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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Is Pakistan Heading Towards a Meltdown ?

A recent book published by the noted Pakistani commentator, analyst and journalist Ahmed Rashid (author of such insightful books as 'Descent into Chaos') seems to express a fear that 'Pakistan is on the verge of a meltdown'.

He has cited various reasons for his well-founded fear, viz., Pakistan's reliance on US aid, its complex politics, the government’s lack of control over both its military and intelligence service and its failure to protect minorities and secure regions controlled by the Pakistani Taliban and other terrorist groups.

Of course, all of the above are true. However, all these are symptoms and the root cause lies elsewhere. It is the single-minded obsession to bring India to its knees wherever and whenever possible. Some of the extreme fanatics in Pakistan even dream of conquering India, often expressed through a desire to see the Pakistani flag (or, for the jihadi Islamists, the flag of Islam) fly over the Red Fort in New Delhi. Such unbridled obsession, paranoia and wishful thinking have led Pakistan to sustain an 'enduring conflict' with India. All of Ahmed Rashid's reasons for the meltdown can be traced to this single fountainhead of obsession with India, an obsession that Pakistan's sometimes-friend-and-at-other-times-foe, the US of A, seems to have recognized but failed to alter. This is what Michael Sheehan, Assistant Secretary of Defence for Special Operations/Low-Intensity Conflict, told lawmakers at a Congressional hearing recently: "They [the Pakistanis] have an addiction to playing around with militia groups to achieve certain interests, particularly vis-à-vis India. That gets them in all kinds of trouble. We've had these conversations with them forever about that. I don't see that changing. I don't see any set of talking points that's going to be delivered by some new diplomat that's going to change their mind."

Why is Pakistan having an over-dependence on the US ? Historically, Pakistan decided to balance a preponderant India through a strategic relationship with the US to offset the advantage India had because of its size and capacity. Besides, Pakistan was the creation of a close US ally, the British, and therefore Pakistan easily jumped onto the US bandwagon as Britain began to lose steam after the Second World War. Pakistan mortgaged its foreign policy to the larger interests of the US and got more and more sucked into a geopolitics that was far above its capacity to handle. The U2 incident and the open threat by an angry Nikita Khruschev to obliterate Peshawar jolted Pakistan out of the cocoon. More things were to follow to threaten Pakistan. So long as the US was generously funding it and more importantly 'not funding' India, Pakistan had a good relationship with the US. The US decision to help India militarily, though only moderately, after the Chinese aggression against it in c. 1962 angered Pakistan no ends. The arms embargo after Pakistan declared war on India in 1965 made the US-Pakistan relationship reach a nadir. Though Pakistan decided not to keep all its eggs in the US basket alone, especially after 1965, its new found friend, China, was not exactly a replacement for the US because it neither possessed deep pockets nor modern weapons. Pakistan's dire economic and military situation demanded that it could not as easily shake-off its US dependence. There were periods of bitter divorces as the US used Pakistan whenever it needed and discarded it as soon as the need was over, only to be followed by an annulment of divorce and passionate love-making as a new need arose for the US. But, a Pakistan blinded by its hatred for India and an unachievable ambition of taking on an India nearly ten times its size, had no other option. It perfectly knows US proclivities but is forced to alternately dissolve the marriage and re-marry. But, Pakistan is no mean partner in this unequal partnership either. It has been able to double-deal the US, and extract its pound-of-flesh. Unfortunately, Pakistan never directed its efforts at outmaneuvering the US to securing economic gains for its people. Almost all of its efforts went towards propping up the military to take on the kafir mortal enemy lurking in the east.

