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Army, India, Al-Qaeda and Zardari

On the day President Asif Ali Zardari sat down at the Presidency and discussed national security and operational preparedness of the armed forces with the Services Chiefs, an AFP report noted that “A month after coming to power, President Asif Ali Zardari risks losing the support of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment with a string of foreign policy gaffes”. The assessment was attributed to both named “analysts” and unnamed “sources”.

There is reference in the report to President Zardari’s alleged or presumed description of the “Islamic militants” fighting in Indian-administered Kashmir as “terrorists”, as also his statement that India was never a threat to Pakistan. While the “sources” in the article did not say that Mr Zardari was wrong in his assessment, they thought that he “underestimated the extent to which India remains the number one obsession for the Pakistani military”.

These “analysts” described the “shadowy” ISI’s support, an adjective used by the report, for the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in 1996-2001 and “alleged” organisation of cross-border insurgency in Indian-administered Kashmir mainly as an effort “to achieve strategic depth against its bigger neighbour”. Interestingly, the analysts and unnamed sources went on to say things that sound tongue-in-cheek because they are less disapproving of President Zardari than they are of the Army. Take, for instance, the observation that “The entire structure of the army has one focus — to protect itself from India. It is the basic tenet of the army”. One named “analyst” disagreed with the opinion that the “entire army structure” may be offended with President Zardari and thought that the military “mind” at the upper echelons would agree with the president’s general change of policy which was foreshadowed by the Charter of Democracy that the PMLN and the PPP signed in 2006 in London.

What does one make of this report? Its approach is not value-neutral and it seems to weave a tapestry through broad generalisations without referring to the context of the happenings in the past. That context is important, not so much as justification for this and that policy but for understanding the compulsions of successive governments in pursuing them and their inability to change course when required. One reason there has been criticism of Mr Zardari’s statement referring to groups fighting in Kashmir as “terrorists” is because that statement, if indeed he made it, actually hurt the Kashmiri cause at this moment when the Kashmiri youth is up against India. It is a situation triggered by New Delhi’s myopic policies and has nothing to do with any outside stimulus, a fact acknowledged by analysts inside and outside India. Worse, the statement has allowed militant groups to push their agenda to the forefront at a time when events have passed them by and they have become irrelevant to the Kashmiri struggle.

Pakistan and the army have come a long way in reassessing the security threat from India. But while the dialogue framework has held on the positive side, old games, though with much less intensity, carry on with India alleging Pakistan’s involvement in the bombing of its embassy in Kabul and Islamabad accusing New Delhi of fishing in Balochistan and the tribal areas. In Balochistan, plausible deniability by India has been dented by statements from sub-nationalists like late Nawab Bugti’s son, Bramdagh Bugti, who has talked about getting funds and support from India.

At the UNGA, both Mr Zardari and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, however, stressed the need to move forward on the dialogue and Mr Singh conceded that India needed to resolve the Kashmir issue. The movement in Kashmir has taken on a different colour altogether and Pakistan would do itself and the Kashmiris much good if it avoided the mistakes of the nineties. Another opportunity has presented itself: the Indian government has survived the political storm created by the US-India nuclear deal and Pakistan has a new government in sync with the army. This is just the right time to carry the process forward.

Internally, a welcome development is the acceptance by the army that it needs to make the legislators privy to the situation and take them into confidence. Yesterday, it conducted the third in-camera briefing session on the various security threats faced by the country. This is the way of all developed democracies. Specialised committees of legislatures monitor the functioning, budgets and spending of the military. Given Pakistan’s chequered past, these developments have been slow in coming but now that we are moving in that direction, it should be commended. (Daily Times)