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Monday, April 2, 2012

The Significance of the Zardari Visit

Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, has suddenly decided to visit the Sufi shrine of Hazrat Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti at Ajmer Sharif in India, a place of important pilgrimage for Berelvi and Sufi Muslims of the subcontinent. He has also accepted an offer to lunch with the Indian Prime Minister, Man Mohan Singh, on April 8. Though it is being claimed by the advisor of Mr. Zardari, Farhatullah Babar, that the visit had been in the offing for the past one year and had not materialized suddenly, this excuse is not entirely convincing. Let me state why.

It is a common practice amongst the religiously inclined, to promise to visit a particular shrine if Divine intervention helps them in being cured of an illness, or delivered from a particularly difficult situation etc. This is especially so in the Indian subcontinent and from that angle, Zardari has every reason to visit Ajmer Sharif. He seems to have recovered from a purported stroke that led to a mild facial paralysis in December 2011, for treating which he was flown to Dubai and where he remained for two weeks before returning to Pakistan. But, not many, except the hardcore jiyalas of the Peoples Party of Pakistan (PPP), were convinced that the President had indeed suffered a stroke and had gone to Dubai to recover and recuperate under more able medical hands there than were available in Islamabad. I don't blame the nay-sayers because Pakistan's history of deceit, deception, double-crossing and lying is such that nobody believes anything being said in Pakistan, least of all by the politicians. To be fair to the Pakistanis, they do not only practice these fine arts particularly well against the Indians and the Americans (and to varying degrees against the rest of the world including the sweeter-than-the-sweetest-honey friend China) but also against each other amongst themselves. Instances are aplenty and I will reserve them for another post. At that time when Zardari fled to Dubai, he was under immense pressure from the Pakistani Army (PA) with the recently exploded 'Memogate' scandal consuming all of Pakistan. One has to remember that there is absolutely no love lost between the Bhutto clan and the PA. Unfortunately for the PA, the long-standing Master, the United States of America, facilitated the return of Ms. Benazir Bhutto from her partly self-imposed and partly Musharraf-imposed exile, and her participation in the elections. Her return came as a big blow to the ambitions of the ruling coterie, Gen. Musharraf and the PML-Q Chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. They rightly feared their continuing retention of power. With the huge support for her everywhere she went, with the dislike for Gen. Musharraf's rule, with the pre-poll alliance between the two largest parties of PPP and PML-N, with the dire economic situation, and with the country-wide lawyers' agitation against Gen. Musharraf's high-handedness in dismissing the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) and declaring an Emergency, Ms. Bhutto's victory was a foregone conclusion. The only way out for Gen. Musharraf and the King's party that was supporting him, was to physically eliminate Ms. Benazir Bhutto, after having successfully tackled Nawaz Sharif by re-exiling him in an unexpected minor side-drama. They proceeded to implement their diabolical plot. However, they did not expect the turn of events that followed the assassination of Ms. Bhutto, leading to the PPP seizing power due to overwhelming public sympathy and through deft manoeuvres along with PML-N. To add insult to injury, Gen. Musharraf had to vacate the Presidency in favour of PA's most despised man (and to be fair to the PA, by a large section of the people of Pakistan too), Asif Ali Zardari. Indeed, fatefully, Gen. Musharraf had to himself leave the country in an un-announced exile. Since that time, the PA has tried many tricks to oust Zardari. Nothing succeeded though Zardari came close to being sent packing a couple of times. Credit partly goes to Zardari for managing the situation successfully so far and partly to other circumstances.

However, the situation was very critical when Zardari decided to fly to Dubai on a dubious medical emergency. There was pressure on him from the PA to resign or face the very real possibility of an army coup if he resisted. Mr. Zardari knew that no world power or leader would come to his help if he ended up in prison, other than issuing some inane statements. His father-in-law. Zulfikar Ali Butto, was executed with impunity by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. Except for customary noises, nobody intervened. His wife was brutally murdered and the murderer freely lives and lectures in Western countries. Though he endured solitary confinement and physical abuses during his previous incarceration, Zardari was much older now and was unwilling to undergo once again that cruelty. So, he escaped to Dubai with the triple intention of cooling down the unbearably rising political temperature, escaping the possible coup and the consequent stint in the Attock prison overlooking the Indus near Peshawar, and planning with his friends his next moves. The PA had played a neat game, using the widespread public hatred against the USA after especially the Salala incident, to its advantage by depicting Zardari as an ally of the US conspiring against the nationalist and Islamist PA. The matter was deadly serious because Zardari would get no sympathy even from the jiyalas. The judiciary of the Pakistani Supreme Court which also has a score to settle with Zardari interposed itself in the matter leading to further troubles for him. The troubles are continuing what with his confidante and incumbent Prime Minister Gilani about to be sentenced for contempt of court and removed from power. Zardari's political troubles are about to snowball in the coming weeks. Like Pakistan since its inception, Zardari is also moving from one trouble to a bigger next trouble.

