Author : C.Uday Bhaskar

Pakistan has been coping with a series of tragedies and these include the ill-fated plane crash near Islamabad on Friday (April 20) where more than 100 people are reported to have been killed, which was preceded by the massive avalanche in the Gayari army base in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir (April 7) which buried as many as 140 troops and civilian personnel. It is appropriate that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has conveyed India’s condolences and reached out to the people of Pakistan as they cope with these challenges.

Pakistan Army Chief General Pervez Kayani visited the avalanche affected area on Wednesday (April 18) and made some observations to the media – including foreign correspondents – that have aroused considerable comment and interest in both India and Pakistan.

The content of the remarks against the backdrop of the loss of Pakistani lives from amongst personnel posted in the inhospitable Sicahen glacier area could be described as unexceptionable and there could be little major disagreement. General Kayani called for the peaceful resolution of the glacier dispute and proposed that Pakistan should spend less on defence and more on the development effort for the people. He further added: “Peaceful coexistence between the two neighbours is very important so that everybody can concentrate on the well-being of the people.”

The reason for this heightened interest in the Kayani remarks stems from the fact that till recently the general personally – and the institution he commands – the Pakistani Army were seen to be inflexibly opposed to the idea of "peaceful co-existence" with India, or for that matter the proposition that Pakistan ought to spend less of its resources on the military and more on the humans security indicators.

And in keeping with the basic template evolved since the 1972 Simla Accord between the two neighbours, Gen Kayani suggested that the decades of enmity between India and Pakistan should be resolved through dialogue and negotiations. He further dwelt on the urgency of halting the damage to the environment caused by troop deployment on the Siachen Glacier by both the countries and noted: “Ultimately it’s going to affect the River Indus adversely and we understand water is important and water management is very important.”

At a time when the vitality of the seasonal monsoon is examined in minute detail by the entire South Asian community for its very existence, the reference to the criticality of water is significant and to be welcomed. The Siachen dispute between India and Pakistan dates back to April 1984 and over the last 28 years there has been considerable environmental degradation and damage and a rigorous assessment is yet to be done given the nature of the location and its very restricted access – on both sides.

But the question that is being asked on both sides is what is the sincerity index of the Kayani statement calling for peaceful co-existence between the two South Asian neighbours? It may be recalled that, despite domestic reservations, it was this vision that encouraged then prime minister Indira Gandhi to sign the Simla Accord on terms that were very favorable to a militarily defeated Pakistan. While India did not seek to fulfill its legitimate war termination objectives, or seek reparation - it magnanimously returned all the territory captured and the 93,000 prisoners of war – the prevailing sentiment at the time being that India had only one objective – "peaceful coexistence".

This objective has remained elusive for almost 40 years and in the interim India has been dealing with a steady pattern of terror and low intensity conflict which has its linkages with Rawalpindi – the HQ of the Pakistan military and its intelligence agencies. Over the last two decades, India and Pakistan went overtly nuclear in 1998 – fought the Kargil War in 1999 – met briefly in Agra to little avail - only to have the terror pattern against India unfolding first in December 2001 and then peaking in November 2008.

Peaceful coexistence and a negotiated settlement to all the outstanding problems will be possible only if the Pakistani Army accepts that support to terror is no longer an option and that borders – however unresolved and contested – cannot be altered by force, direct or covert. To a large extent this was the spirit and letter of the January 2004 agreement between then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and President Pervez Musharraf. Rawalpindi, it appeared, had supported the Musharraf (who was also the army general) initiative to make peace with India.

However this was misleading. For a couple of years after the rapprochement and back-room negotiations over the contentious Indo-Pak issues including Kashmir , the rug was pulled from under Musharraf and he soon lost power. While his imprudent handling of the judiciary and the political bargains struck with the right-wing groups contributed to the Musharraf ouster, it is also suggested that some elements within the 'deep state’ of Pakistan were not enthused by this peace approach with India – and hence Pervez Musharraf had to be ejected.

Today the peace suggestion by the other Pervez – General Kayani is to be cautiously welcomed but a ‘core’ issue remains. Is the Pakistan GHQ in Rawalpindi still wedded to the distorted idea that it can support groups like the Haqqani in Afghanistan and the Lashkar-e-Taiaba against India, even while seeking international support for dealing with the Taliban within Pakistan? Hence is this olive branch a tactical move - to allow the Pakistan Army to deal with its volatile western front and the internal security situation ?

Sophistry over the Mumbai 2008 trial and seeking to rationalize the hate-speeches of ideologues like Hafiz Saeed is a case of reverting to the hunt-with-the-hound and run-with-the-hare syndrome which cost Musharraf his job – and on occasion attempts were made in Pakistan on his life.

Has the collective anti-India constituency in Pakistan undergone an irrevocable change of attitude? While it is too early to come to a definitive conclusion, there are some deeply embedded lessons here for General Pervez Kayani as he moots peaceful coexistence with India.

(C Uday Bhaskar is a leading Indian strategic analyst. He can be contacted at cudayb@gmail.com. This article was first appeared on South Asia Monitor on April 22.)
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