ARTICLES
Why did Kayani drop a bombshell of peace?

The peace overtures by the Pakistani Army Chief Ashfaq Pervez Kayani have ostensibly been occasioned by the precarious conditions in Pakistan

 

The Pakistani proposal to withdraw forces from the Siachen cannot be taken at face value, because the area has seen a lot of back-stabbing by the neighbouring country



Whenever any responsible Pakistani makes even mildly friendly comments about India, tongues start wagging there that he is itching for a “visit” from the terrorists or the ISI. Such dark hints are made only half in jest, because the rumours have come true quite often. Many politicians and journalists have suffered for suggesting that fences should be mended with the neighbour. In such an atmosphere, when the Army chief himself talks of improving relations with New Delhi and even suggests a cut in the defence spending, the sense of disbelief is palpable. 

Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani is too hardboiled a soldier to make spur-of-the-moment utterances, even on a sombre occasion like the massive avalanche at Gayari, the Sixth Northern Light Infantry (NLI) battalion headquarters, which caused the death of about 140 Pakistanis, mostly soldiers, on April 7. Soon after visiting Gayari along with President Asif Ali Zardari, he stated that the Pakistan Army understood very well that “you cannot be spending on defence alone and forgetting about development. Ultimately, the security of a country is not only that you secure boundaries and borders but it is when people that live in the country feel happy; their needs are met. Only in that case will a country be truly safe.” This was in sharp contrast to his usual line that there was need for enhancing the capability of the Army. 

In good measure, he added that national security was a comprehensive concept and “therefore we would like to spend less on defence, definitely”. He also acknowledged the adverse ecological consequences of troop deployment on the Siachen glacier, and endorsed the idea of peaceful coexistence between India and Pakistan, and resolution of all issues through dialogue. His ostensible change of mind has obviously been occasioned by the precarious condition in which Pakistan finds itself today. Decades of mindless spending on defence has bled it so badly that it is almost on the verge of an economic collapse. Liberal aid from the US kept the wolf at bay all this while but the strain has started showing ever since Washington tightened the screws. Its attempts to play the Islam card have not produced the desired results. Even diplomatically, its adventurism has become counter-productive. There are reasons to believe that the business lobby of Pakistan played a role in convincing the Army that a rapprochement with India would pay rich dividends to the state and the Army and that there was need to start trade with India in spite of Kashmir. India-China model is cited in this connection. 

One hopes that the public display of harsh realism by the Army Chief will occasion serious introspection in all sections, but that is a rather tall order. The extremist elements rule the roost so brazenly that it is not going to be easy to sell the idea to them. The military carries a lot of weight, but it should not be forgotten that there is a sizeable group of fanatic soldiers which will see even this reasoned approach as “treachery”. Then there is the notorious vernacular Press which shouts blue murder every time any sensible suggestion is made. India has been routinely painted as “makkar dushman” (treacherous enemy) and “mouzi saamp” (lethal snake) and the link between GHQ and this section of the media is no secret. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif became the latest sufferer at their hands when he, while visiting Gayari before Zardari and Kayani, gave a call to Pakistani authorities to take the lead in withdrawing troops from Siachen. He went so far as offering his services for talks with India. While Ummat called it “Mian Sahab ki bachkana tajweez” (childish overtures of Mian Nawaz Sharif), Jasarat cautioned: “Mian Sahab, zara soch samajh ke”. Nawa-i-Waqt opined that any concession to the enemy country would be counter-productive and any talk of unilateral withdrawal was against the national interest of Pakistan. Sharif was forced to hastily clarify that he had not called for a unilateral withdrawal, but had only called for the resumption of a peace dialogue. It will be interesting to watch how these newspapers react to the Kayani bomb. 

Fortunately, the English newspapers have not spoken against him. In fact, they have backed his call whole-heartedly. If the voice of reason gains momentum, it might very well be a game changer in the subcontinent. But as they say, the devil lies in detail. Even if the Pakistani Army tones down its shrill posture, how much will that change the situation on the ground? Will it stop actively aiding and abetting terrorists in India? Will it sincerely control the jehadis who are running amok within and outside the territory of Pakistan? If India accepts the proposal to withdraw from Siachen, where is the guarantee that its forces will not occupy the heights again as it did in the past? How will it respond to the Indian offer of cooperation in Afghanistan? Will it punish the perpetrators of the Mumbai massacre and stop sheltering criminals such as Hafiz Saeed? 

Particularly, the Pakistani proposal to withdraw forces from the Siachen cannot be taken at face value, because the area has seen a lot of back-stabbing by it. Indeed, it is true that more lives have been claimed by the adverse weather conditions there (temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees C, vicious winds and altitude sickness) than by the engagements of the armed forces. Military garrisons have been maintained there at a huge cost, and by neglecting the basic needs of the teeming millions seeped in poverty. 

But what cannot be forgotten is that Pakistan had illegally conceded the Shaksgam area north of Siachen to China in 1963. In April 1984, when its Army was about to secure the Saltoro Ridge running parallel to the length of the Siachen Glacier on its west, the Indian Army pre-emptively occupied the ridge. Mind you, Indian troops only occupied their own areas, without crossing any border or line. That has been called the Actual Ground Position Line since then. The worst was its intrusion in 1999. 

Since the Pakistani Army has been unable to dislodge us militarily, it has been trying the negotiation route. The proof of the pudding is going to be in the eating. That is why India’s response needs to be positive but extremely guarded.


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