The burning ambition was so overpowering that Pakistan, which prides itself in the fact that it is the only country created for Islam, took positions totally against the ummah in the Suez crisis and the Palestine issue. In the Suez Canal crisis of c. 1956, Pakistan sided with the US, French, Israelis and the British against the interests of Egypt. Pakistan was a member of the Baghdad Pact and was unwilling to let down its allies even as three hundred thousand angry Pakistanis demonstrated on the streets of Lahore against the invasion of Egypt and other angry mobs attacked the British High Commission in Karachi. The Pakistani Prime Minister Suhrawardy said, "I refuse to be isolated. We must have friends". Why did Pakistan need those friends who were waging a war against an ummah cause ? Obviously, Pakistan considered the ummah cause in Africa or West Asia as inconsequential when compared to its obsession with India and the friends were helping her in that obsession. Suhrawardy's reference of the Arabs as ‘zero plus zero is after all zero’ so angered President Nasser that he used to tell Indian leaders that India’s non-occupation of Lahore disappointed him. Earlier, King Farouk of Egypt sarcastically had mentioned that Pakistan wanted the world to believe that Islam was born only on August 14, 1947. The Pakistani membership of the Baghdad Pact so angered the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) that normalcy between the two countries was not restored until 1967. KSA denounced Pakistani action as a “stab in the heart of the Arab and Muslim States”. Again, why was Pakistan willing to establish relationship with the most hated nation by all Islamists, Israel, during Gen. Musharraf's Presidency ? Pakistan considered the emerging economic, strategic, military and intelligence relationship between India and Israel as a threat and wanted to nip it in the bud. Of course, it would have explained away its normalization efforts with Israel in Islamist terms as akin to the Treaty of Hudaybayah that the Prophet himself agreed to. Pakistan was therefore not only willing to forsake even its Islamic identity but also fool everyone, when it came to keeping alive its option of conquering India one day.

Pakistan is pursuing a similar relationship with People's Republic of China (PRC) as well. Following the ascent of the 'secular socialist', Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who must be credited with having made the most significant contribution for the current mess of Pakistan, a policy decision was made to befriend China as well, to teach the unreliable US a lesson, by the Ayub Khan regime. The border dispute was hurriedly settled between the two nations, largely in favour of China in c. 1962. Since then, China has helped Pakistan strategically (with the supply of nuclear weapons and their delivery platforms), and diplomatically on innumerable occasions. After the Mumbai 26/11 massacre of c. 2008, Pakistan announced that it had authorized China to talk to India on its behalf and its decisions would be binding on her, thus re-mortgaging its already mortgaged foreign policy independence. There is every likelihood of Pakistan leasing on a long-term basis Gilgit-Baltistan (GB, or parts of it) to China. {See this for the recent developments in the sensitive GB part of Jammu & Kashmir and see this for a perspective on Chinese presence} Of course, Pakistan cannot simply replace the US with China because of the former's clout worldwide and in multilateral financial and aid agencies, the superior quality of the US military platforms and weapons that the Pakistani armed forces sorely want, and its generous no-questions-asked funding. China is tight-fisted in funding and does so only when it would derive benefits several times its aid. China does not dole out hard cash and its funding is tied to specific projects. Pakistan cannot also afford to lose the indirect leverage it enjoys against India through the US, something that is not possible through China.

Ahmed Rashid also speaks of 'complex politics'. I presume he is referring to local political situation within Pakistan. The 'Sole Spokesman', Mohammed Ali Jinnah, amassed all powers with himself even knowing fully well that he was terminally ill and did not have much time on hand. Even earlier, the Muslim League was his personal fiefdom and the second rung leadership was not well developed. The leaders were also querulous and it soon showed up after the demise of Jinnah. The Muslim League splintered into various factions. The bureaucrats used political instability to make inroads into governance. Political intrigues by opportunistic and under-developed and vision-less second-rung politicians led to frequent replacement of Prime Ministers and Presidents. A semblance of stability was achieved only when Gen. Ayub Khan seized power. The efforts at making the Constitution bore no fruit and the Constitutions themselves were discarded and re-written at least six times and is as yet an imperfect document with work-in-progress. The sixth and the last Constitution, written in about two months' time, was promulgated on Aug. 14, 1973 by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Within four hours of presenting the Constitution to the Parliament, the President Fazl Elahi Chaudhry signed it but it was also immediately suspended because Pakistan was under Emergency and Z.A.Bhutto was actually a civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA). Such has been the comical attempts at democratization in Pakistan ! The very first country-wide General Election based on universal adult suffrage resulted immediately in the break-up of the country with more than 50% of the nation violently seceding after a genocide of humongous proportions since Hitler's holocaust atrocities on the Jews. In the sixty-five years of its Independence, Pakistan had military rulers for 25 years and in the remaining period of 40 years it had seen 27 Prime Ministers. The only time a Pakistani civilian leader had a significant measure of the Pakistani armed forces was when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the CMLA. At all other times, the armed forces (actually the Pakistani Army, PA) has been either running the country from the driver's seat or from the back seat. The only other time some semblance of civilian assertiveness has been witnessed in Pakistan is in recent times after the image of the PA and the ISI took some beating due to a series of incidents starting with the dismissal of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry in c. 2007. But, the PA seems to be having the last laugh as its promotion of the Islamist leader, Imran Khan, who has remained popular but unable to convert that to votes in the last two decades, seems to be bearing fruits. If and when Imran Khan assumes power, jihadi terrorist tanzeems and the PA (which already enjoy a close nexus) would gain power as it happened in c. 2002 in the FATA and North Western Frontier Province (or NWFP, a British nomenclature that was recently changed to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or KP) badlands after the Musharraf-promoted jihadi and Islamist alliance of MMA (Muttahida-Majlis-e-Amal) assumed power there. The difference this time around would be that this unholy combination will rule nuclear Pakistan as a whole, not just a remote corner as it was in c. 2002. It was the combination of Gen. Musharraf and the MMA which was instrumental in Al Qaeda and the Taliban securing safe havens in these areas from where they continue to harass, kill and maim US, NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan and mount terrorist attacks against India. Yes, 'complex politics' as Ahmed Rashid puts it, is truly a cause. To be truthful indeed, the Muslim League (in united India) was only interested in a confrontational politics with the secular Congress and never paid attention to how it would govern a country if and when it got one.

