Bottomline | Kayani Holds the Key

Peace with Pakistan can only be achieved through its army

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has deftly initiated two moves, one each at the strategic and operational level during his recent visit to Kashmir. Singh has offered simultaneous talks with Pakistan and the Valley separatists without pre-conditions, and by addressing the Paramilitary and police forces (CRPF, BSF and J&K police), he has signalled that the army will become more invisible in the state. To demonstrate purposefulness, one division (12,000 troops) of the Indian Army is reportedly de-inducting from the Jammu corps. These are bold, clever and welcome moves. Analysts are praising the timing of the offer to Pakistan; US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton is in Pakistan to underscore Washington’s determination to build the trust-deficit and Islamabad would not have lost the opportunity of asking her to press New Delhi to re-start the Composite Dialogue. Back home in the Valley, the moderate Separatists are wondering if they should align with the state political parties in welcoming Singh’s offer. Scepticism in Islamabad and the Separatists’ camps can only be dispelled if New Delhi adopts the correct mechanism of talks with Islamabad, and moves fast to engage with the Separatists. Once the PPP government came to power, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari turned his discredited predecessor’s India policy on its head.

He spoke about a broad constructive bilateral engagement with India pivoted around trade and not the traditional Kashmir issue. Pakistan Army Chief, Ashfaq Kayani, though annoyed, kept quiet as he had the more important task of restoring his army’s credibility. With time, Zardari was sidelined by Kayani’s cronies in the government including Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani. With the Obama administration completely at sea on how to handle the war in Afghanistan, Kayani has bounced back centre-stage. The prevalent perception, fuelled by the US and India, is that Pakistan may succumb to the Pakistan Taliban and come apart. While the nightmarish scenario for the US is Taliban getting hold of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, New Delhi is worried about Kashmir and its stakes in Afghanistan; a Taliban Pakistan would declare a no-holds bar unconventional war on India, and New Delhi will find it difficult to protect its assets worth hundreds of millions in Afghanistan under a Taliban government. With so much hysteria generated in the media, the above scenarios appear plausible.

No one has paused to wonder that if indeed Kayani had his back to the wall wouldn’t he pull his forces from the India front to reinforce the war on terror? The reality is just the opposite. While Pakistani troops’ strength has not been diluted from the India front, terror infrastructure to launch infiltrations from the Line of Control has been augmented in the recent weeks. The inescapable inference is that Kayani’s strategy is showing encouraging results: The US boots are not on Pakistani soil, Washington is getting increased flak for its drone attacks causing collateral damage, US is pouring in military equipment worth millions of dollars into Pakistan, US Special Forces’ instructors are training Pakistan Special Forces fight better, Washington will soon dilute stringent conditions attached to the massive aid package, and most importantly, if the US continues with its present thinking, it will be sooner rather than later that Taliban will be back in power in Afghanistan. The increased mayhem in Pakistan caused by the Pakistani Taliban is a backlash of temporary foray of the Pakistan Army in the tribal areas. Kayani is already working out truce with the local warlords. And President Obama is reportedly debating on whether to send more US troops to Afghanistan for a quick exit strategy. He should instead be asking himself if he is strengthening Kayani, who is the centre of gravity of the war on terror. This should worry New Delhi as well.

A strong Kayani will not allow the civilian dispensation in Islamabad to take credit for the Kashmir resolution. For this reason, Pakistan ISI chief, Lt Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha had made the unusual offer of direct talks with India. It is now an open secret, after Prime Minister Singh has admitted that bilateral talks from 2004 to 2007 were most fruitful, that the Composite Dialogue amounts to little. The backchannel talks between India and Pakistan are the key to peace with reduced infiltration across the LC and decreased violence in Jammu and Kashmir, as well as the only hope for the Kashmir resolution. Without direct involvement of the Pakistan Army is some fashion, these cannot be successful. If this does not happen, the moderate Separatists in the Valley will come under increased pressure from terrorists to not continue talks with New Delhi.

As Chairman of the All Party Hurriyat conference, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has recently been balanced in his pronouncements underscoring the importance of the step-by-step approach. While conceding that people need good governance, he has spoken of what is doable to include de-militarisation, withdrawal of laws that shield security forces, release of political prisoners, more trade and people-to-people contact across the LC and so on. The Kashmir resolution, he says, would involve Pakistan. This is precisely what Singh has said by suggesting talks with both Pakistan and Separatists at the same time. The important question is how to involve the Pakistan Army as without it there will be no lasting peace.


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