By K.N. Pandita
On his flight back home from Kabul, Prime Minister Modi broke his journey at Lahore. This unusual drop off has become a subject for speculation. Congress spokesman says Indian nation will have to pay heavily for the tea Modi had with Pak premier Nawaz Sharif at his family residence in Raiwaind. The case merits dissection.
Some called the visit “sudden”, albeit honestly; it doesn’t seem to be sudden. High level visits, even if for a couple of hours only, are neither sudden nor unscheduled. Of course, the nature of the mission demanded secrecy.
Bitter and entrenched acrimony has bedeviled relations between the two countries for last seven decades. A quick change of heart seems somewhat unrealistic. Nevertheless, human ingenuity has no limits. Wonders happen in the affairs of nations; the Berlin Wall was demolished, the Soviet Union imploded, the Irish problem was resolved, and Iran-US relations have jumped the hiatus.
The real source of the Indo-Pak logjam is Pakistan army, which is a beneficiary of the Pentagon’s patronage and material support. Patronizing the Pak Army serves two broad purposes of Pentagon: (a) it is a bulwark against Russian lengthening a shadow over Central and South Asian region, and (b) it secures Saudi monarchy against internal and external threats, Iran in particular, right or wrong.
The Pakistan army has its agenda laid out as well. It has somehow convinced the Pentagon that its anti-terror policy is flexible and region-specific.
We can substantiate our viewpoint. The US closed its eyes to Pakistan clandestinely building a nuclear arsenal. But it destroyed Saddam and his Iraq for alleged possession of nuclear weapons, which never was there.
In the US’ calculus, ‘military-dominated’ elected government in Pakistan is not really distasteful to her people. That appears contradiction in terms to foreigners but not to locals.
How does the Pakistan army rationalize its extra-constitutional supremacy in running the affairs of the country? Kashmir comes handy. Any elected or officially installed government in Islamabad attempting to make even the slightest deviation from the army’s patent Kashmir policy, is shown the exit door. Ali Muhammad Bogra, Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and others stand testimony to this reality.
This is the reason why resolution of Kashmir imbroglio defied even the sharpest of minds like Z.A. Bhutto and Sardar Swaran Singh.
The crucial question arising from Modi’s puzzling move is this: If Nawaz Sharif has decided to walk an extra mile with Modi, has he taken his Army Chief on board? If not, then he is riding a tiger. If yes, that speaks for the role of Pentagon.
Ordinarily, the Army Chief is answerable to his Corps Commanders and not to the government or the parliament leave alone the civil society. However, in the overall spectrum of regional strategies, the Pak army has to be on the same page as the Pentagon.
What actually transpired between Obama and Nawaz Sharif at the White House during the latter’s October visit is not known to us. Nevertheless, in all probability it was germane to what followed next. Within two weeks, General Raheel made his appearance at the Pentagon. It must have been an unsavoury decision for the Pentagon hawks.
The Obama administration has begun to feel that American lawmakers are somewhat skeptical about US’ handling of the Afghan situation. They are concerned about the fall (and subsequent recapture) of Kunduz, in the northeastern province of Afghanistan. Russia’s strafing of Daesh bases and the ISIS attacks in Paris, add to the complexity with which Obama administration is beset.
In response to the State Department’s demand, Nawaz Sharif would not hesitate imposing a ban on the Haqqani terrorist network --- an armed group active against the US in Afghanistan--- with a base in Quetta in Baluchistan. His problem is that the Haqqani group enjoys patronage of ISI and Pak Army, which only the Pentagon can call a halt to.
Apart from this, the US intelligence sleuths talk a good deal about the danger of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, particularly China-borrowed small range localized nuclear bombs technology, as major threat to peace in South and Central Asia as well as the oil rich Gulf where the US and developed countries have a significant stake.
General Raheel harped on the army’s old tune -- the Kashmir issue. Linking Kashmir to Afghan and Taliban element, General Raheel remained true to the army’s patent stand on Kashmir and the clue to the army’s supremacy.
This is where the US Foreign Service and the Pentagon realized that the Indo-Pak logjam needed to ease bottlenecks in its defensive-offensive tactics in Afghanistan, Central Asia and the Gulf region.
For the Pak army, climbing down is not that simple. It means overhauling regional strategy in a big way. But if that is what we try to infer from Modi-Sharif antics, the army will demand its pound of flesh. Thus a deal between the Islamabad government and GHQ becomes a corollary to the entire gamut of Indo-Pak thaw.
General Raheel was given red carpet reception in Washington. It was arranged that he address two Congressional committees and meet with Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Kerry, along with top brass of US defense forces. Apparently, all this was done to convey to him US’ thankfulness for his role in fighting the jihadis in North Waziristan. However, behind all these sweet gestures was a terse message also. Home-made jihadis were to be demobilized. He has been promised release of 300 million US dollars by way of support to Pak army’s North Waziristan military operations, besides a hefty package of sophisticated military hardware. US planners are adepts in blowing hot and cold.
The spokesman for the State Department has welcomed Modi’s Lahore jaunt. So has Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General. There are a host of issues between the two countries. Step by step approach to their solution is common sense. However, Kashmir outstrips all of them. Any formula agreed upon by the two sides on Kashmir, will obliquely take into consideration the ground situation in the State on both sides of the LoC. Redrawing of the dividing line is out of question but facilitating people to people interaction and expansion of trade are possible. Once a final agreement is reached, re-organization of the state can be facilitated along with blunting the teeth of insurgency and separatism. From the Indian side, Pakistan has to address three main issues, namely, dismantling terror structures, stopping infiltration, firing and shelling across the border, and bringing the Mumbai culprits to book. On Pakistani side, two issues are on their priority list; demilitarizing Siachin and guaranteeing security of Pakistan’s border with India. Obviously, third party intervention to break the logjam remains a well-guarded secret, though its role becomes more perceptible now than ever before.
K.N. Pandita is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, India.