Originally Published 2003-02-18 08:47:01 Published on Feb 18, 2003
That there is massive change in the mindset of Pakistanis towards India is an impression that this writer got during a visit to Pakistan last August. This impression has got further strengthened during a recently concluded visit. The desire for peace with India is no longer limited to the usual suspects; rather it is to be found even in the quintessential establishment types who have traditionally thrived on India-baiting.
Inside Pakistan - I, Pakistan's Strategic Dilemma Propels Peace Process
That there is massive change in the mindset of Pakistanis towards India is an impression that this writer got during a visit to Pakistan last August. This impression has got further strengthened during a recently concluded visit. The desire for peace with India is no longer limited to the usual suspects; rather it is to be found even in the quintessential establishment types who have traditionally thrived on India-baiting. But the desire for peace is also accompanied by great confusion about the direction that the Pakistan state is taking and the likely repercussions of the changing policy towards India. Of course, there are still the voices of the extreme right, symbolised by the Nazria-e-Pakistan mafia. But while earlier their voice was representative of the national mood, now they now appear to be on the margins of public debate.

The reason for the transformation inside Pakistan is to be found in a combination of diplomatic, strategic, economic, political and even cultural factors. To take the cultural factor first, we must remember that Pakistani establishment's mindset is a predominantly Punjabi mindset. While a lot can be said about the Punjabi's bull-headedness and cussedness, one should never underestimate the Punjabi's pragmatism. This pragmatism is of course born in a vacuum but is the result of the situation in which Pakistan finds itself, a situation from which many in Pakistan believe that the country can extricate itself by settling affairs on its eastern front with India.

Pakistanis appear to have come to terms with the reality that after waging three and a half wars and mounting a jihadi campaign for 14 years, they are no closer to wresting control of Kashmir than they were 56 years ago. There is a sense of futility about the strategy being adopted. Moreover, the jihadi campaign, which many earlier believed was a low-cost-high-dividend campaign, is turning out to be quite the opposite. The jihadi factory has created a terrible image of Pakistan in the world, which in turn has not only deprived Pakistan of much needed foreign investment but also robbed it of business opportunities around the world. The jihad factory has also created a climate of uncertainty under which domestic investment too has all but dried up. Economic distress levels are very high and Pakistan is today one of the few countries where poverty levels are rising rather than falling.

In the given situation the Pakistani establishment, especially the army, has started understanding that its own corporate interests are being threatened. According to Dr. Akmal Hussein, a renowned Pakistani economist, the generals have understood that unless the economy can be put on a high growth path, they will simply not only not be able to find the resources to keep the military machine in fighting state, but might soon have no state left to protect or as some wags put it, conquer. Peace with India has therefore become necessary for economic revival. Politically too, the elite, which includes a large section of the military-bureaucratic establishment and the political, feudal and business elite, has started feeling threatened by the unbridled growth of the jihad industry. No less than a person than the former army chief, Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg has now started hinting at the menace that the jihadis have become. It's therefore not for nothing that Gen. Pervez Musharraf has been saying that the internal threats to Pakistan are far more serious than any external threat.

But the impact of the jihad factory on the economy and the polity is just one factor. An even more important factor, and one which the generals appreciate more than anyone else, is the strategic crisis that Pakistan finds itself in. The Pakistan army has always exercised a veto on the three major strategic issues confronting the country- Kashmir, nuclear program and Afghanistan. As long as America was either supporting or ignoring Pakistan on these issues, the Pakistani military establishment exercised a great deal of autonomy in policy formulation and implementation on these three issues of strategic importance. But with the Americans becoming an involved party and no longer ignoring or supporting Pakistan, in fact pressurizing Pakistan on all three, the strategic crisis has reached a critical point. Pakistan is now increasingly fearful of being caught in an Indo-American pincer and the only way out is by either settling with India on Kashmir or by giving up all interest in Afghanistan and letting the Americans create a new mess there and in addition compromising on its nuclear program to satisfy the Americans.

