Bottomline | Rise and Rise

As Musharraf becomes more powerful, India’s options get limited

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

A series of peace process talks between India and Pakistan are in progress. Both sides concluded foreign secretary level talks on November 15 and 16 in New Delhi with two outcomes: One, it was agreed to resume the fourth round of composite dialogue in February 2007 that was derailed by the Mumbai train blasts in July (7/11) that killed 200 people and injured scores more. While India’s national security advisor, M.K. Narayanan hesitantly implicated Pakistan’s ISI for this carnage, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was direct in his accusation. And two, both sides agreed to actuate the process for the joint anti-terror mechanism earlier agreed to by Prime Minister Singh and President Musharraf at Havana. Headed by two additional secretaries, the three members each joint mechanism’s mandate would be to consider counter-terrorism measures, through ‘regular and timely’ sharing of information, whatever that means. The high point that went unnoticed was the unambiguous statement by the defence minister, A.K. Antony. Rubbishing Pakistani foreign minister, Khurshid Kasuri’s sing-song that Siachen issue was nearly settled, and soon both sides would sign on the dotted line, Antony made it known that he would take the bull by the horns. He said that, ‘our pre-condition is that Pakistan must accept the present realities on the ground. Unless there is authentication, there is no question of any further steps. Only if they agree to it, we can think of other things.’

The army and the nation should be grateful for Antony’s plain-speak. Any hopes that Pakistan and the United States had on Siachen resolution on Islamabad’s terms will not fructify as long as Antony occupies his present post. Kasuri, however, is not the one to give up easily. He was still hopeful, and after meeting the external affairs minister, Pranab Mukherjee informally in New Delhi on November 27, he emphasised on the need for mutual trust between the two countries. Even as he was saying this, Pakistan’s junior finance minister, Omar Ayub Khan, also in the Indian capital, argued that trade between the two nations cannot move forward without solving the Kashmir issue. For Pakistan, mutual trust means fast movement on the Kashmir resolution. Meanwhile, Mukherjee will travel to Pakistan to hold formal talks with Kasuri on 13 January 2007, and will invite Musharraf to attend the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in New Delhi in April next. It is certain that Musharraf will wholeheartedly accept the invite and when in New Delhi will raise three issues: to induct China as a full SAARC member, forward movement on the Kashmir resolution, and the need to fight terrorism together.

Having perfected the art of running with the hare and hunting with the hound, Musharraf appears both the victim as well as the lone determined crusader against terrorism. His international stature as leader of the Global War on Terror (GWOT) has risen in direct proportion to President Bush’s falling image. Musharraf has benefited the most from the US war in Iraq gone wrong and the events in Middle East that have polarised the world on religious lines. Consequent to his September 5 agreement with tribal leaders of North Waziristan in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA), the rise of Taliban in Southern Afghanistan that have a clear understanding with Pakistan’s ISI was inevitable. Having burnt its fingers once, Pakistan will ensure that Taliban do not get too big for their boots; it is a matter of time before President Hamid Karzai’s government in Kabul will collapse. The British top NATO commander in Afghanistan, Lt Gen. David Richards has predicted an ominous scenario. According to him, ‘Over 70 per cent of Afghans who now support Western presence could switch sides in the next year unless we (NATO) exploit this winter to start achieving concrete and visible improvement.’ For this reason, top world leaders are visiting Islamabad to urge Musharraf to rein in the Taliban. While praising Musharraf as an ‘enlightened moderate leader’ British Prime Minister Tony Blair was in Pakistan on November 20 to congratulate its supreme leader. Days before him, Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov met Musharraf and promised support to him on the GWOT. Meanwhile, NATO is despondent, and its leadership including President Bush recently debated its future at the summit meeting in Latvia. It was unanimously agreed that NATO’s future depended upon its performance in Afghanistan.

What the mighty Soviet Union could not do in five decades, Musharraf has accomplished in a few months: NATO now looks up to Musharraf for its survival. With the inching success in Afghanistan, Musharraf, back home, has adopted a clear-cut strategy to stay in power after the 2007 elections in Pakistan: he will have no truck with the clergy that support al Qaeda. Instead, he will permit secular parties to contest elections and support his stay in power. This is what Bush also wants. And so do other western leaders who have handed over the GWOT leadership to Musharraf. For India, the biggest challenge is: How to deal with a powerful Musharraf who is determined to seek an early resolution on the Kashmir issue.


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