For its part, the PA certainly wants to get rid of Zardari and his PPP as quickly as possible. The PA, apart from its hatred for the Bhuttos and their political party for historical reasons, are also feeling threatened by Zardari and Gilani's words and actions against its interests since coming to power in c. 2008. Since then, the Zardari and Gilani combine has astonishingly tried to tame the PA and the notorious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). First, they decided to bring the ISI under civilian control which indeed misfired within a few hours and the orders had to be withdrawn hurriedly. But, the effort was well worth recognizing since nobody before had attempted this. Then, Zardari bravely attempted to redefine the nuclear doctrine to 'No First Use' (NFU) all by himself, which again fell through. Again, the attempt needs recognition. The Pakistani Supreme Commander described India as not the threat facing the country, puncturing the PA's raison d'etre. After 26/11, Gilani agreed to send the ISI Chief to India, which he had to retract immediately under PA/ISI pressure. Normally, I would have called it a coordinated drama between the civilians and the khakhis, but this appeared genuine to me. Then, the political setup agreed to the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, which imposed restrictions on the PA and directly named the LeT, but the bill had to be eventually diluted as the PA put its foot down and the Americans dithered and surrendered to the Pakistani khakhis. Even the extension of the terms of COAS Gen. Kayani and DG, ISI Lt. Gen. Pasha in c. 2010, was not automatic and they were kept on tenterhooks for quite a while before the announcements were made. This was so even when the US had indicated its desire for the continuation of these two. When the episode of the CIA Agent Raymond Davis erupted, Gilani eased out the PA's most trenchant supporter in the cabinet Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Gilani's recent taking on of Kayani, through the interview to Xinhua, or in the National Assembly, and his sarcastic remarks about the type of visa given to OBL for staying in Abbottabad, were unprecedented. He then sacked the Lt. Gen. who was the choice of Gen. Kayani for Defence Secretary's post and for the first time, since the 70s, appointed a civilian as the Defence Secretary. The Defence Secretary had earlier stated in an affidavit in the Supreme Court in connection with the Memogate that the PA and the ISI were not under the operational control of the Ministry of Defence(MoD). An angry Gilani used the opportunity to get rid of a PA-appointee by blaming him for causing a rift between the govt and the PA, a nice excuse which put the PA on the mat. He added insult to PA's injury by replacing the mard-e-momin Lt. Gen. with a woman. Gen. Kayani immediately changed the Commander of the 111 Brigade, a brigade which is always used to stage the military coup in Islamabad. But, the threat, if it was one, did not cause a ripple. I have not seen such concerted efforts to tame the PA and the ISI anytime before, except when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto toyed with his Service Chiefs after becoming the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA) in the wake of the massive 1971 defeat. The 'Memogate' issue has been fizzling out. The ISI Chief, Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha who orchestrated many a campaign against Zardari including the latest Memogate, has been shown the exit without being offered an extension. It is no wonder therefore that the PA and the ISI are gunning for the head of Zardari, figuratively, I hope. They are propping up Imran Khan and the powerful Lashkar-e-Tayba (LeT) as well as sundry other Islamist and jihadi outfits under the banner of Diffa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) to fight both Zardari and Nawaz Sharif in the imminent elections. While Zardari might have weathered the storm so far, the future is increasingly bleak for him and his party politically.