Ahmed Rashid has also listed the well-known 'lack of government's control over the armed forces and the intelligence agencies' as a cause for the impending meltdown. Everybody knows this. From day one, the Pakistani Army (PA) went out of control when Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan ordered the PA clandestinely to grab the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir. All that Jinnah wanted was that he did not want to know how they went about that task because his 'conscience must be clear'. The PA never looked back after this in its clandestine activities with or without the knowledge of the State. When the PA failed in its task of capturing J&K, it blamed the political leadership. This is again a trait we have repeatedly seen from the PA. Every outing of the PA against India has been increasingly disastrous for it but the PA was never held accountable for that because the PA was supra-Constitutional (all of the six versions of the Constitution). By the 90s, Pakistan’s military intelligence setup, the ISI (sarcastically referred to as The Angels because the agents wear white shalwar kameez), had become very powerful and was a ‘state within the state’ (riyasat ki andhar riyasat) and outside the ambit of the control of any civilian including even the Prime Minister and the President. In the on-going case known as the ‘Memogate Scandal’, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), a retired Army General and an appointee of the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) of Pakistan, admitted in a sworn affidavit filed before the Supreme Court that MoD was not in a position to submit a reply to the questions posed by the Supreme Court as the Army and the ISI were not under its operational control. An angry Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani retorted in the Parliament the next day that this ‘state within the state’ was unacceptable and further said “If we will remain subordinate to this system, then there is no need of the parliament”. The US President George W Bush, as admitted by the Pakistani Defence Minister Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, was reported to have asked Pakistan on July 30, 2008 as to who was in charge of the ISI. In an interview to the Friday Times, the PPP senator, senior PPP leader and the Spokesperson for the President of Pakistan, Mr. Farhatullah Babar, admitted that “Efforts in the past to tame the security agencies have failed. This is the dilemma but this also is the reality.” So much so that whenever military dictators won their referenda, the oft-heard remark was ‘farishtay zindabad’ (Long Live the ‘Angels’), a mocking reference to the manipulations by the ISI. The cortroom proceedings in the 'Mehrangate' scandal bring out clearly how the PA and the ISI destabilized elections and elected governments. This is then the 'deep state' as Ahmed Rashid himself has so often and accurately described.

