By B.K. Chum in Chandigarh
The expected has happened. The optimism expressed in this column six weeks ago that Pakistan may shelve the Kashmir issue “temporarily” has been turned into a reality. The Pakistani establishment has now officially admitted having put the Kashmir issue on the backburner. Their focus now is on improving relations with India, particularly through greater interaction in industrial and commercial arenas and liberalizing the bilateral trade. Economy usually plays an overriding role in influencing a country’s politics and also in determining international relationships.
Developments of the last one month reflect the changed mindset of Pakistan’s ruling class. The most important development is the admission by the Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani that as three India-Pakistan wars had not been able to resolve the Kashmir problem. it has to be resolved through negotiations.Pakistan’s foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar was more articulate when she last week said: “India and Pakistan have a legacy of three wars since independence. The time has come to not get bogged down by the old mindset………Although the Kashmir issue needs to be resolved, it need not be the point of start. Let us start with the less complicated problems. We will deal with our differences in a different mode”.
More importantly she has been quoted as saying that Pakistanis turning a new leaf. “Should the political mindset adopt or co-opt the military mindset? Issues are dealt with military mindset alright, but the problems are ultimately solved by a political mindset”.
The biggest factor which has contributed to the change in the Pakistani establishment’s mindset is the Pakistan army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s latest statement calling for peaceful coexistence and the resolution of all issues between the two countries. Of particular significance is his acknowledging that there is a balance between defence and development, and that over-spending on defence hurts the cause of development in both India and Pakistan. The hawks of the Pakistan army seem to be turning into doves.
Kayani’s statement needs to be seen in the backdrop of not only the domineering influence the Pakistan army has been exercising in the country’s politics but also in its sponsoring terrorist actions in India through its notorious Intelligence agency ISI. In the past over a decade, the army sabotaged the peace process twice when India and Pakistan were on the verge of reaching a settlement. The first was in 1999 when Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif had reached an understanding on the Kashmir issue and for normalizing of relations between the two countries. Pervez Musharraf sabotaged it through his Kargil misadventure. The second was when Manmohan Singh and Musharraf had finalized broad modalities of settlement on Kashmir, the ISI-backed terrorists foiled the peace move by resorting to terror actions in India.
Not only the army is now on board in the revived peace process, its chief Kayani has also emphasized the need for striking a balance between defence and development, an essential pre-requisite for normalizing the relations between the two countries. It is not without significance that Kayani has spoken after President Asaf Ali Zardari’s recent visit to India.
Another important factor responsible for Pakistan’s civil and army establishment’s ostensible change of heart is the country’s deteriorated economic situation and political instability which has touched a new low because of the Prime Minister Gilani’s conviction by the Pakistan Supreme Court in a contempt of court case. Though the opposition has started mounting pressure on him to step down, he may not quit. He has the backing of President Zardari for defying the court’s directive for approaching the Swiss authorities to start legal proceedings against Zardari, accused of having his unaccounted money parked in Swiss banks.
Pakistan’s economy is really in a bad shape. Prices have been soaring generating discontent among the people. Although recent moves show that their relations with US may not touch breaking point despite irritants, the later, in order to keep pressure on Pakistan to toe its line in the region, may apply some kind of squeeze on the aid it has been giving to Pakistan. It is also one of the reasons which can force Pakistani rulers to seek strengthening of the country’s economic ties with India.
The positive developments on the Pakistan front, the improvement in Jammu and Kashmir’s security environment during the last over a couple of years and the state’s separatists virtually going into hibernation provide the much needed opportunity to politicians particularly the ruling NC-Congress coalition to establish a closer rapport with the people by solving their day-to-day problems and for redressing their grievances. They also need to, as Chief Minister Omar Abdullah last week said, make people aware of the “historic public empowerment measures such as the Public Service Guarantee Act, Right to Information Commission, Accountability Commission and Vigilance Commission”.
Despite the positive responses emanating from Pakistan’s civil and army brass as enumerated in the beginning of this write-up, India cannot afford to be complacent for two reasons: the trust deficit between the two countries on account of India’s past experience when Pakistani rulers invariably broke their commitments; and, the possibility of some Pakistan-based terror groups backed by the rogue army and ISI elements crossing the Line of Control in the approaching summer months for launching terror attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.
Eternal vigilance, as they say, is the price of freedom and peace. (IPA Service)