By Rajeev Sharma
The puzzling hype behind the Indo-Pak ‘cricket diplomacy’, played out as the cricketing gladiators of the two ‘enemies’ fought it out on the ground of the Mohali cricket stadium near Chandigarh, has been followed by some dreamy-eyed optimism of a ‘win-win’ turn in the strained relations between the two South Asian neighbours notwithstanding the roughing up both sides gave to each other’s staff – a Pakistan Hhigh commission driver ‘discovered’ in a prohibited area near the Chandigarh airport and an Indian High Commission staffer in Islamabad while on his way home..
There is no denying that Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sprang a surprise by inviting out of the blue the Pakistani President and the Prime Minister to witness the World Cup semi-final cricket match between India and Pakistan at Mohali. The perplexed Pakistani leadership dithered initially, but finally decided to send the prime minister, Yousuf Gilani, to Mohali. The decision was taken after the Pakistani army, the de facto centre of power, was brought on board.
The acceptance of the Indian invitation was no indication that the Pakistani army has signalled a change in its obsession with India. Army Chief Gen Kayani is on record as having admitted that his forces are ‘India-centric’. It is naïve to expect therefore good relations with Pakistan as long as its army determines the course of relations with India, though whatever long lasting confidence building measures (CBMs) are in place today are a legacy of the generals who ruled Pakistan. There may be a few additions to these CBMs which though admirable have, frankly, failed to inject any sense of normalcy in the bilateral relations.
The military in Pakistan is both a holy and a fattened cow. It determines many of the internal and external policies of the country and even the budget, if we take the recent advice publicly tendered to the civilian leadership by the army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas. He held out a homily on plugging the loopholes in the civilian budget to check corruption and pilferage of funds.
In a TV interview on March 13, he said ‘At present, the ratio of defence budget is 14 percent to the national budget. There is so much waste occurring in the spending of the civilian budget. We (army) presented a report about the presence of thousands of ghost schools as well as fake teachers in Punjab. …These are responsible for creating the extra pressure on an already troubled economy and military spending…’
Gen Abbas went on to say “The Army has to prepare itself according to defence capabilities of the enemy… If the government wants to make reductions in defence (outlays) it should talk to India, which poses a threat to Pakistan”.
In a significant observation, the army spokesman said the budget of the defence forces consisted of two parts. The portion regarding maintenance funds can be discussed at every forum, but the segment of the budget relating to development cannot be publicized as the enemy will get to know which are the areas where development is going to take place, so this portion is always kept secret’
Pakistan parliament or any of its standing committees do not scrutinise the defence budget. In fact as the Express Tribune editorially said (Pakistan and national defence, March 15) ‘In Pakistan, disclosure of the complete military budget in parliament has always been a controversial matter, and its absence from the budget document has often been attributed to the dominance of an army that runs state policy to maintain its importance among the state institutions’.
This military dominance over civilian governments is long-standing and is linked to Pakistan’s textbook nationalism, designating India as a permanent enemy. Because of a steadily declining economy and uneven development across the country, the ‘binding’ effect of textbook nationalism is no longer uniform. The ‘threat of India’ does not inspire national integration in parts of the country where alienation is actually increasing because of neglect. Pakistan has also to deal with the question of the paramount importance of army and a beginning can be made only if the Pakistan Army is prepared for a paradigm shift.
There is no chance that the Pakistani army will take orders from the civilian government in the conduct of the security doctrine and foreign and trade policies; the civil society, including the ‘liberal sections’, does not want to challenge the supremacy of the army. Whatever lingering hopes have been there have been set at rest at the general endorsement Gen Abbas’s remarks received in the media with an editorial even lamenting that it is a pity that the government has yet to wake up ‘to the need for accountability that can lead to the elimination of corruption (in the civilian set up)’.
Against this backdrop, the Mohali pow-wow between the two prime ministers need to be viewed not in euphoric terms but, at best, as a fresh attempt to revive the tortuous process of wide-ranging bilateral ‘dialogue’—because of pressure from the international community (read America). It might create some illusion of a thaw, but ‘substantive’ issues, such as resolution of the long-standing differences over Kashmir or the recent Pakistani whining over ‘theft’ of their river waters, will remain to keep the pitch queered.