Ahmed Rashid also alludes to Pakistan's inability to protect its religious minorities as a reason for the upcoming meltdown. In this aspect, I have always compared Pakistan to Hitler's Nazi Germany. So, a meltdown on the lines of the Third Reich is very much on the cards. However, unlike the Third Reich, which rose from the shackles of the “Treaty of Versailles” to be a powerful and victorious country once again, though only fleetingly before falling apart, the case of Pakistan is nothing but a series of falls. It has been said that the Nazis were radicals in the garb of the traditionalists. They placed emphasis on such things as honour and dignity as well as Christianity. In their scheme of things based on the Aryan Master Race, moral obligations are owed only to them but not to the inferior races. The Nazi attack on the Jews stemmed from the fact that they were superior and were committing all atrocities (which to them were glorious deeds) for the common good of the superior community. Any keen observer of Pakistan can see the obvious similarities. The genocide by the Pakistani Army in the then East Pakistan compares with the holocaust that killed millions of Jews in Nazi Germany. The genocide drove away 10 million Pakistanis, almost 70% of them Hindus, into India and killed several millions within East Pakistan. In her book, “Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh”, the Bangladeshi Author Yasmin Saikia says, “The Pakistan Army killed Bengali Hindus simply for being Hindus”. The West Pakistanis who always thought the East Pakistanis had lost their purity because of mingling with the Hindus and thus polluted by them, decided to re-establish the purity by exterminating the Hindus. Author Saikia says, “Muslim Pakistani (read: Pure) men assumed that the sacrifice of the Hindu women was necessary to undo the malaise.” Apart from the hatred for the infidel Hindus, the contempt that the meat-eating, tall, fair and handsome West Pakistanis had for the rice-and-fish eating, small, dark and ugly Bengalis drove the policy makers in West Pakistan and the West Pakistani army to launch a massive genocidal programme even against their co-religionists there. Again, much on Nazi lines. Similarly, Pakistanis and their regimes were also religious fundamentalists in the disguise of “traditionalists”. Both placed too much dependence on the military might to achieve their goals. Both of them believed in their racial superiority and eliminated the minorities in their respective countries, Jews in the case of Germany and Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Ahmedis and Shi'a in the case of Pakistan. In fact, some of the hardline Deobandi clerics, like Zafar Usmani who wanted a separate nation felt that a union with the Hindus will erase their cultural identity and only when the Muslims were the rulers they could wipe out the majority Hindu’s culture. The draconian Blasphemy Law, though it did not result in any actual execution of a blasphemer so far due to judicial ruling and international pressure, nevertheless put minorities at an immediate disadvantage. Once somebody was accused of blasphemy, that person’s life was in danger even if finally acquitted by the Court of Law. They either were killed by fellow prisoners within judicial custody or were killed after release or they had to seek asylum in a foreign country. Most of the members of the judiciary were either conservative Islamists or were so afraid of them that they released terrorists and sectarian killers and those accused of blasphemy were almost always found to be guilty (only to be released by the highest court or upon Presidential pardon). In one case, that of the Christian Ms. Aisia Bibi, the Lahore High Court (oten described as jihadi-pasand Lahore High Court) expressly prohibited the President from sanctioning any pardon to her. The Nazi judges were ultraconservative nationalists and there was very little Jewish representation in the judiciary. Even the few remaining Jewish judges were removed from their positions by Law in c. 1933. Similarly, the Pakistani judiciary was bereft of any Judges from the Hindu, Sikh, Christian or Ahmedi communities, save the sole Hindu judge Rana Bhagwandas whose tenure as an acting Chief Justice of Pakistan was hotly contested by Islamist leaders and parties. Pakistan also hounded out a brilliant and the only Nobel-prize winning Pakistani physicist Dr. Abdus Salam because he practised a brand of Islam unacceptable to the Sunni majority. The Sunnis were so obsessed that they removed the reference to 'Muslim' from the epitaph in his tombstone. The headstone now reads “Abdus Salam the first (blank) Nobel Laureate”. It is no wonder therefore that Pakistan does not receive any enrichment from the minorities who are forced to lead a fearful life in the 'Land of the Pure'.