Be that as it may, Zardari is hemmed in from other directions as well. The economy is doing pretty badly. Of course, it was never shining in the last 65 years on its own steam, though die-hard Pakistanis want everyone to believe that in the 60s, Pakistan was a Tiger economy and the rest of Asia was simply dying to copy its economic miracle. The various Human Development indices place Pakistan in the category of a Least Developed Country (LDC). Increasingly, Pakistan is being mentioned in the same breath as Sudan, Somalia and similar nations. Pakistan has attracted not more than USD 400 million as investment this current year. The Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) are hesitatnt to help. The electric power situation is so horrible even before the summer has set in. The non-availability of natural gas, as well as electricity, has hit hard the only worthwhile industry of Pakistan, the textile industry, which alone brings in 70% of the foreign exchange earnings. The quantitative easing by the European Union, through GSP+, cannot therefore be taken advantage of by Pakistan. Non-availability of petroleum products and their steep price are affecting the Pakistani transportation system, especially the Railways which is already reeling under the non-functioning of the defective Chinese railway engines. The world economic situation is itself such that Pakistan should not expect its usual succour from others anytime soon. Even the Chinese are unable to help Pakistani economy much. In December, 2011, the leading Chinese bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China had withdrawn from plans to head a consortium meant to finance the $1.6-billion Pakistani portion of the IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India) gas pipeline. A couple of months earlier, a Chinese coal-mining company had abruptly cancelled a huge contract to develop the Tharparkar coal seams in the Sind citing worsening security situation especially for the Chinese workers. As they say, another door opens whenever one is shut. The Chinese company's pull-out must leave the field wide open for the erstwhile nuclear and missile scientist and the new coal expert, Dr. Samar Mubarakmund, to speedily implement his coal gassification plant there. Thus, Pakistan's smart idea of playing China against the US has come a cropper. Realizing this, Pakistan has started making concilliatory moves vis-a-vis the USA. This time, even the acclaimed Pakistani tactical brilliance failed miserably. The usual floods are around the corner too. Pakistan is stretched on all fronts. Overall, therefore, the situation is very bleak for Pakistan.

Therefore, Zardari has perforce to seek aid from wherever he can get. Even 'mortal kafir enemy' India, for that matter. The Indian Prime Minister, who is willing to even travel the whole distance to meet his Pakistani counterpart at the slightest hint, sees a great opportunity for bringing peace to the troubled India-Pakistan relationship. He is now resigned to his analysis that Pakistan will never change and the only option left for him is to help them see Indian generosity hoping that somehow their mindset will change a wee bit after that. The Indian side might have also been alarmed by the possibility of Imran Khan and his jihadi, PA and Islamist supporters coming to power in c. 2013, not far away from the D-Day in Afghanistan by mid-2014. Indian assessment might be that Zardari (or Nawaz Sharif) might be a better prospect for India than a rampaging Imran Khan and his friends. India badly needs energy security and the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline would be important now that the much hyped KG-D6 gas fields have serious issues. Mr. Singh has therefore decided to export 5000 MW of electricity and export a slew of petroleum products and even natural gas through trucks immediately and later through a pipeline. He has decided to relax visa rules, encourage cross-border financial and banking services etc. Zardari wants even more from India if his fortunes are to be turned around. He wants to balance the public hatred for the US that is hurting him with the concessions from India. We know that furious Track-II discussions have been going on for about two years now. The restoration of the Composite Dialogue last year was an indicator of the thaw in the relationship. India is beginning to accept the usual stonewalling tactic of Pakistan in the 26/11 case because it probably feels that such an approach would help in the overall scheme of things. It is my inkling that some big ticket announcement is around the corner. Naturally, that announcement must be of such a nature that the Pakistani masses see concesions being prised out from India. The MFN carrot, being dangled infront of India, and its timeline of end-2012 coincides nicely with various developments. If India reneges on its promise, MFN might not materialize. India, in its eagerness and under pressure from the US, may be quite willing to concede as much as possible. However, it may be demanding some unwritten assurances in return, which of course, Pakistan can be expected to flout at the first instance as it happened after the Simla accord of c. 1972 when Pakistan refuted the secret promises that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had given to Mrs. Indira Gandhi. He had pleaded for not including these in the written document so as to save the honour and dignity (H&D) of Pakistan. It is significant that the Indian Prime Minister, while referring to an invitation from his Pakistani counterpart to visit Islamabad, said, "something solid needs to be done before we can celebrate". Note the reference to the 'joint celebrations'; Mr. Man Mohan Singh did not say that "something solid needs to be done before I can visit Pakistan". The Pakistani side is now trying to tie up all the loose ends at the highest level, perhaps. The Pakistani side is now trying to tie up the loose ends at the highest level, perhaps.

The only way Pakistani economy can improve is if it turns to India. The only way Pakistan can defeat terrorism (if it really wants to) is when it turns to India. The only way that Zardari feels that he can retain power is with help from India. Thus, everything in Pakistan revolves around India. Unfortunately for Pakistan, India is like a quicksand for them. The more they try to extricate themselves from Indian influence, the deeper they are dragged into it. Therefore, Zardari is coming to India to seek help and understanding from a generous Mr. Man Mohan Singh. What a turn of events.


PS: Thank God, there was no one-on-one meeting at Seoul between Man Mohan Singh and Gilani. It could be different in New Delhi when Zardari meets Man Mohan Singh. Of course, language is not an issue between the two but I understand that Zardari can also speak fluent Punjabi. It is the one-on-one meeting that Indians must fear and Pakistanis must rejoice.

1 comment:

  1. ust to travel is rather boring, but to travel with a purpose is educational and exciting.

    ReplyDelete