Musharraf weighs down Indian moves in Afghanistan
Even as the peace process between India and Pakistan has reached a stalemate, it has three discernible strands that require to be understood separately. The first is the formal acceptance by both sides that the peace process is ‘now irreversible.’ The second concerns the joint declaration that ‘South Asia is no longer a nuclear flashpoint.’ And the third is the increased influence of Pakistan in Afghanistan. Like Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth, President Pervez Musharraf stood next to Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai during his recent press conference with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Kabul, where he impressed upon the Indian Prime Minister that the peace process between India and Pakistan directly affected his country. Each of the three issues deserves an elaboration.
After the April 2005 visit of Musharraf to India, from Pakistan’s perspective, the peace process has been put on the twin track of crisis resolution of Jammu and Kashmir that Islamabad wants, and crisis management under the composite dialogue framework that India desires. For obvious reasons, this differentiation has been ignored by India that continues to view Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) as the be-all and end-all of better relations with Pakistan.
Fully conscious of India’s game-plan, Pakistan is simply too occupied with other issues to rock the boat: Musharraf is working through local elections in Pakistan to ensure that he has a semblance of democracy to show in 2007 when he has promised to relinquish uniform. It is another matter that few doubt that Musharraf will remain the life-long chief of army staff. He has got the US to accept moderate Taliban who are now under his control and are being used in Afghanistan and Kashmir to further Pakistan’s hold. On the one hand, he is busy projecting himself as the leader of the Muslim world already in a state of shock and awe because of the turbulence caused by the US policies. On the other, he his squeezing maximum benefits from the US for being its ally in the war on terror. Considering the above, it makes sense for Musharraf to accept the slow pace of the peace process at least until 2007 when he hopes to consolidate his other gains substantively.
On the second issue of ensuring that South Asia does not become a nuclear flashpoint, both India and Pakistan have equal stake and responsibilities to make this succeed. This issue that flows from the 1999 Lahore Declaration should be made independent of the peace process, implying that it should be taken out of the composite dialogue and handled at the level of the National Security Advisor (NSA). So far, very little has happened on the nuclear and conventional CBMs, which include pre-notification of ballistic missile tests, better communications between the two director general military operations, hot line between the foreign secretaries, continuation of the ceasefire and the 1991 agreement on air space violation, annual exchange of the list of nuclear installations, more flag meetings along the Line of Control, and so on. The sticking points are India’s refusal to talk with Pakistan on the twin issues of ‘strategic restraint regime’ and ‘balanced and mutual conventional forces reductions.’ India’s contention is that its national security concerns go beyond Pakistan, implying China, and hence it cannot equate itself with Pakistan. This approach is wrong. India must start talks with Pakistan on these issues with a view to ensure the setting up of a nuclear risk reduction centre. To begin with, both sides should agree to eliminate use of nuclear warheads for respective battlefield ballistic missiles, start talks on the future of cruise missiles in their doctrines, have a hotline between NSAs, and work to appreciate each other’s conventional military strategies. Even as a full fledged conventional war between India and Pakistan is not ruled out, the need is to make sure that nuclear accidents do not happen and both sides are able to read nuclear threshold signals unambiguously.
On the third issue, there is little that India can do. While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent visit to Afghanistan is a welcome development, Karzai is not in a position to deliver on improved relations with India. In the coming parliamentary elections in Afghanistan on September 18, Musharraf’s support is critical. Pakistan has deployed nearly 80,000 security forces including army and rangers along its porous border with Afghanistan to ensure full Pushtun participation. It is another matter that hundreds of Pakistani Pushtuns will manage to cast bogus votes, and the so called moderate Taliban who draw their cadres from the majority Pushtuns have already bought peace with Karzai. Ironically, except for foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, there is little minority representation from the erstwhile Northern Alliance in Karzai’s government, and these cadres are expected to regroup and fight for Kabul. India, which has traditionally backed the Northern Alliance, is at odds to take sides. Moreover, until Karzai agrees to let India build and train the Afghan National Army, Delhi’s influence in Afghanistan will continue to remain peripheral. Pakistan will press Karzai to refuse this Indian offer much as it has made clear that a land route for India through Afghanistan depends on the progress of Indo-Pak peace process. It is indeed time for India to take a hard look at the peace process with Pakistan as well as Musharraf’s growing influence in the region.