Originally Published 2004-02-03 09:51:17 Published on Feb 03, 2004
It has been a few weeks since the ¿momentous¿ Islamabad declaration by Indian PM Vajpayee and Pakistani leader Gen.Musharraf. The full effects of the declaration may not be known for a few months at least, but there have been enough clues coming out of South Asia for prognosticators to decipher. But first one must look at the declaration itself.
Beyond the Islamabad declaration
It has been a few weeks since the "momentous" Islamabad declaration by Indian PM Vajpayee and Pakistani leader Gen.Musharraf. The full effects of the declaration may not be known for a few months at least, but there have been enough clues coming out of South Asia for prognosticators to decipher. But first one must look at the declaration itself.

The joint declaration said: "President Musharraf reassured Prime Minister Vajpayee that he will not permit any territory under Pakistan#146;s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner." For his part Prime Minister Vajpayee talked about India's willingness to have a "composite dialogue" with Pakistan, on all issues including Kashmir. On the face of it, this seems to be a straightforward deal - Pakistan stops the jihad in Kashmir and India agreed to put Kashmir on the table. Casting aside the repugnance of negotiating in the face of terrorism, this deal appears to be a breakthrough and a "win-win" for both sides. But is it really so?

Musharraf's predicament

These are not good times for Pervez Musharraf. The drip-by-drip revelations on Pakistan's nuclear dirty deeds are clearly aimed at putting pressure on him. Perhaps the US did not want the exposé to go this far, but it is clear that one of the reasons for these revelations is clearly to put the squeeze on the beleaguered General. In addition, his former jihadi friends aren't too happy with him either. At least one of the attempts on his life seems to be genuine, albeit nothing is impossible in Pakistan. The close calls probably made the General reevaluate his views. Despite the appearances, one has to consider Musharraf as a patriotic Pakistani who wants to make the best for his nation out of the current situation. Therefore it is not hard to imagine Musharraf's rationale for seeking détente with India.

Musharraf knows that he can only mess with America so much. The nuclear stick that the US has been wielding is clearly aimed at gaining some big concessions from him. It is not coincidental that a US commander made a bold prediction of capturing Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar through possible cross-border operations into Pakistani territory. This reduces Musharraf's room to maneuver on the Afghan side and probably will necessitate a shut down of the ISI operations there. The domestic fallout from the nuclear "debriefings" further tightens the vice that Musharraf is in. In the past, the obvious way for Pakistan to relieve the pressure would have been to step the violence up in Jammu and Kashmir or conduct "tactically brilliant" operations like Kargil and provoke an Indian response. That would have forced the Pakistani power brokers to rally around Musharraf as he tries to withstand the "Indian aggression". Unfortunately for Musharraf, Operation Parakram put paid to all that. In the words of ex-Indian Army Chief Gen. Padmanabhan, during Parakram, the Pakistanis "had nothing. We (India) had them by the tail". Thus, checkmated in all fronts, Musharraf, just like his Islamic warrior ancestors, chose to opt for a tactical withdrawal with a veneer of "honor and dignity".

India's choice

From a hard line perspective, it would appear that India, under Prime Minister Vajpayee's leadership has caved in to American pressure and released the pressure on Musharraf. Many even compare this to former PM Indira Gandhi's reprieve of Z.A. Bhutto after 1971 and the subsequent release of Pakistani prisoners of war without a public agreement on Kashmir's final status. The left-wingers on the other hand had mixed opinions. The Wagah candle holder club was of course ecstatic about being afforded the opportunity to wine and dine with the Pakistani "intellectuals" and being able to issue calls for "removing the borders" etc. At the same time, the left portrayed this as a cynical attempt by the BJP government to use peace with Pakistan as a ploy to garner votes in the upcoming national elections. Not being able to criticize the peace move itself, one prominent left-winger, a friend of many former Pakistani ambassadors to India, wondered in his column in a national daily as to how India can ask Pakistan to cease cross border terrorism before talks! In any case, both the left and the ultra right are wrong about Indian government's reasons to give Musharraf a chance. Unlike Pakistan's "tactical brilliance," Indian policy towards Pakistan has been as steady as it has been inexorable.

As this author mentioned before, India's long-term plan is to deal with Pakistan in a manner that causes least cost of Indian lives and property. Diplomacy, war and threats of war are merely tools that Indian policy makers have been utilizing towards this end. Contrary to the popular opinion, it is unlikely that India decision-makers view that a strong, united Pakistan is in India's interests. At the same time, they are loath to actively destabilize Pakistan. The policy is therefore twofold - Make it clear to Pakistan that it's semi-military option of using the jihadis to gain concessions from India is not working while simultaneously offering Pakistan a chance to save face and cut its losses. Indians believe that either way, the military-feudal-Islamist enterprise called Pakistan is sure to reach its ineluctable end. Should Musharraf continue the jihad, he risks a military defeat when India gets sufficiently provoked to mount a punitive operation. On the other hand, should Musharraf make peace, the Pakistani establishment loses its rationale for its anti-Indian posture, a situation certain to accentuate the ethnic and sectarian fissiparous tendencies with Pakistan itself.

Our SOB?

Despite the face saving part of the Islamabad declaration, what it amounts to this - Musharraf has agreed to sell out his jihadi stooges to India. This includes not just a shut down of the infiltration and closure of camps, but also details of ISI safe houses, financiers and facilitators of the jihadi groups within India. The recent elimination of top Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commanders and those of other groups should be seen in this context. Despite this, India will employ a policy of "trust but verify", when it comes to dealing with Pinocchio Pervez. India knows that Musharraf has always tried to backtrack after making a commitment. Should he try to fudge again, he will find himself in a tighter vice next time, with both India and America turning the screws. Notwithstanding this, Indian policymakers would likely have enjoyed the delicious irony when they compare the Islamabad pact with Musharraf's capitulation to the US after 9/11. Brajesh Mishra played the role of heavy lifter Richard Armitage to the hilt. The trick now would be to keep managing Musharraf with constant private "frank meetings" similar to the ones Armitage frequently has with the General.

Next Steps

Whatever the reasons, the recent peace moves have had many salutary effects. The residents near the LoC would certainly appreciate respite from the constant artillery exchanges thanks to the ceasefire agreed to by India and Pakistan. Should the road link between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad be opened, trade links would bring goods and services to the locals. However, with the jihadi groups refusing to acquiesce to a ceasefire, the Indian government is unlikely to reduce its force levels in the region. From a military standpoint, India is likely to speed up the fencing of the LoC along with the installation of sensors. This would serve as a hedge for India, should Musharraf go back to his old tricks come spring.

The options before Musharraf are clear - resume the jihad and thereby accelerate the Pakistan train of doom or make "honorable" peace and survive another day. Either way, he should know that India is unlikely to fall for his commando tactics. Despite that, India is probably expecting a Musharaffian stunt in the coming months. That should make 2004 an interesting year in the subcontinent.

Kaushik Kapistalam is an IT professional based in Atlanta who writes frequently on south Asia.

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