By Bhaskar Roy
As Indian Foreign Secretary Ms. Nirupama Rao heads to Pakistan for the next round of Foreign Secretary-level talks, she would be under no illusions about what lies ahead. The Pakistani Foreign Ministry has upped its ante demanding that the Kashmir issue must top the agenda. There is no surprise here.
But Ms. Rao also would not have failed to notice that Pakistan’s liberal civil society is increasingly getting tired and even restive with the powers that be. Both aspects of the Abbottabad incident – how Osama bin Laden was hiding in this military town for six years without being discovered, and the inability of the armed forces to detect the US commando raid to kill Osama; the terrorist attack on the PNS Mehran base in Karachi which left footprints of inside collaboration with the terrorists, and the kidnapping and assassination of journalist Syed Saleem Shahzad after he exposed Al Qaeda penetration in the Pakistani navy, are riling those concerned with the fate of the country. The civil society and the Pakistani mainstream media hold the ISI squarely responsible for the murder of Shahzad unless the intelligence agency, whose shadow hovers over the entire country and its institutions, proves otherwise convincingly. Shahzad’s elimination, which was also a warning to other journalists involved in such investigative reporting, also killed his follow up story which could have been more explosive. The ISI had warned him in October 2010 against such writing.
The Pakistani daily, The Daily Times (June 17) carried a commentary titled “Pakistan needs a people’s revolution”, castigating the “rot” in the country where the militant Islamists were taking Pakistan back to the dark ages and the country’s political elite including the ruling PPP dare not oppose them. People who dared to voice opposition, from Punjab Governor Salman Taseer to journalist Saleem Shahzad, are silenced. The commentary was exasperated over Zia-ul-Haq’s Blasphemy Law, a draconian and archaic statute, which the so-called liberal leaders failed to eradicate in fear of retribution from the radical Islamists.
There is a question here. The army, the ISI and the political elite have in turn and together, reared the Islamists for their strategic depth in Afghanistan, and debilitating India. It now emerges that the Islamists were used to control and cage their own people who dare to oppose their game plan. A time has come that the genie they let out of the bottle is ready to devour the powers that let it out.
The change of mood in the Pakistani civil society suggests people who have been pressed to the corner have decided to fight back for survival. They have started late, having been fed over the years stereotypes about India and indoctrination from the school level. As they wake up they find themselves faced with decades of indoctrination of the less fortunate in the thousands of Madrassas funded by Saudi Arabian and UAE NGOs on jihad and Wahabism. But these jihadi Wahabists have an Achilles’ heel. They cannot dictate without state support, and the state is dictated by the Army-Intelligence establishment which have nurtured these groups as military and foreign policy assets. The most dangerous aspect of this symbiotic relationship between the Islamists and the Army-Intelligence group is that they cannot do without each other. Can this be demolished by the new resurgence in the Pakistani civil society?
Hopefully, the India stereotype appears to be under scrutiny. In an article in The Daily Times (June 14) Sheikh Asad Rahman, in his commentary “Myths versus realities” quotes Air Marshal (Rtd) Asghar Khan’s recent talk at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI). The redoubtable former Air Chief said that all the four wars with India were started by Pakistan, and the Maharaja of Kashmir decided to accede to India under the “Indian States Protocol” in 1948 when Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan sent the tribal Lashkars to Kashmir who looted and raped the Kashmiris. In effect, the Air Marshal put the Kashmir issue at rest. It was settled in 1948 that Kashmir had acceded to India according to the rules set by the British and agreed to by both Pakistan and India.
Murtaza Razvi, an editor with the leading Pakistani daily Dawn wrote (June 15) as follows” :
“The choice before us is very clear: show sincerity in wiping out terrorism from Pakistan and help Afghanistan and the US to do the same on the other side of the Durand Line. Once that strategic shift is put in place, relations with India will also start improving. The problem with our military’s thinking since Zia-ul-Haq’s time was that it went about securing the western border because it wanted to bring India to its heels when its emphasis should have been securing the eastern border first and foremost by building confidence and trust with New Delhi. Doing so would have resulted in acquiring strategic depth in India with many dividends to reap from it”.
Murtaza Razvi has given another meaning to the Pak military’s connotation of strategic depth. If strategic depth means protecting security and sovereignty of a country, it can add “development and prosperity”, if Razvi’s formulation is followed. By holding SAARC economic cooperation hostage to the India-Pakistan problems, especially the Kashmir issue, Pakistan is losing much more than India. Despite the Pakistan-China collaboration for the past 50 years to bleed India and keep it locked within a South Asian strait-jacket, India has broken out of this trap and has booked its place at the global high table. Gen. Kayani and his armed forces may be betting on China to bail it out. But they must remember that the Chinese are extremely realistic. They will use Pakistan to further their interests, but not at the cost of their own. Today, China is India’s biggest foreign trade partner and this bilateral trade has reached $ 60 billion compared to the miniscule China-Pak trade volume. The wise mandarins in Beijing are not going to throw this and other cooperation with India in the international fora to take up support to Pakistan against India or the US. An unstable South Asia including Afghanistan is not in China’s interest.
How the foreign secretaries’ talks may proceed may also be seen from the first Afghanistan-Pakistan joint talks on peace and reconciliation (with the Taliban) in Islamabad earlier this month. At the press briefing following the talks, Afghan President Hamid Karzai pointedly said that Indian presence in Afghanistan, “cannot be in any way used against Pakistan and Pakistan should be happy” that Afghanistan is being “tremendously” helped by another neighbour and old friend, India.
President Karzai, in fact, revealed that the Pakistanis had again pressed him to shut down Indian consulates in Afghanistan. In May, after returning from China, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gilani accompanied by Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani and ISI Chief Shuja Pasha, visited Karzai in Kabul and warned him to close down the Indian consulates if he wanted better relations with Pakistan. The Pak army has decided to remain unmoved by reality.
After decades of anti-India indoctrination of the people followed by Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization of its populace, the army-intelligence establishment has indoctrinated both the army and the common populace against the USA. Dangerously, a heady concoction of Khilafat and dictatorship continues to be fed to the people. This is not surprising, since Pakistani army generals openly hold as legitimate rearing Islamist militants for proxy war. Imagine India and other South Asian countries raising such proxy armies! The Pakistani army leaders just cannot stop amazing the world.
The assassination of Syed Saleem Shahzad may have been one too many murders of the Civil Society and a nation called Pakistan. The protests are snow balling.
Pakistan is not a failed state. Far from it. Despite a Khilafat-dictatorship breathing down, there is a new liberal resurgence. Indians and the Indian government must recognize this. Tit-for-tat visa refusals, to artists, singers, writers, sportspersons et al must be avoided. Despite Gen. Kayani’s “historic” vision that Pakistan does not have anything common with India in terms of history, religion and culture, the two countries share everything including blood.
(The author is an eminent China analyst with many years of experience. He can be reached at [email protected])