Hindustan Times (East UP)

The contestati­on within Pakistan’s army on India

- AP Vivek Katju is a retired diplomat who has dealt extensivel­y with Pakistan The views expressed are personal

Over the past few weeks, signs have emerged, like the tips of an iceberg, of an ongoing contestati­on within Pakistan on the country’s India policy. These indication­s are important to make an assessment of how far current India-Pakistan endeavours to reduce bilateral tensions can really progress.

The February 25 joint statement to cease fire on the Line of Control (LOC) and “all other sectors” is holding. The term “all other sectors” relates to the Internatio­nal Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) on the Saltoro ridge. The Pakistan army uses the cover of firing along LOC as one of the means to push terrorists into J&K. It would, however, be wrong to assume that the ceasefire is indicative of a shift in its strategic doctrine relating to India — which, on one end of the spectrum, relies on the use of terror and, at the other end, on nuclear weapons. Neverthele­ss, the ceasefire is welcome relief to those who live along LOC and IB in J&K.

Significan­tly, external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his Pakistani counterpar­t Shah Mahmood Qureshi were in Abu Dhabi at the same time on official visits a few days ago. In an interview to a leading newspaper in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), on April 18, Qureshi mentioned the joint statement as a “positive developmen­t”. He further noted that Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi’s message to PM Imran Khan on Pakistan’s national day in March and India’s “dialling down” of rhetoric and its desire to see a peaceful Afghanista­n and region were also “positive developmen­ts”. To Qureshi’s positives list can be added reports that India will give visas to the Pakistan cricket team for the ICC T20 World Cup scheduled to be played in India in October this year.

These “positive developmen­ts” cannot be taken, though, as indicative of the relationsh­ip turning a corner — due to the approach of Qureshi and some other important leaders of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. The Pakistan government’s about-turn on cotton and sugar imports from India, despite great shortages of both commoditie­s, is a sure manifestat­ion of the pressure that these politician­s were able to bring to bear in the cabinet even though the commerce ministry, which is headed by Imran Khan himself, had cleared the proposal.

It is inconceiva­ble in view of the dynamics of Pakistan’s foreign and security policymaki­ng that Qureshi and other politician­s would openly oppose a move, which had PM Khan’s approval, and was in line with army chief Qamar Bajwa’s stated interest in improving ties with India — unless there was a coterie of senior generals behind them.

There can be little doubt that it is this support from the men in khaki which emboldened Qureshi, despite taking note of “positive developmen­ts”, to make scathing comments against India on UAE soil. He did so despite the full knowledge that the UAE is seeking to play, at minimum, a facilitati­on role to help India and Pakistan develop, what UAE’s ambassador to the United States recently called a “healthy functional relationsh­ip”. Qureshi said that Pakistan’s greatest achievemen­t in the last two years has been to defeat India’s design to diplomatic­ally isolate Pakistan. He went on to assert that Pakistan was able to expose India’s smear campaign. These are not helpful words for the India-Pakistan process underway and Qureshi, an experience­d politician who has served as the country’s foreign minister (though not continuous­ly) for five years, would be aware of this fact.

In considerin­g the India-Pakistan relationsh­ip, it is important to bear in mind that the Pakistani army has always maintained a strangleho­ld on its approach towards India. After Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Pakistan’s civilian leadership, with the exception of former PM Nawaz Sharif, has accepted the army’s key role in all matters pertaining to India. Certainly, Imran Khan, who the Pakistani opposition calls a “selected prime minister”, is in no position to challenge the army.

Thus, the future of the current initiative­s will depend on whether Bajwa succeeds in fostering a consensus on the India policy among the generals. That is clearly absent today.

Retired senior Pakistani generals confided in Indian participan­ts on the “track two” circuit, soon after Bajwa became the army chief, that he seriously wanted to normalise India-Pakistan ties. They also indirectly acknowledg­ed that many of Bajwa’s colleagues were not on the same page with him on this issue. It would seem Bajwa and Khan realise that Pakistan needs to establish a “healthy functional relationsh­ip” with India to take it out of its economic and social morass. The recent Tehreek-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) agitation is one more pointer of the deep roots of religious rigidity in Jinnah’s creation.

The problem for Bajwa and Khan is that Pakistan went so overboard in its opposition to the constituti­onal changes in J&K that they will find it difficult to counter the charge of a sell-out, especially if that is the thinking of some senior generals. India should factor this point into its calculatio­ns as it proceeds on normalisin­g ties with Pakistan. It should also be prepared for adventurou­s actions by recalcitra­nt Pakistani generals.

 ??  ?? The future of bilateral initiative­s will depend on whether Bajwa succeeds in fostering a consensus on the India policy among the generals
The future of bilateral initiative­s will depend on whether Bajwa succeeds in fostering a consensus on the India policy among the generals
 ?? Vivek Katju ??
Vivek Katju

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