Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The foreign secretaries, or top diplomats, of India and Pakistan are expected to meet on the sidelines of a South Asian summit in Thimpu, Bhutan on Feb 6/7 to try to find a way back into talks which have been stalled since the attack on Mumbai in November 2008. Progress is expected to be limited, perhaps paving the way to a meeting of the foreign ministers, or to deciding how future talks should be structured.
Expectations are running low, all the more so after a meeting between the foreign ministers descended into acrimony last July. And leaders in neither country have the political space to take the kind of risks needed for real peace talks right now. Pakistan is struggling with the fall-out of the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer among many other things, while Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been weakened by a corruption scandal at home.
However, in the interests of establishing a baseline, I asked former president Pervez Musharraf in an interview earlier this week about a roadmap for peace he had agreed with Prime Minister Singh in 2007 before political turmoil forced him out of office. The roadmap brought the two countries to their nearest in years to a peace deal, and during Barack Obama’s presidential election campaign, there was a great deal of hope it could be revived in order to ease tensions between India and Pakistan in turn helping to stabilise Afghanistan. Even after the Mumbai attacks ended chances of an early “Kashmir to Kabul” peace settlement, the idea has lingered on as one of the more promising models. Yet since the agreement was reached in secret, its details have never been officially released.
Diplomats say the agreement hinged on an acceptance by India and Pakistan that there would be no exchange of territory in disputed Kashmir but they would work to make irrelevant the Line of Control which divides the region. There was also supposed to be a “joint mechanism” under which Indians, Pakistanis and Kashmiris would oversee areas of common interest. No one can agree, however, on far advanced the talks were. Some say the deal was ready for signing; others that there was still a long way to go. In particular, the two countries had yet to agree the nature of the “joint mechanism”, and bring on board their own people and domestic constituencies in accepting the agreement. Here is what Musharraf had to say when I asked him about the sceptics’ view of the draft agreement:
Never in the history of Pakistan has a democratically elected civilian government served out its full term and then been replaced by another one, also through democratic elections. It is that context that makes the latest political crisis in Pakistan so important.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani is scrambling to save his PPP-led government after it lost its parliamentary majority when its coalition partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), announced it would go into opposition. A smaller religious party, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), already quit the coalition last month. If the government falls and elections are held ahead of schedule in 2013, the opportunity for Pakistan to have a government which serves its full term will be lost.
The minute I entered the elegant book-lined club in central London where Pervez Musharraf was about to launch his political career, it was clear who was to dominate the proceedings – Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Quaid-e-Azam, Founder of the Nation, Father of Pakistan. In his trademark peaked Jinnah cap, it was his photo alone which was hanging prominently on the platform where the former military ruler was to speak; and his photo on the little entrance ticket they gave you to get past security.
It was his spirit which was invoked even in the name of Musharraf’s political party — his All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) was a deliberate echo of the pre-independence All India Muslim League, through which Jinnah created the state of Pakistan in 1947.
from India Insight:
India and Pakistan held secret talks for more than three years, reached an accord on the thorny Kashmir issue and had almost unveiled it in 2007 before domestic turmoil in Pakistan derailed it, former Pakistani foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri has revealed.
Kasuri says the two nuclear-armed rivals, who rule the Himalayan region in parts, had agreed to full demilitarisation of both the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir with a package of loose autonomy on both sides of the Line of Control, a military control line that divides the region between two nations.
Perhaps the most striking thing about a speech given by former president Pervez Musharraf in London on Monday was how many people turned out to hear him. There were two overflow rooms for those who wanted to hear his words relayed over closed-circuit television. I can’t think of many former rulers who can pack a crowd like that — although this was also a measure of the intense interest in London in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Musharraf now lives in comparative obscurity in the Edgware Road area of London — a street full of Middle Eastern restaurants where waiters look at you strangely if you try to order beer, and where men sit outside on the pavement smoking shishas even in the middle of winter. Yet he still talks as articulately as he used to with no hint of the self-pity, or criticism, of Pakistan’s existing rulers. He still cracks a joke with confidence, and at the end raises his hand in a military salute to a clapping audience ( a rather more polite response than he might receive if he returned home).
As encounters go between the leaders of India and Pakistan, the meeting in Russia between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Asif Ali Zardari — their first since last November’s Mumbai attacks — was a somewhat stolid affair.
It had none of the unscripted drama of the handshake famously offered by Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when they met at a South Asian summit in Kathmandu in January 2002, while the two countries mobilised for war following an attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001. Musharraf’s gesture made little difference in a military stand-off which continued for another six months.
India and Pakistan aren’t always bickering, including over Kashmir, the dispute that has defined their relationship over more than six decades. Away from the public eye, top and trusted envoys from the two countries have at various times sat down and wrestled with the problem, going beyond stated positions in the public and even teasing out the contours of a deal. In the end of course, someone’s nerve failed, or something else happened and the deal was off.
Beginning 2004 and up until November 2007 India and Pakistan were embarked on a similar course and very nearly came to an agreement on Kashmir, says investigative journalist Steve Coll in an article for the New Yorker. Special envoys from the two countries met in secret in hotels in London, Bangkok and London to lay out a solution and after three years they were ready with the broad outline of a settlement that would have de-militarised Kashmir.
Former President Pervez Musharraf was always one for the grand gesture. So it should come as no surprise that after a period of relative obscurity following his resignation in August last year, he will visit India as part of a series of lectures he plans to give worldwide.
In an interview with the BBC, Musharraf, who has just returned from a trip to the United States, said he was enjoying his retirement and had been invited to give lectures on Pakistan and the South Asian region around the world. “He said the first invitation he had accepted was from India, where he expected to speak at a conference in Delhi next month,” the BBC said.
The resignation of President Pervez Musharraf has, as expected, unleashed a new power struggle within Pakistan’s fractious coalition. Asif Ali Zardari, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and widower of Benazir Bhutto, has staked a claim to the presidency, setting him on a collision course with former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) sees Zardari’s candidacy as an attempt to garner more power and delay the restoration of judges sacked by Musharraf last November. PML (N) officials are already saying the row could break up the six-month-old coalition cobbled together after elections in February.
So will there be a fight to the finish between Zardari and Sharif that will drag Pakistan deeper into the mire? Or are the two men simply manoeuvring themselves into the best position they can find in the post-Musharraf era?
“There’s a vast majority, a significant middle of the population of Pakistan (that) is democratic and middle-class. But what’s happening is, absent free elections, you’re forcing them underground, radicalizing them, and you’re giving great sway to that portion of the population that’s already radicalized,” he was quoted as saying.