Last but not the least, Ahmed Rashid refers to the terrorist groups and how sovereignty has been ceded to them. The issue of sovereignty is dubious and depends on whether one looks at it from the side of the nationalists (who are limited by geographic boundaries of a nation state) or the Islamists (who have no such geographic boundaries, bounded as they are only by the borderless ummah-hood).In my opinion, that purported loss of sovereignty also flows from a yearning to conquer India either stand-alone or as part of the larger Khilafat-e-Rashida, (The Enlightened Caliphate) the unique system of Islamic governance patterened after the first four Caliphs, as propounded, for example, by the fundamentalist Hizb-ul-Tahrir (The Islamic Liberation Party) or the Lahore-based Tanzeem-e-Islami, or the Sipah-e-Sahaba-Pakistan (SSP) or the Jama’at-ud-Dawah(JuD), the parent organization of the terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). In such a Caliphate, the sovereignty belongs to Allah, not the people, and the ruler is merely an instrument of that sovereignty, to be unquestioningly obeyed. In early July of circa 2009, British media reported that London-based HuT Islamists were plotting a coup in Pakistan to establish a Caliphate. In fact, Chaudhury Rehmat Ali, who is controversially reputed to have coined the word “Pakistan”, wanted the other races and religions in India to be subservient to the master race he called “the Paks”. He ridiculously claimed that ‘no constitution, whether federal or unitary, can succeed which condemns our 80,000,000 Muslims to the status of a minority community’ forgetting that the Muslims just about constituted 22% of the total population of India then. Such a perception is further reinforced by the open talk of a Caliphate by the clergy of Pakistan, invoking Muslim sentiments by contrasting what they call as the glorious past of Islam with its present decline. Such a Caliphate will unify all Muslims in a single state, and enforce an Islamic system in all spheres of life, under rules directly derived from the Quran and the Sunnah (the practices of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH). Its self-advertised status as the first Islamic ideological state (after the dismantling of the six-hundred year old Ottoman Caliphate) and a ‘Fortress of Islam’ seem to imbue its citizens with the zealotry for re-engaging in such an utopian ambition in modern times. The Pakistanis display a tendency and an urge to prove to the rest of the Muslim ummah that they are far more pious than the rest. They are constantly anxious to prove that they have impeccable Islamic credentials, better than any other longer-time Islamic countries. This has even led them to deny their ancestry because it could be inconveniently traced to Hinduism, and has also led them to discard such historic legacies as Moen jo Daro and Harappan civilizations that go well before the birth of Islam, but which are inconveniently fountainheads of Indic civilization. In June 2011, a Pakistani scientist even announced that they have completed a genome sequencing of a Pakistani Muslim and identified genetic markers that were specific to Pakistan ! One of Pakistan’s best known historians, Prof. K.K.Aziz, in his book, “Murder of History” has the following to say of this Pakistani propensity: Almost every Muslim of any importance claimed, and still claims today, in his autobiography reminiscences, memoirs, journal and bio data, that his ancestors had come from Yemen, Hejaz, Central Asia, Iran, Ghazni, or some other foreign territory. In most cases, this is a false claim for its arithmetic reduces the hordes of local converts (to Islam) to an insignificant number. Actually, it is an aftermath and confirmation of Afghan and Mughal exclusiveness. It is also a declaration of disaffiliation from the soil on which the shammers have lived for centuries, and to which in all probability, they have belonged since history began. If all the Siddiquis, Qureshis, Faruqis, ... have foreign origins and their forefathers accompanied the invading armies, or followed them, what happens to the solemn averment that Islam spread peacefully in India? Are we expected to believe that local converts, whose number must have been formidable, were all nincompoops and the wretched of the earth—incapable over long centuries of producing any leaders, thinkers, or scholars?

Therefore, sovereignty is a double-edged sword in Pakistan. The practitioners of purer brands of Islam in Pakistan, namely the Deobandis, Wahhabis, Salafis, and Ahl-e-Hadiths would not use the term, 'loss of sovereignty' while referring to 'regions controlled by the Pakistani Taliban and other terrorist groups'. For them, these areas are liberated from the clutches of the munafiqin (hypocrites who are not truthful to Islam) by the mard-e-momin (pious Muslims) for the express purpose of establishing a true Caliphate. And, they are not terrorists. They are jihadis fighting in the way of Allah (jihad-fi-sabilillah, the motto of the infidel Pakistani Army).

Is Pakistan heading for a meltdown ? That was the question of this thread. Again, it depends on two different points of view, from the perspective of the jihadi Islamists in Pakistan {the likes of Akram Lahori, Prof. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, Maulana Mohammed Masood Azhar Alvi, Fazlur Rahman Khaleel, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, Naveed Butt, Maulana Sufi Mohammed, Ilyas Kashmiri (not satisfactorily proven to be killed yet), Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, Imran Khan, Fazl-ur-Rehman, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Syed Munawar Hasan et al} or nuetral observers from outside. From a nuetral point of view, there can be no doubt that Pakistan is hurtling towards an economic and political disaster. The overall poor economic situation around the world would only make matters much worse for Pakistan in the coming months and years. In c. 2009, the forum of the ‘Friends of Pakistan’ (later to be re-christened as 'Friends of Democratic Pakistan' or FoDP) consisting of aid donors to Pakistan, refused to give any more cash to a severely cash-strapped Pakistan, opting to route their funds only through the IMF anf that too for specific projects. By c. 2008, Pakistan was desperately in need of funds for meeting its balance of payments debts. Its external debts had increased to USD 55 Billion from USD 44 Billion a year ago. It had to go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for support and accept their stringent conditions. the Pakistani Senate passed a unanimous resolution in September, 2010 asking international donors and lending agencies to write-off Pakistan’s entire debt burden. Nations and organizations that were once generous supporters of Pakistan, through money and material, began to impose restrictions. The rulers of Pakistan did not themselves invest enough in education, health, and literacy, areas in which other countries of the Indian subcontinent including its youngest and poorest member, Bangladesh, far outstripped Pakistan. According to a World Bank report, Pakistan’s spending on education is only 2.3% of the Gross National Income (GNI) while the average across the other South Asian countries was 3.6%. This has shown up on the literacy rates in Pakistan. Roughly 46% of Pakistanis are illiterate and there has been a steady drop of enrollment in primary schools which now stands at 65%.

