sharma

It is still early to gauge the impact of Pakistan’s post-Musharraf political ferment on its relations with India, notably on the composite dialogue initiated in 2004. But the portents aren’t encouraging. Not in the short-term.

Experts here do not foresee a “creative” movement forward until late 2009, when equations will be clearer in Islamabad and a new government in place in Delhi.

The imponderables for India: Will the consensus to mend ties with India sustain after Nawaz Sharif’s exit and the resurgent separatism in Kashmir? Can Asif Zardari’s presidency offer the single-window clearance Musharraf did?

Musharraf's peace initiatives had the army’s backing, claimed a former Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan. He said back channels are active and the situation hasn’t radically altered, except, of course, the renewed upsurge in Kashmir.

The assertions aren’t entirely borne out by what Indian officials call on-ground regression: ceasefire violations, bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul and sharp exchanges on Kashmir.

There is support for cross-LoC CBMs for trade and travel. Musharraf’s thinking isn’t out of fashion yet. But it doesn’t find forceful expression in public discourse where sporadic right-wing voices accuse the PPP-led regime of a U-turn on Kashmir, citing Zardari’s since retracted comments that J&K be set aside for future generations with a sharper focus on trade and economic ties.

“Sharif is genuinely for peace with India,” insisted Senator S.M. Zafar, agreeing nevertheless that in politics one cannot always be sure. In a kaleidoscope of contractions that’s Pakistan today, much of what lies in store would depend on Zardari’s equations with the Army, notably Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani.

Observers believe the PPP leader has already managed to ingratiate a bit with the Americans, the fauj and existing superior judiciary by forestalling Musharraf’s prosecution and en bloc restoration of the dismissed judges.

If Zardari wins the presidential election and keeps the Army and Americans on his side, he’d have a much wider ‘single widow” than a politically isolated Musharraf could offer India post-2006. But a leading human rights activist said, “Zardari has an image problem even with his party cadres. The taint will only increase if he retains as President the powers Musharraf used to stifle opposition.”