India is no longer the ogre in Pakistan. That baton has been passed to the US, the country most Pakistanis love to hate. In fact, at the moment, there is a relatively relaxed approach towards India in Pakistan. Post-9/11, the American image has plummeted dangerously and Washington, even if it does something right in Pakistan, is seen to be fighting its ‘own war’ in the Land of the Pure. At the murderous level are the jehadis — the al-Qaeda and Taliban — who continue to rain suicide bombers on ordinary and important Pakistanis; declaring time and again that they remain engaged in a jehad against the Americans. And, it’s not only the jehadis and their right-wing supporters. Ordinary Pakistanis, who have long experience of dealing with the US, are harsh critics of Washington and its foreign policy approach.
The Pakistani army, widely seen as the American tool in the ‘war against terror’, has suffered at least a thousand casualties as it fought the jehadis in the badlands bordering Afghanistan. In fact, the new army strategy seems to be one of disengagement with the jehadis, one of buying peace with Baitullah Mahsud — the public face of the jehad in Pakistan. With some troops being pulled back from south Waziristan, it appears that Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani is looking for breathing space to re-assess his strategy in the tribal areas.
As far as India is concerned, the Pakistani establishment has toned down its hysteric media focus on Kashmir; a debate which has turned into a reasoned one on the myriad private television channels in the country. Given that President Pervez Musharraf, as the then Army Chief led the disastrous mini-invasion of Kargil in 1999, it’s fascinating to see that in his post-9/11 tenure, he has brought expectations on Kashmir crashing down. As a Lahore-based analyst put it, “Musharraf has defused the Kashmir issue.”
In the last seven years, the Pakistani establishment has distanced itself from the ‘forward’ policy on Kashmir and engaged India in a serious dialogue on the issue, which was once considered the ‘jugular vein’ of Pakistan. That is one of Musharraf’s singular achievements. The President was bold enough to put forward a four-point formula on Kashmir, one of which acknowledges that India is not prepared to cede any territory to resolve the dispute.
Though a civilian government will necessarily speak a language different from that of a military man, the fact remains that the Pakistan People’s Party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and the army appear committed to pursuing a policy of dialogue and engagement with India. In fact, barring the right-wing faction, there is no one in Pakistan that does not want rapprochement with India. Such a situation has, perhaps, never existed in India-Pakistan relations. Many Pakistanis I spoke to felt that the civilian government wanted to do more than Musharraf in improving bilateral relations. Political instability in Pakistan, revolving around the person of Musharraf, looks set to continue for some time. That should not deter Manmohan Singh from visiting Pakistan and signing a deal on settling the Sir Creek issue, if not Siachen. Given that this is Pakistan’s first experience of working a coalition at the Centre, and comes after nearly nine years of military rule, such issues cannot be wished away. With time and sagacity, these issues can be resolved by Pakistan’s political leadership. In a few days, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi will be in India. These frequent India-Pakistan contacts (Pranab Mukherjee was in Islamabad last month) can only help push the dialogue process.
The real threat to the peace process comes from the jehadis and the reaction it generates in India. Equally, the jehadis constitute a clear and present danger to the Pakistani State as well. Clearly, the anti-terror mechanism between India and Pakistan has not worked. India needs to keep the past role of Pakistani agencies in mind, but nevertheless try to work with Islamabad on this one.