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Pak military hurdle to talks

Pak military hurdle to talks
Highlights

One man’s food is another man’s poison. In the current context, being anti-Pakistan is okay for an Indian and vice versa. Among their many offences,...

The response of Pakistan military is worth noting. It shared a common legacy in undivided India, but has since gone different ways. The Indian generals work strictly under the civilian leadership and take their cue from them while speaking.

A different ethos prevails in Pakistan where the military not just shares, but dominates the nation’s decision-making apparatus. This different ethos is the reason why an institutional military-to-military dialogue has been discouraged by successive governments. The doyen of Indian security community, the late K Subrahmanyam, had advocated this. However, the political and security establishments in both countries are uncertain about how such a dialogue would work

One man’s food is another man’s poison. In the current context, being anti-Pakistan is okay for an Indian and vice versa. Among their many offences, the agitating Jawaharlal Nehru University students are supposed to have shouted “Pakistan Zindabad”. And Yogi Advaithyanath, like many other BJP lawmakers, is forever daring them to “go to Pakistan.”

The problem starts when Indians say or write positive things about Pakistan in Pakistan and vice versa. Courting trouble with their party were BJP stalwarts L K Advani who spoke and Jaswant Singh who wrote, recalling Mohammed Ali Jinnah envisaging his new nation a secular place where people of all faiths live in peace.

The two were damned for questioning the party’s stand on the two-nation theory that caused India’s Partition. The ink-splashing on Sudheendra Kulkarni is quite fresh in public mind. Congressmen Mani Shankar Aiyar and Salman Khurshid attracted the ire of many for speaking their minds while visiting Karachi.

Take the non-political personalities like filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and actor Naseeruddin Shah who visited the Karachi Film Festival and said conciliatory things about India-Pakistan relations. Visiting Pakistanis who said positive things about India were similarly targeted.

Greater heat is generated if it happens to be cricket, played like a war. Playing cricket in India after many years, Shaheed Afridi and Shoaib Malik praised Indians in India. Shoaib even mentioned his Hyderabadi wife Sania being from India. Javed Miandad, once the epitome of Pakistani ‘patriotism’, who used his bat more like the national flag when playing against India, reacted on the expected lines.

The response of the military is also worth noting. It shared a common legacy in undivided India, but has since gone different ways. The Indian generals work strictly under the civilian leadership and take their cue from them while speaking. A different ethos prevails in Pakistan where the military not just shares, but dominates the nation’s decision-making apparatus.

This different ethos is the reason why an institutional military-to-military dialogue has been discouraged by successive governments. The doyen of Indian security community, the late K Subrahmanyam, had advocated this. However, the political and security establishments in both countries are uncertain about how such a dialogue would work.

Viewed strictly from the Indian prism, all Pakistani generals are either bad or not-so-bad. Saying this is not to join the current spell of jingoism but emphasising that politicians on both sides may blow hot and cold as required, but the Pakistani soldier cannot but be anti-India, given the perennially hostile relationship. Many of these generals are from ‘martial’ families who have fought India in the past and have relations who died fighting.

Among them is the current Pakistan Army chief, Gen. Raheel Sharif, who lost a brother in the 1971 war, something that, besides a myriad reason, should make him, like all his predecessors, a hardliner on India. To be fair, unlike most of his predecessors, he has refrained from India-baiting. Putting aside this factor for a while, it would be worth looking at what he is doing. Let us assume that any positive development in Pakistan would indirectly be good for India. In doing this, one does not have to endorse or oppose the overriding role the military plays in that country.

For nearly two years now, both the Sharifs – Prime Minister Nawaz and army chief Raheel – are more or less on the same page on many issues. Raheel has succeeded in nudging the vacillating political leadership to get tough with the militants. He has been conducting Zarb-e-Azb military operation in the tribal areas for the past 21 months, fighting the terror groups, both domestic and foreign (Arabs, Chinese Uighours, Chechens, Uzbeks among them), and has even suffered heavy losses within his ranks.

Not wanting to grab political power, he has stood by Nawaz through many crises, including the ill-conceived ‘seige’ of Parliament in 2014 staged by Imran Khan. The net result is that he has helped usher in a semblance of stability – if that is the right expression – for the Nawaz-led government – enough to allow some measures that could not have been imagined earlier.

The Pakistani Punjab Assembly has unanimously passed the Punjab Protection of Women against Violence Bill. The Nawaz government rejected the mercy petition of Mumtaz Qadri, the self-confessed assassin of ex-Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, and executed him. The government has lodged an FIR in Gujranwala against unnamed terrorists who crossed the border from Pakistan to attack the Indian airbase in Pathankot.

Under what is called the “Raheel effect”, the anti-graft body has not only reopened inquiries into the alleged corruption of the Sharif family in the 1990s but is also sniffing around Nawaz’s brother and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s ongoing pet development projects.

The passing of the pro-women bill in Punjab is no mean achievement. The list of crimes includes abatement of an offence, domestic, emotional, psychological and economic abuse, “stalking” and even cyber crime. Amidst protest from the Muslim clergy and threats from the Islamist parties, the state assembly passed the legislation.

The province’s police has eliminated in what are called “police encounters” to eliminate key sectarian terrorist leaders who had for years gone scot-free. Pakistan’s fight against militancy has always remained selective and segmented, leaving the Punjab militants to cause trouble in India. Delhi may need to assess if that impacts the activities of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) of Hafeez Saeed and Maulana Masood Azhar respectively.

Yet, gradually, a ‘liberal’ face of Pakistan is emerging thanks to the Nawaz-Raheel tango. Nawaz publicly hailed Sharmin Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar winning documentary on honour killings by hosting its screening in the PM House. “Clearly, the government has been encouraged by the military establishment to get on with all such actions and the message has also gone out to the Fundos not to make a “cause celebre” out of these developments,” Najam Sethi writes in an editorial in The Friday Times weekly.

The picture is still unclear. After Qadri was hanged, a shrine has been built to commemorate his ‘matyrdom’. The Islamists are livid. They now believe that their influence is eroding because of the change taking place in the armed forces and also within the ruling PML-N, the largest centre-right party, which they once saw as a ‘natural ally’.

From all this flows a development that is more than just symbolic. Nawaz sent two ministers to the Vatican and had the Pope accept the invitation to visit Pakistan. Sixty-eight years after Pakistan emerged its National Assembly recently passed its first law for the religious minorities to register their births, deaths, marriages and other things that govern their lives.

So far as India is concerned, Pakistan remained in denial mode over the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008, till it became impossible after Ajmal Kasab, put on trial, made confessions. Sethi notes the refreshingly different stance of his country towards the Pathankot terror attack. “The clearest exposition of this is not the tacit admission (case in Gujranwala) by the military establishment that some jihadi cross border activity does indeed originate in Pakistan but, more importantly, that it is frowned upon and will be curtailed in the larger national interest. This is a message not just to India but also to the larger international community that the Pakistani military establishment is keen to woo.”

Pakistan is still far from ending the process of religious radicalisation – from the Mujhahideen of the 1980s to the Jihadis of the 1990s to the Taliban of 2000s and finally to Islamic State or Daish. It has taken Pakistan that long to realise the existential threat it poses. To see that threat receding or eliminated, the world will have to watch it – patiently and closely.

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