The unprecedented public exposure of the India-Pakistan rift after the ministerial-level talks in Islamabad was a disaster waiting to happen.
A similar, though more muted, incident happened during Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir’s press conference in New Delhi earlier when the latter mockingly described New Delhi’s charges against Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed as ‘literature’.
The reason why the two sparring neighbours have reached some kind of a deadlock is that the ‘core’ issues in their respective views allow no room for retreat. When Kashmir was the central subject during mutual discussions, India’s ploy was to try to sideline it by broadening the ambit of relationships to include cultural exchanges, trade, tourism, etc. Although Pakistan tried to steer the topic back to Kashmir, it could hardly display ‘suppressed anger’, as Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi was accused of showing last Friday, if it failed in its endeavour.
However, ever since ‘terror’ became the core issue for India, Pakistan has been almost constantly on the back foot. First, it is a subject which places it in the dock where world public opinion is concerned because, as the former British prime minister, Gordon Brown, said, 75 per cent of all terrorist attacks worldwide originate in Pakistan.
As a result, Pakistan cannot try to circumvent the issue as India earlier tried to do with Kashmir. This inability cannot but lead to the building up of frustration within the Pakistani establishment, which causes the kind of accusatory verbal outbursts at the joint press conference.
Secondly, Pakistan is uneasy with the fact that terror has not only diverted the attention of the international community from Kashmir, but there is little chance of a change in the situation because the jehadis are not about to renounce their violent creed. The issue will, therefore, remain ‘live’ in the foreseeable future and continue to relegate Kashmir, which Pakistan regarded as its trump card, to the background.
However, the third and undoubtedly the most important reason why the Pakistani leaders are not at ease while dealing with India is the shadowy presence of the notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the army behind their chairs. The report that General Ashfaq Kayani had met President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani before the India-Pakistan talks indicated that the military was laying down the parameters for the politicians.
It is this perception of a gun being held to his head by the ISI and the army which seems to have made Qureshi allege that the Indian external affairs minister, S.M. Krishna, was also held hostage by New Delhi. Yet, even as Qureshi made the charge, he must have been aware of the difference between the two examples. As Krishna later pointed out, it was normal for a leader attending bilateral talks in a foreign capital to be in touch with his ‘base’. But while Krishna’s ‘base’ was civilian, Qureshi’s was not.
What is more, the increasing awareness of the rest of the world that the Pakistani ‘base’ in Rawalpindi is the real power centre perhaps makes its civilian leaders all the more jittery. But there is another reason. No matter what promises are made by them to control terrorism, they are perfectly aware that the ISI and the army will not let them touch the India-centric terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed, the Haqqani brothers, etc.
The helplessness of the Pakistani civilian leaders in this matter apparently makes them all the more angry. Hence, the intemperate reaction to Indian Home Secretary G.K. Pillai’s charge that the ISI was behind the Mumbai massacres from start to finish. Clearly, the fact that they are no more than puppets in the hands of the military can hardly enhance the self-esteem of the civilians.
Besides, since their hands are tied where these terror groups are concerned, the civilians know that they are deceiving India, and the world, when they promise to rein in terrorism since it is a threat to Pakistan as well. While the civilians may be serious in their intent, the ISI and the army are not, for they still believe that they will be able to control groups like the Tehreek-e-Taliban which target Pakistan while nurturing LeT and similar other outfits as strategic assets against India.
A deadlock in such a situation is inevitable. Since India is in no hurry to make any concessions on Kashmir, Islamabad is unable to use that ‘gift’ to persuade the army to relent a little in relation to its perceived anti-Indian assets. The civilians also know that the army is less sensitive to the plight of ordinary people even if Pakistan experiences a ’26/11′ on a daily basis, as its politicians and commentators say.
With their focus on bleeding India to death, the ISI and the army are willing to let the fire of terrorism singe their own country. Their hope apparently is that if they can hold out for some more time, it may be possible after America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and the fruition of a nuclear deal with China for Pakistan to hold the upper hand again vis-a-vis India.
(17.07.2010-Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)