Pakistan being termed as one of the ‘failed states’ by the Foreign Policy magazine in its annual compilation in association with the think tank, Fund for Peace. The ranking is based on four characteristics: the ability of a country to physically control its territory, ability of the legitimate state authorities to take collective decision, ability to provide reasonable public services and the ability of the State to interact with other states in the community of nations as an effective member. Pakistan fails on all the four characteristics. In the first edition in circa 2005, Pakistan was in position 34 and it rapidly slid to the 9th position in 2006. While Pakistan improved its position slightly in 2007 from a previous low of 9 to 12, it still was behind North Korea at 13. In 2008, it again slid to 9. The International humanitarian organization, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) classified Pakistan among the top ten crisis-hit nations in the world successively in c. 2008 and 2009. In order to present an image of “shining Pakistan” to not only its own people but also the rest of the world, the Pakistani government started fudging figures and removing those in Planning Commission who were a hindrance to this process. This ‘window dressing’ assumed huge proportions during the tenure of Prime Minister Abdul Aziz and President Musharraf that when Aziz quit the job, the whole edifice collapsed like a pack of cards. Later, in order to get more funds from the World Bank, the Pakistani government tried to lie its way through by presenting ‘inaccurate data’ to the Chief of World Bank. The World Bank saw through the game and refused to accept the data presented by the official Pakistani delegation. The unedifying episode was thus a repeat of a similar one in circa 2000. Pakistani business newspaper, Business Recorder, in its editorial, has freely accepted the usual proclivity of economic managers to fudge figures to hide inconvenient truths. The situation today is so dire, and will worsen in the coming summer, that Pakistan wishes to import electricity, petroleum products and natural gas from the 'mortal enemy' India. We have not yet heard of opposition to such imports from the frothing-at-the-mouth-corners jihadi Islamists. They might have been caught in a dilemma because opposition to such imports from kafir India might earn them the displeasure of the suffering masses.

To the bigots in Pakistan, all these economic or political facts are immaterial. Jihad-fi-sabilillah will ulimately succeed and Pakistan will come on top because they have iman on their side and that is what counts. But, history shows that Allah has been singularly unmerciful to Pakistan.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Is there a thaw developing in India-Pakistan relationship ?

It appears so. The Composite Dialogue (CD) has resumed, deeper normalizing measures such as opening of bank branches in each other's country are on the anvil, multiple-entry longer-duration and multiple-city visas are in the works, more items for trade are being discussed, Track-II meetings are going on at a feverish pace etc.

However, appearances can be deceptive and are always so when it involves Pakistan. I am not a pessimist but I am extremely sceptical when it comes to Pakistan. Things are no doubt happening in the India-Pakistan front lately. India agreed last year to not only resume the Composite Dialogue but also conceded the long-standing Pakistani demand to even make the CD uninterrupted and uninterruptible. The 'uninterrupted & uninterruptible' tag (a common refrain of the 'secular fundamentalist', Mani Shankar Aiyyar) allows Pakistan to mount terrorist attacks on India even on the scale of 26/11 (or even bigger) but expect India to continue talking to it as though nothing really happened. Many Indian analysts have [wrongly] argued the case for such dialogues, terming the 'freeze' as having outlived its utility leading therefore to 'diminishing returns'. I plainly never saw any returns at all in the three years of 'freeze' for one to now talk of 'diminishing returns'. For those who would argue that 'freeze' did not bring us any dividends and therefore a new approach was needed, I have two counter arguments. The 'freeze' was neither strongly enforced nor given sufficient time to bite Pakistan. Besides, we have had talks for several years earlier but we did not realize that Pakistan was only biding its time and preparing for massive terrorist assaults on India in Kabul (twice) and in Mumbai. A cursory look at the extraordinary deception of a trial in the 26/11 case at Adiala anti-terrorism court would prove that Pakistani government, its law-enforcing agencies, its armed forces and its intelligence agencies continue to hoodwink India while continuing to provide support to the same jihadi leaders and organizations. {See The 26/11 Case - How Pakistan and its Judiciary Help the Terrorists - Part V, for example or the earlier parts}

