By Khaled Ahmed
February 6, 2015
Some Pakistanis have been hysterical, TV anchors worst of all. Officially, it was normal till the media hate-hype forced some ministers to go back to the familiar sabre-rattling — with no sabres to speak of as the economy falters under home-grown terrorism. Urdu is the “poisoned mother tongue”, carrying unrealistic challenges based on Ghairat (honour) rather than anything credible.
Urdu newspapers leaned helplessly on retired generals, whom they otherwise abominate for having usurped democracy in the past, and let them spew the old ideological stuff on India and that old betrayer, the US. The clerics did their million marches against French blasphemy, recommending that Pakistan break with France as well as the US and resign from the UN if India joins the Security Council as a permanent member.
“The operationalisation of the Indo-US nuclear deal for political and economic expediencies would have a detrimental impact on deterrence stability in South Asia,” said the advisor to the prime minister on foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz. Former Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said US President Barack Obama “has preferred India to Pakistan”. A columnist wrote, Obama was “a down-and-out first generation American who once slept roofless on a pavement in New York, whose friend was a drug-snorting Pakistani illegal alien, whose first fundraiser for a Senate seat was organised by his Pakistani friends in a Chicago restaurant (they raised $3,000)”.
Pakistan’s army chief, General Raheel Sharif, was in China telling his counterpart how he had attacked terrorists in the tribal areas. The Chinese fear these terrorists but couldn’t get the old army chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, to go after them in North Waziristan. He had gone to China the same day that Obama arrived in India, prompting Urdu newspapers to say it was a strategic tit-for-tat, with the Chinese growling at poor India for hurting Pakistan’s security.
But Raheel Sharif was telling his counterpart in Beijing that he had smashed East Turkestan Islamic Movement safe havens in order to wipe out the Uighur camps where Muslim rebels from Xinjiang trained with their Uzbek brothers. The day he left Beijing, the Pakistan air force killed over 30 terrorists, including “foreigners”. After that, it killed 73 more, again including “foreigners”.
The Senate defence committee was informed on January 26 that, during his visit to the US, Raheel Sharif had presented evidence of India’s interference in Pakistan. But the general was hardly thinking of India in China. He was completely focused on the terrorists — alas, spawned by the Pakistan army itself. His post-Beijing statements were about how he would cleanse the curse of terror from “Gwadar to Chitral, Shawal to Bajaur”. The Chinese were pleased to hear the good news, not about how India would be made to suffer for flirting with the US, but about how Pakistan was getting rid of the Uyghurs. The Chinese had had a bad time with Kayani, who wouldn’t move against them.
General Pervez Musharraf, currently under trial for treason, disclosed that Kayani might have been too scared to take on the terrorists: “Either General Kayani was scared or too reticent or too reserved… But that was for his own person. The army was clear in its views as a whole. They wanted action, even in Kayani’s days. Kayani has to be asked why he did not act [against militants].
With Raheel Sharif going after elements inflicting cross-border terror in the region, Pakistan is mending fences with its threatened neighbours — China, Afghanistan and Iran. India should also be relieved because Pakistan used Afghanistan as a training ground for non-state actors, of all hues, who went into Kashmir. One supposes that Uzbekistan, too, is relieved. Its president was once nearly killed by terrorists trained in Pakistan’s safe havens. This could become a persuasive reason for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to, in the ripeness of time, normalise relations with Pakistan. This would bring back on track Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s free-trade-with-India agenda, which had been a campaign promise.
A retired air vice marshal of the Pakistan air force, Shahzad Chaudhry, who has emerged as a “realist” opinion-maker, had this to say about the visit: “25 years from now, if not earlier, four nations will stand tall on the map of the world: the United States of America, China, Russia and India… India will soon be up there with them, which is why I say 25 years. If these countries interact, sometimes competitively and at other times harmoniously, it shouldn’t come as any surprise.”
About the alarm aroused by the not-so-new tidings that India may become a permanent member of the UN Security Council and that nuclear technology transfers worth $150 billion would take place over 10 years, he had this to say: “In Pakistan, this will be hard to swallow — but swallow Pakistan will. Again, not necessarily at its own cost because a great good lies for us too in the future as we must chart our route outside of the Indo-Pak stranglehold. As they say, the strategic layout of the world is changing and only the prescient will find their places sooner on it.”
It is this “Indo-Pak stranglehold” that is keeping Pakistan back. But the positive and unavoidable geographic “hold” that will propel Pakistan forward will come with bilateral peace based on free trade and a liberal visa regime with India. Of course, Kashmir can wait to become irrelevant if the “infrastructural connectivity” Obama and Modi mentioned in their joint statement spreads in South Asia according to multilateral documents already signed at the SAARC.
Pakistan will have to swallow its Afghanistan policy earlier than its bilateral confrontation with India, which no one in the world appreciates, because Daesh (the Islamic State) has made its appearance in Punjab, Pakistan’s ideological heart. The process has been started, with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah — especially the latter because his base in north Afghanistan has suffered much at the hands of Pakistan — and the so-called “friendly” terrorists being allowed to go into freefall by the Pakistan army.
For the first time, Pakistan will have to accept the Indian presence in Afghanistan in the same way it accepts the Chinese. India has the advantage of being Afghanistan’s Saarc partner and historical ally. And Pakistan, under its new approach, will have to accept the strategic underpinning of India’s presence. Pakistan admits it is under threat from within and its army has embarked on a comprehensive clean-up in which the world — if not India — is ready to help. The persuaders for Modi to switch off his current punitive policy towards Pakistan are bound to increase.
Writing in The Indian Express, Daniel Markey, senior research professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS, and once head of the South Asia portfolio at the US State Department, stated: “At present, however, he [Modi] has taken India out of serious bilateral negotiations with Pakistan. This missing piece of India’s strategy is profoundly dangerous, even counterproductive. During his trip, Obama should press this point; not as a critic, but as a friend who recognises the potential of peace through strength, Indian-style.”
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’