Apart from these two topics, the list of Pakistani grouses against India expands constantly. It includes a bewildering variety of topics—‘Hindu’ terror, fomenting trouble in Balochistan, penetrating Afghanistan, maligning ‘peace-loving’ Pakistan, ‘oppression’ of Muslim minorities in India and so on and on.
There is little that India can do to please the Pakistanis on these matters particularly on the allegation that India ‘maligns’ the ‘fair’ name of Pakistan when the sober English media and ultra nationalistic vernacular media are almost daily harping on why the country is suffering from a negative image.
‘Hindu terror’, Pakistani establishment has convinced itself, is comparable to Islamic terror that spans the globe. The fact is that if there is ‘Hindu terror’ it does not seek to convert the world as the philosophies of Osama bin Laden and his cohorts do; its network is too small and its resources too meagre to give sleepless nights to the world and, above all, it enjoys very little support among the co-religionists most of whom abhor religious extremism. Finally, there is absolutely no state support to ‘Hindu terror’ unlike Pakistan where a wing of the army, the ISI nurtures jihadists, and where the religious parties tend to set the agenda of political discourse.
The Pakistani official refrain of India’s ‘interference’ in Balochistan is a cover to justify its own pernicious interference in the affairs of Kashmir. David Headleys of the world have brought upfront the evidence of Pakistan’s role in fomenting trouble in Kashmir and elsewhere in India. On the other hand, Pakistan has failed to provide any tangible proof of India’s hand in the uprising by the Baloch nationalists. Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s charge is that India hobnobs with the Baloch nationalists. Occasionally Prime Minister Gilani has endorsed the charge, there by lending more credence to the Malikisms.
Can any Baloch nationalist leader attend functions in the Indian High Commission in Islamabad or make open contacts with Indians on the Pakistani soil the way the Kashmiri separatists do with the Pakistani diplomats in Delhi – receiving open invitations from the high commission, and attending the High Commission’s receptions under the full glare TV lights? This longish question has a short answer: No.
India has small diplomatic outposts in four cities outside the Afghan capital. One of these missions is in Kandhahar, which is acknowledged as the HQ of the Taliban and other pro-Pakistan terror outfits. If the few Indian diplomats in the mission, unarmed, can incite the local Afghans to rise in revolt against Pakistan then they must be extraordinary men who have managed to outwit the Taliban in its own territory.
Of the many wild charges that Pakistan periodically makes against India, the most offensive is about the treatment of minorities. Yes, the Indian record is not ideal and the 2002 pogrom in Gujarat is a shame the land of Gandhi cannot shake off. But, according to HRW and AI, Gujarat was an aberration and it is in no way comparable to the mayhem let loose by blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
Christians and a section of the Muslims (Ahmadiyas) are persecuted and discriminated. In fact, before the eyes of the Pakistani state, the Ahmadiyas don’t exist. The champion of the anti-Ahmadiyya movement was charismatic Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who, in one of his first acts, after becoming Prime Minister at the end of 1971 war with India, declared Ahmadis as constitutionally ‘non-Muslims’. General Zia-ul-Haq, who threw him into jail and later executed him on flimsy charges, decreed that Ahmadis cannot identify themselves as Muslims. His Ordinance XX also banned proselytizing by Ahmadis.
The Hindus in Pakistan are not many and they are mostly in the Sindh and their political allegiance is to the Pakistan Peoples’ Party founded by Z. A. Bhutto. Some of the Hindus made it big in politics too, apart from trade and commerce. One such politician- member of a provincial assembly (Sindh) quietly left the country and made his way to Gujarat a month before Mohali test. If this is the fate of a privileged politician, the lesser mortals, subjugated persons of the community, live in constant fear of kidnapping for ransom.
India and Pakistan do need to write a new and happy chapter in their bilateral relations. The process will have to begin by first erasing the bitterness of more than sixty years. It will take something more than ‘cricket diplomacy’ to achieve that near impossible task.
In the post-GATT world, the concept of security goes beyond military terms and encompasses trade and cross-border investments with or without the most favoured nation (MFN) status. This is a form of people- to – people contact for normalisation of relations without becoming hostage to any dogma, and the predilections of the governments or the bureaucracies – civilian and military alike.
(The writer is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst. He can be reached at [email protected])