Anyway, more positive things happened. Articles appearing in newspapers speak [incorrectly] of Pakistan having already granted the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) to India {See, for example Pakistan Grants India MFN Trade Status - Reuters, Pakistan Grants India 'MFN' status - CS Monitor, Pakistan Grants India MFN status - The Guardian}. Both the World Trade Organization (WTO) and SAFTA (South Asia Free Trade Agreement) under the aegis of SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) demand that Pakistan designate India as an MFN, something that Pakistan has steadfastly refused to do for over 16 years now. Pakistan has been bleeding severely because of its intransigence in this matter but that was of no consequence because Pakistan could not have any trucks (pun intended) with its mortal 'kafir enemy', except to import goats or onions or cotton whenever their scarcity became an existential threat {rather than India, for a change}. Pakistan is now seriously discussing with India of importing petroleum products from India, the prices of which have skyrocketed in Pakistan even as its traditional desert-friends and ummah-brothers have refused to extend any concession to Pakistan anymore {except for Kuwait which is still offering diesel at discounted prices}. Pakistan has in double-quick time given a green signal for import of petroleum products through trucks and has asked India to lay a pipeline to its borders as well. It is quite obvious that when Pakistan badly needs things from India, it is able to clear such proposals rapidly, which in itself is being cited by misguided Indians as an indication of Pakistani willingness to foster a friendlier relationship with India. Another fancied argument of the so-called Peace Lobby in India (anybody who opposes this lobby must be communal, a war-monger and part of the despicable Hindutva brigade) is that Pakistan released an Indian Army helicopter which recently strayed into Pakistani territory by mistake and landed there. Of course, Pakistan released the helicopter and the pilots but not before laying its hands on the codes and GPS coordinates of the Indian positions in Siachen. India would, no doubt, have done the same thing had the case been the reverse, but then the Indian Peace Lobby should not use the release as a proof of Pakistan's friendliness. For Pakistan, it served no purpose holding on to a small helicopter and its crew when it was a clear case of navigational error and especially after Pakistan had laid its hand on vital information. The incident would have snow-balled into a diplomatic row and the situation that it was in, Pakistan did not want it. The Indian Peace Lobby is thus attributing a virtue to a Pakistani necessity.

It is relevant to remember at this stage a few things. A farcical drama is being enacted in the Adiala court over the 26/11 case for the last three years. Very little progress has been made in the case, the voice samples which Pakistan promised to India at one point of time have not been given citing Pakistani laws {we knew even at that time that such a promise was simply to bait to a reluctant India to send its Home Minister P.Chidambaram to Islamabad to thaw the 'freeze'), Pakistan has made very little independent investigation into the conspiracy angle involving JuD/LeT leaders and the Pakistani Army, Navy & the ISI, Pakistan has displayed no urgency or real intention in prosecuting even those who are currently held in jail there. The explosive information revealed by David Coleman Headley alias Daoud Gilani under oath in an American court is being conveniently ignored by Pakistan as it has the potential to unravel the nexus between the Pakistani army (PA) and the jihadi tanzeems. The Judicial Commission drama went on for a year and finally petred out last week when the Commission that came here rubbished their government-agreed process {the members of the commission were more intent on visiting Haji Ali at Mumbai}, and the Pakistani government itself is taking refuge under the guise of 'slow turning of the judicial wheels in the Subcontinent'. As is their usual practice, the Pakistanis point their finger at the whole subcontinent whenever a negative reference to their specific country is made.

