Originally Published 2003-12-30 06:41:13 Published on Dec 30, 2003
The closing months of the year 2003 saw a change in the language of the discourse emanating from the Pakistani establishment in general and its military dictator Gen.Pervez Musharraf in particular
A Mirage or a  Reality ?
The closing months of the year 2003 saw a change in the language of the discourse emanating from the Pakistani establishment in general and its military dictator Gen.Pervez  Musharraf in particular

Less rhetoric and greater seeming civility. Less rigidity in adhering to stated positions and greater seeming flexibility. Those are the characteristic features of the new discourse.

A careful reading of the Pakistani media and the well-orchestrated warmth oozing out of diiferent political leaders of Pakistan, who only some months ago were breathing  nuclear  fire and brimstone, would give the  impression of a  hostility fatigue in  growing sections of the  Pakistani civil society and even establishment.

One could detect signs of a realisation in sections of the civil society that the policy of feeding and fattening the jihadi terrorist elements in order to use them to achieve Pakistan's twin strategic objectives of a predominant influence in Afghanistan  and forcing a change in the status quo in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) favourable to Pakistan has proved counter-productive. The jihadi demon is threatening to devour its own creator and almost succeeded in doing so in the recent attempts to kill Musharraf.

Moreover, one has to say it to the credit of President Bush and his neo-conservative advisers that by the way they brought Saddam Hussein down and let the world see on the TV a bedraggled ex-dictator obeying meekly the commands of his captors, they have sent a shiver down the spine of many authoritarian rulers of the Islamic world, driving some sense into their head.

Look at the way the Iranian regime has accepted all  the US-dictated demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Col. Ghadaffi and his advisers have hastened to make peace with the US and the UK and have been singing, much to the discomfiture of Musharraf.

The Saddam lesson has not been lost on the Pakistani dictator either. In public, the US may be giving him one certificate of good conduct after another and showering on him one lollipop after another. In private, they are wary of him and his military-intelligence and nuclear establishment.

Remember how the US similarly coddled Saddam in the 1980s? Look at the way it went after him with frightening vengeance when it felt that he had become more a liability than an asset! Remember how the US sang praise of Islamic jihad  and the jihadis in the 1980s? Look at the way it is going after them with equal vengeance after 9/11!

US policy has no place for permanent assets, but  has  only for  assets of opportunity. Saddam and the Afghan and Pakistani jihadis were its assets of opportunity in the 1980s. Subsequently, they lost their utility for it and it had no qualms about turning against them. The US is a super power not only because of its powerful military and technological might  and the billions of dollars in its coffers. It is also because of the cold  calculation which goes into its policy-making to enforce its national interests with unwavering determination.

Musharraf knows that it won't pay to be on the wrong side of the US at the present juncture. That was why he had no qualms about a volte face in Afghanistan and dumping the Taliban and Al Qaeda, both the creations of his Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

Even while helping the US against Al Qaeda where he had to, he tried to keep his options open. He temporarily gave up Pakistani influence in Afghanistan while safeguarding the instrument (the Taliban) with which that influence was won so that he could use it again  later if and when the circumstances changed. He enacted and continues to enact periodically a charade of speaking and acting with equal determination against other jihadi terrorist groups without actually doing so.

After the easy occupation of Baghdad by the US-led coalition forces, Musharraf has been projecting a new image of himself---not combative, but co-operative, not a confrontationist, but a compromise-seeker, not a jihadi rabble-rouser, but an enlightened modernist, not rigid, but flexible, not India-hostile, but India-friendly-- to lull growing  suspicions in the international community about the sincerity of his role as a frontline ally in the so-called war against terrorism.

Are these visages for real? Do acts such as agreeing to Indian over-flights which, anyhow,he had to under international law, to restore the bus and train services, to talk on greater people-to-people contacts etc presage a modification in Pakistan's strategic objective of forcing a change in the status quo in J&K? Do they indicate a genuine realisation that jihadi terrorism does not pay and will not against India?

There is no reason to believe so. The language of discourse which is important is not that of the Pakistani  media and sections of the urban elite. It is that emanating from the military messes and barracks, the mosques and the madrasas, the files and in-house strategy discussions in the establishment. Do they indicate a change in the mind-set, the psyche, the hostility? Not the least.

The Pakistani military-intelligence establishment has realised that its use of the jihadi terrorists has not succeeded so far in forcing a change in the status quo in J&K and international opinion is becoming less and less tolerant of its hobnobbing with the jihadi terrorists. It has momentarily  altered its tactics and is seeking to achieve a change in the status quo through a charm offensive directed at India in general and our Prime Minister in particular.

In its calculation, even a wee-bit of a change such as making India agree to cede administrative control over the Muslims of the Kashmir valley would serve its ultimate objective of seizing control of  J&K as a whole through jihadi stealth and subversion.

During our Prime Minister's forthcoming visit to Pakistan to attend the SAARC summit, the Indian delegation  should keep recalling in their mind the similar charm offensive from the late Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto and his advisers before the Shimla accord. Once they achieved their immediate objective of getting their 72,000 prisoners of war released and the Indian Army vacate conquered pockets of territory on the western front, they discarded their mask.

They should recall the similar charm offensive of Benazir Bhutto when the late Rajiv Gandhi went to Islamabad for the SAARC summit in 1989. Even while she was wining and dining him and his entourage, she was secretly giving clarance to the ISI to launch its proxy war in J&K as she herself recently admitted.

And the similar charm offensive of Nawaz Sharif at Lahore in February,1999, the painful and embarrassing sequel to which is still fresh in our memory.

The lesson: Judge Pakistan and its rulers, political or military, not by their external charm, but by their internal conviction and mindset and by their actions on the ground. There is no evidence that they have changed.

Our policy-making on Pakistan has to be determined by the kind of cold calculation and determination which the US exhibits to protect its national interests and not by any feel good factor or opportunistic charm offensives.

Let us not walk into a mirage and regret again. (30-12-03)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and, Distinguished Fellow, and Convenor Advisory Committee, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter. E-Mail: [email protected] )

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Observer Research Foundation.
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