Dropping of the pilot

By K.N. Pandita

On 29 November, Pakistan’s Army Chief, General Kiyani will demit office. He himself made the announcement and claims his positive role in allowing democracy prevail in his country.

The event has received Pakistani media hype. Symptoms of Pakistan trying to catch at the straw of democracy are more than one. May 2013 elections were almost peaceful by Pakistani standards. PPP accepted its ouster in democratic spirit and PML (N) stepped in its shoes without hassles. Asif Ali Zardari accepted people’s verdict without demure and walked out of Presidential House. The transition has been smooth, and for the first time in Pak history. 

Yet one more decision further reinforces Pak’s nascent fascination for democracy. It is the refusal of the Prime Minister to give third extension to his Army Chief, and the latter, finding defiance unpropitious, apparently decided to honour democratic government’s decision. Three cheers to stakeholders who have betrayed the realization that Pakistan was standing on the verge of financial and social abyss and sabotaging democracy would mean its total disaster.

In the new scenario of Pak’s domestic politics, some interesting and crucial questions are posed by political punditry. For example, will Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have the freedom and choice of nominating the incumbent Army Chief? Will the new Army Chief be a sincere protagonist of Mian Sahib’s domestic and foreign policy especially policy towards Afghanistan and India? Will such a renovated policy go down the throats of the Corps Commanders, the jihadi outfits, entrenched bureaucrats and diehard Islamists? It is a complex situation and any prediction will be premature.

General Kiyani has been a chip of the old block. As the previous boss of ISI, he meticulously continued his predecessor’s prescription for India and Afghanistan. However, unlike his predecessor, he has been less pompous, less garrulous and less schematic. The Keran intrusion in Kashmir, now underway, no doubt launched by ISI under his nose, is tactically of far inferior planning to Kargil intrusion.

But at the same time, it has to be noted that for past one year or so, there have been recurring violations of Ceasefire Agreement of 2003 from Pakistani side and India has drawn Islamabad’s attention to it. More conspicuously, after the swearing in of Mian Sahib as the new Prime Minster in Islamabad, Pakistani terrorist organizations and Pak troop accelerated their warlike activities on the LoC and even extended it to IB as in a recent attack in Kathua-Samba.

The scheme of things is simple. Pak Army and ISI tried to provoke strong and retaliatory measure from Indian Army leading to cancellation of a meet between the two Prime Ministers on the sidelines of General Assembly session in New York. They banked on political pressure mounted by the opposition in the Indian Parliament on UPA Government. The pressure was mounted but the Prime Minster withstood his ground and the opposition had to relent.

Pak’s military cum intelligence bid of scuttling the prime ministerial meet failed. We should give credit to their statesmanship. India agreed to talk on Kashmir in the background of Prime Minister’s categorical reiteration that Kashmir is integral part of India.

Dr. Manmohan Singh would not want to grudge another opportunity to Mian Sahib of pursuing his desire of forging cordial relations with India and taking up the thread of dialogue where it was dropped in 1999.

Mian Sahib has to do good deal of home work to carry forward his India-related policy. It cannot move in a vacuum. The parties that he needs to take on board comprise perhaps the most diehard segments of Pakistan’s polity: army, ISI, jihadi groups, fanatical ecclesiasts, entrenched bureaucracy, seminarian establishments and last but not the least funding sources of terrorists primarily in Saudi and the Gulf, and secondarily, in Western countries.

Mian Sahib’s core problem is that of a fiercely radicalized Pakistani society chaperoned by no other person than his own former mentor and ideologue General Ziau’l-Huqq. How is he going to handle the Islamic legions’ growth when his patronage in the past remained its ingredient? His brother Shahbaz has fraternized with many among them.

For Indian commentators, it is premature to delineate any dependable opinion on the success or failure of Mian Sahib’s reformed approach to relationship with India. Assuming that he is determined to bring about a change, he shall have to tread on the thorny path with utmost care and only in small steps. We would feel very unhappy, and it would be unfortunate for Indo-Pak relationship, if Mian Sahib’s detractors and Pakistan’s ultimate enemies within succeed in defeating him in his difficult but prized initiative.

In their opinion, the detractors, in case they succeed in their wicked and anti-human designs, they will be the winners. The people of Pakistan should understand that in such a scenario, they will be the biggest losers and their democracy will hang by slender thread.

General Kiyani’s departure does not necessarily mean a change of guard in Pakistan’s Army and intelligence establishment. Big changes do not happen so easily or with the dropping of the pilot. Pak Army’s India-related policy is imprinted on its desk book of does and don’ts. Pakistan Army will meet with internal crisis and even mutiny once it is detached from Kashmir issue.

New Delhi has to be watchful. Nothing should be done that is tantamount to creating hurdles in the path of Mian Sahib. Notwithstanding how sordid the past story is. Intrusions on the border and LoC have to be met and responded to without making much noise. More intrusions could happen and more conspiracies and perfidies could be hatched. We have to meet this formidable challenge. But remember, we need to keep our powder dry. We talk peace and fight terror and violation of our borders. Keran incident and prior to it Kargil are reflective of that strategy. We salute our brave soldiers and the nation owes a debt of gratitude to them.

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