Out of the three, Kashmir is probably the least critical and easiest to settle. There are two reasons for this. One, apart from water flowing through Kashmir, Kashmir has little strategic value for Pakistan. Kashmir has more of a sentimental and emotional value and less of a strategic value for Pakistan. Two, settling Kashmir doesn't mean Pakistan giving up its position on the issue and accepting the line of control as the international border. All it means is putting the issue on the back-burner (a much misunderstood and misused phrase), lowering tensions with India through beneficial cooperation and disengaging from the eastern front.

Afghanistan and the nuclear program however have a far more critical dimension than Kashmir. The nuclear program is seen as the ultimate guarantor of Pakistan#146;s security and something that will prevent Pakistan from becoming another Iraq. But recently Pakistan has been coming under tremendous American pressure with questions being raised about the safety of Pakistan#146;s command and control systems as well as revelations of Pakistani role in proliferating nuclear technology to countries like North Korea, Iran and Libya. Many Pakistanis believe that the Americans want to denuclearise Pakistan or at the very least start controlling Pakistan#146;s nuclear arsenal.

Afghanistan too has grave implications for Pakistan#146;s external security and internal stability. Pakistani intellectuals openly concede that Afghanistan is turning out to be a strategic nightmare for their country. But interestingly enough, it was when the former ISI chief Lt.Gen. Asad Durrani made light of the threat that Pakistan faces from a disturbed Afghanistan that one got convinced that Pakistan is in real trouble on its western front. Gen. Durrani is a brilliant mind who has perfected the art of deflecting people from the real issue. This is exactly what he did when this writer met him after the Lahore summit and asked him how the Pakistan army took the Lahore declaration. At that time he insisted that the army had absolutely no problem with Lahore declaration and the media was making too much of the absence of the service chiefs at Wagah. Of course, now we all know what Gen. Musharraf thought of the Lahore declaration and what he did to sabotage it.

The fact is that the last thing Pakistan can afford is to see Afghanistan descend into chaos or to have the Pashtuns, who straddle the Durand line, being marginalised inside Afghanistan. Even worse from Pakistan#146;s point of view is the profile India is acquiring in that country. Pakistanis are very uneasy at the thought of India using Afghanistan to make trouble for them in the restive Pashtun belt of Pakistan. Adding to their disquiet is the American pressure on Pakistan to crack down hard on Pakistani Pashtun supporters of the taliban and other disaffected Pashtuns like Gulbadin Hekmatyar.

Many Pakistanis now realise that the only way to handle American pressure is by settling its affairs with India. The peace dividend that will result through trade, investment, travel, pipelines, opening of transit to Afghanistan and Central Asia, will help in reviving Pakistan#146;s economy. Peace with Pakistan would leave India with little reason to try and create trouble for Pakistan through Afghanistan. With the eastern front settled, Pakistan will be able to concentrate is energies on settling the western front with Afghanistan. Moreover, once the threat from India recedes, Pakistan will be in a better position to withstand American pressure not only in Afghanistan but also on its nuclear program.

But at the same time there is a fear that the peace process with India could lead to a reaction from the jihad factory which will go out of business. The state seems to have lost control over many of the jihadis and is not going to find it easy to put the jihadi genie back in the bottle. Political observers in Pakistan are divided in their assessment of the threat posed by the jihadis. But they all agree that the state has not done the political and administrative ground work required to eliminate the jihadis. Not surprisingly then many Pakistanis are bracing themselves against the assault of the jihadis.

But there is also a realization that there are no easy options left for Pakistan. If the Pakistani state wishes to remain in tact then it must close down the jihad factory before the jihadis overwhelm the state. But closing down the factory will mean inviting a reaction from the jihadis. At the same time by closing down the jihad factory Pakistan will lose it's only real leverage in Kashmir, which means that Pakistan must strike a deal with India that allows it to keep face. Perhaps this is what the Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri meant when he told a few Indian journalists on the sidelines of the SAFMA conference in Rawalpindi that neither side should think of humiliating the other.
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* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Observer Research Foundation.

Sushant Sareen is Director, Pakistan Centre, ORF
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