Originally Published 2011-01-21 00:00:00 Published on Jan 21, 2011
Indo-Pak relations appear to be on hold largely because of complications created by the Afghan situation. Part of the problem are Pakistani suspicions about Indian ambitions in Afghanistan. Former Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri believes there are misperceptions on both sides.
Does Kasuri's Message of Peace have Official Backing?
Pakistan Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was totally supportive of the Indo-Pak peace process, including demilitarization and even joint mechanisms to administer Kashmir. "He sat in on every meeting Gen. Musharraf called to discuss the peace process then underway with Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and later Manmohan Singh". Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, foreign minister during the five years when India and Pakistan come close to a settlement told me in the course of a conversation. "We had agreed on 80 per cent of the issues and Gen. Kayani was most supportive."

Kasuri was foreign minister until 2007. How does he know that Kayani is still on board?

Kasuri cites a cable to the State Department from Anne Patterson US ambassador to Islamabad leaked by Wikileaks. Kasuri had suggested to her that former Pakistan Foreign Secretary Riaz Ahmad Khan should be the "back channel" with India. Patterson raised the matter with Kayani who agreed that Khan keep the back channel open. These details were in the cable Patterson sent to the State Department.

How then does Kasuri explain Kayani’s repeated statement that the Pakistan army was "India Centered".

Kasuri believes this should be seen as a tactical statement in the context of the perceived "Endgame" in Afghanistan. I did not draw Kasuri out on this one but I do believe that there is no Afghan "endgame" in sight, atleast not in the foreseeable future. The US has a desire, no policy towards that end. "Tactical statements" on the part of the Pak military anticipating a conclusion to the Afghan affair may, I believe, unnecessarily delay or retard an Indo-Pak process.

But Indo-Pak relations appear to be on hold largely because of complications created by the Afghan situation. Part of the problem are Pakistani suspicions about Indian ambitions in Afghanistan. Kasuri believes there are misperceptions on both sides.

Pakistani quest for strategic depth in Afghanistan and India’s search for influence in Afghanistan to facilitate the emergence of a Pushtoonistan at some stage are both "ogres" in minds on both sides. All that the Pakistani establishment wants is a peaceful friendly neighbour, which, precisely should be the Indian quest too, he says.

The conversation with Kasuri was revealing but much more instructive was his 90 minutes prepared talk at the Indian Council of World Affairs. He gave a ball by ball account of the peace process pursued on Pervez Musharraf’s watch with Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.

The details he shared with a spellbound audience must leave hawks on both sides in a heightened state of anxiety. He spoke at an official forum, ICWA, and the Pakistani High Commissioner, Shahid Malik sat through the talk. Do these details impart to the Kasuri visit more than casual significance? Kasuri’s close friend Mani Shankar Aiyar was in the chair. The forthcoming meeting of the foreign secretaries in Thimpu and the subsequent visit to New Delhi of Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmud Qureshi will now be watched with greater interest.

Kasuri was Foreign Minister from 2002 to 2007, when Indo-Pak relations peaked. When I was traveling around Pakistan during the February 2008 elections, the atmospherics were perfect. Not once was India or even Kashmir mentioned throughout the election campaign.

How the atmospherics, so positive in February 2008, plummet to their worst ever after 26/11, needs to be grasped by both sides.

Never was the Pak army more unpopular than it was in mid 2008. The Blowback from the Afghan war, the attack on Lal Masjid aggravated by the Chief Justice and the lawyers had all recoiled on the army.

Then 26/11 happened. Here was a prestigious Mumbai monument ablaze, occupied by Pakistani militants. Obviously someone in the Pak establishment was searching for a strong anti Pak reaction from India, strong enough for it to destroy all traces of Indo-Pak goodwill so diligently put in place by Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Kasuri with total support from Musharraf. Kasuri remembers most tellingly: "When I came to India in February 2007, the Samjhauta Express happened; when Shah Mahmud Qureshi visited New Delhi, Mumbai blew up." Obviously, powerful Interests on both sides are opposed to peace. It was in anticipation of precisely such a situation that during Pervez Musharraf’s visit to New Delhi in April 2005, the two sides agreed that acts of terrorism would not be allowed to derail the peace process. The peace process was "irreversible".

If the 26/11 provocation had been responded to by the media with understandable shock and anger but a degree of restraint too, the purpose of the perpetrators of 26/11 would have been defeated.

Instead, the Indian media went ballistic. The media, in the highest decibels, virtually declared war on Pakistan. This was precisely what the authors of 26/11 wanted. So belligerent was the Indian media that the Pakistani media was compelled to react.

India, not mentioned once throughout the election campaign of February 2008, was, post 26/11, "Hamsaya Dushman" (enemy neighbour), "Hindu India" all over again.

Kasuri discounts "strategic depth" as a Pakistani preoccupation in Afghanistan. This is much more in the minds of India’s strategic community, an echo of something Pakistani Generals said in the past.

"I know Gen. Kayani would want peace with India" Kasuri says. "He endorsed all we decided in the years when we had come to a near breakthrough on Indo-Pak ties."

"I know him. He will not go back."

So, where should one begin. Is there something in the air?

(Saeed Naqvi is a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.