By Bhaskar Roy
In an unprecedented goodwill gesture, Pakistan released an Indian military helicopter and its four crew members which had landed in Pakistan’s territory due to bad weather on October 23 afternoon. The chopper had taken off from the Kargil Sector and strayed about 20 kms into Pakistan’s territory.
The Indian Director General of Military operations (DGMO) got in touch with his counterpart’s office in Pakistan and explained the situation. The Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad was also instructed by the Indian foreign ministry to get in touch with his counterparts in the Pakistani foreign office. Within hours, the helicopter and its crew were released and they flew back to Indian territory safely. Later in the evening the Pakistan’s Foreign Office enquired with their Indian counterparts if the chopper and crew had returned safely.
This is something which could not have been expected even a few months back. This should be ideal type of relationship between the two countries. If this attitude of building trust continues and established, South Asia will be well on the road to become a region of envy for other countries.
On the economic side some progress has been made recently. Pakistan is considering according India Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status. This will substantially reduce cost of Pakistan’s import of Indian goods which now go through either Singapore or Dubai.
By now Pakistan military establishment should have realized that they have nothing to fear from the Indian Army, though heavily deployed across Pakistan’s borders. There is a reason for this. In all the three wars fought between the two countries, it was Pakistan which attacked first. In the Kargil war of 1999, Pakistan’s attack was covered with subterfuge. There was no reason to start a war then, but the swashbuckling Army Chief of Pakistan, Gen. Parvez Musharraf, thought he could cut India off from Kashmir.
The Pakistani army was concerned that if they redeployed troops from the eastern front, that is India, to the northern front of Afghanistan and the troubled tribal areas, the Indian Army would move to capture Pakistani territory. The Indian authorities are neither foolish nor adventurists. From past Indo-Pak wars it would be seen India voluntarily and promptly withdrew from territory conquered. The reason is very simple. Holding another country’s territory leads to greater acrimony and enmity, when from New Delhi’s point of view peace, friendship and trust with Pakistan is the priority. War is not. In this day and age, geopolitics will not allow any country to usurp territory of another.
In the Indian system, the Army is firmly under the control of the central government. Unlike in Pakistan, the civilian government in India has ensured that the Army does the duties it is meant to and as per the directives of the government. The Indian Army is also very much aware that a military government cannot run the country as they are neither trained nor equipped to do so. The people of India will not allow an army coup.
In Pakistan, whenever a civilian government clashed with the army, it has been removed. Even today, the civilian government cannot move an inch in important foreign policy and security areas without the army agreeing to it. In fact, the Army dictates these policies despite Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani recently trying to put the onous of the policies dictated by the Army on the civilian government. Propagating such fallacies do not convince anybody inside Pakistan or abroad.
The early demise of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, acknowledged father of the Pakistani nation, took the country into a trajectory that he never envisioned either for Pakistan or for Pakistan-India relations. The bloodshed resulting from the partition of India in 1947 led to visceral animosity between the two countries, but that should have gone after more than 60 years. In India, nobody thinks on those lines any longer. But in Pakistan a generation was raised on this. The issue of Kashmir is a long standing sore, though the Indira Gandhi-Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Simla agreement had laid down a workable path.
The Pakistani army holds visceral anti-India rage, and hate India has been in the military schools and academy syllabi. They have a long list of grouses against India, the main one being the 1971 war which led to the breakup of the country and created an independent Bangladesh. If they do some introspection, which they surely must have done, it is Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, and the Pak army that forced the choice on the Bengalee speaking East Pakistan. Many Pakistani writers including a military officer who served in East Pakistan in 1971 have written on this part of history.
Is India still a demon for the Pakistani Army or is it an excuse for their power and privileges. The quest for strategic depth in Afghanistan as a defence line against a war with India is hardly convincing. To plan to shift air force and army nerve centers and communication and intelligence headquarters to Afghanistan in a few days or a couple of weeks is not military thinking. India-Pakistan wars have always been short lived and will be in the future also. The international community will step in especially as the two countries are now nuclear armed. The Afghan strategic depth operation is aimed to extend Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan actually or virtually up to Kandahar at least. This would bring Afghanistan’s Pashtun population under Pakistan’s control and solve the problem of Pashtuns on both sides of the border. Indian influence in Afghanistan is anathema because of India’s historical goodwill among Pashtuns and other tribes in Afghanistan. Even today, India is the most appreciated foreign country among all sections of the Afghan population.
The Pakistani Army draws its power, privilege and prestige from projecting India as Pakistan’s nemesis. If India is not seen as a threat, then the Pakistani army has no other real threat. Hence, their comfort will be curtailed. As Ayesha Siddiqa writes in her book “Military Inc”, the armed forces take from foreign aid, the federal budget and has its an industrial and business empire. They give the nation’s prime land to themselves. How can they be expected to embrace India as a friendly country and jeopardize their Moghul Emperor position.
This wonderful example of returning the Indian army helicopter and crew obviously seems like a dream. It is pregnant with amazing possibilities. But to some Indian strategic observers, experience show one swallow does not make a summer.
Gen. Kayani, who has been commanding not only Pakistan’s contribution along with the US led antiterrorism programme in Afghanistan but also Pakistan’s foreign and strategic policies, is under severe pressure from the US and its NATO allies. Kayani is loath to give up their terrorist allies like the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban and, also, the remnants of Al Qaida. This contradicts the US strategy. During her recent visit to Pakistan, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made it clear publicly in Islamabad that Pakistan cannot keep snakes in its backyard to bite neighbours. She added that Pakistan cannot expect these snakes not to bite Pakistan, when Pakistani leaders proffered the excuse that the country itself was subjected to almost daily terrorist attacks.
Gen. Kayani and his coterie placed a lot of hope on China and Saudi Arabia to replace US co-operation and assistance, but neither obliged to that extent. Each of them have their own imperatives where the US is concerned, and China bluntly conveyed they cannot replace US assistance and had high concerns over Pakistan’s policies towards the terrorist groups some of which the GHQ was nursing. Beijing was also not inclined to take up Pakistan’s fight against India.
To be honest, the Pakistani Army, that is, General Kayani and ISI Chief Lt. Gen. Pasha, have very few options if any. The Indian helicopter strayed into Pakistani territories under SOS situation and was not willful violation of Pakistani air space. Even them, they could have complicated the incident. But they did not, and conducted themselves with admirable courtesy.
The jury is out on the future, but with a lot of questions.