Contrary to popular belief, widely created by Reuters {the news headlines cited earlier}, Pakistan has not granted MFN status to India. It has simply moved away from a small positive-list trading practice to a large negative-list trading practice. Even this came about with a huge drama. First, it was announced by their trade minister that MFN has been granted. Then, there was a huge hue-and-cry and the Government of Pakistan (GoP) clarified that only a committee had been setup to develop a process towards moving to MFN. It was announced that MFN would come about by April, 2012, a deadline that has been shifted now to end-2012. In the meanwhile, the Diffa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC), a conglomerate of jihadi tanzeems, retired Islamist military Generals and various other ranks and closet jihadi Islamists like Imran Khan have taken a strong exception to granting MFN status to India. Various Pakistani ministries objected to various things resulting in a large negative-list for trading. Cowed down by their threat, Pakistan now says that even the move to the negative-list would be phased and gradual. This itself will not be complete until end-2012 and therefore the deadline for the MFN status now becomes a question mark. This treacherous behaviour of Pakistan has been the rule rather than the exception.

Within the last 18 months, Pakistan has achieved several things for itself from a more-than-willing UPA-II government. It has resumed the Composite Dialogue, it has conceded very little in return to India, it has ensured that the India-Pakistan border would be relatively peaceful even as it focusses its attention on the emerging Afganistan denouement (so that it will re-establish its strategic depth in Afghanistan after the US withdrawal, for an eventual attack on India later}, it ensured the Indian withdrawal of objections to the accordance of the GSP+ status to Pakistan by the European Union (EU), got support from India for a comfortable entry into the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a rotating member-country, it has effectively blunted the Indian pursuance of the 26/11 case etc. It is also Pakistan's calculation that the US may positively consider a US-Pakistan nuclear deal (similar to the India-US deal) once Pakistan establishes a facade of friendly relationship with its arch-enemy, India. After Abbottabad and the PNS Mehran affairs and a host of other issues (such as the case of Syed Saleem Shehzad or the Congressional enquiry into Balochistan or the Memogate scandal or Adm. Mike Mullen's very scathing parting gift), the PA is on the back foot and it would rather tactically retreat at this stage than do anything foolishly. Let us remember that Gen. Kayani was completely opposed to Pakistan granting MFN status to India before the major incidents listed above overwhelmed him. It was during his Directorship of the ISI that Mumbai 26/11 was planned.

Many analysts incorrectly propagate the idea that there is a vociferous and influential constituency within Pakistan for normalizing relations with India. They are misled by a despondent and desperate group of Pakistanis contributing some articles here and there in the English language media of Pakistan, a media which is simply *not* the opinion-maker in that country. That distinction goes to the Urdu press which is overwhelmingly hostile and inimical to India. There are no signs of easing there and one should not expect that too as the society moves to the hardest-line Deobandi/Wahhabi/Salafi/Takfiri brand of Islam. Not for nothing that GoP has appointed as the new Director General (DG) of the notorious ISI, a person who was intimately associated with the 26/11 and Kabul attacks as the operational head. Gilani could have appointed anybody else, if he really wanted to reform the ISI, but chose to appoint instead Lt. Gen. Zaheerul Islam.

An important issue that is generally overlooked is the interlinking of the Afghanistan situation and India's internal and external security. Since the 80s, and increasingly so since the 90s, certain aspects of India's security have become linked with Afghanistan. Pakistan is playing a hide-and-seek game with the Americans and the Afghans and is hoping to install the pro-Pakistani Taliban regime yet again there. Pakistan's game plan with India is to induce a sense of complacency by appearing to be friendly to it and muting its objections to a Taliban take-over of that nation. The Pakistani society, and consequently its armed forces, are getting increasingly Talibanized and the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan next door to a nuclear and Islamist Pakistan would be like fire and cotton coming together. The emerging thaw has this important aspect to it as well.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Added Later: For those of us who were wondering why the Pakistani Judicial Commission arrived in Mumbai last week, it now transpires that it was a bait to arrange a meeting between Gilani and Man Mohan Singh on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Conference at Seoul next week. This is a usual Pakistani ruse used not only against India but also against the US, and successfully too. Gen. Musharraf used to regularly catch a number three in Al Qaeda just before every Washington visit. The reason for the bait is that Indian Prime Ministers usually concede a lot to Pakistan in one-on-one meetings with their Pakistani counterparts and Pakistan knows that quite well. We will wait and watch what more Mr. Man Mohan Singh would concede at Seoul. Anyway, there is no change to Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, even from the Indian side.