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Analysis by Praful Bidwai

U.S. Fails to Understand the Real Crisis in Pakistan

(IPS) NEW DELHI -- India's Pakistan policy is in disarray following the resignation of Pervez Musharraf as president, to avoid impeachment, after almost nine years of authoritarian rule.

Despite the momentous nature of this development, India's Ministry of External Affairs said it had "no comments to make" on the issue and described it as "an internal matter" of Pakistan.

Many officials in the Indian establishment however privately rue Musharraf's departure and say it might reverse recent improvements in India's relations with Pakistan, which are "working well.' They fear his absence will encourage extremist jihadi groups to become more active against India.

This policy discordance or disorientation comes at a time when relations between the two states are delicately poised amidst Indian allegations of ceasefire violations by Pakistan along the border, an eruption of mass protests in the Kashmir Valley after many years, and growing rivalry between India and Pakistan in Afghanistan.

Indian policymakers appear to be divided between a strongly pro-Musharraf stand, and a more neutral position, which would prefer to wait and watch how Pakistan's divided civilian leadership performs in the difficult situation it faces.

However, proponents of both views see the recent developments in Pakistan through the prism of bilateral relations with India that have been colored by a dispute over the Muslim-majority territory of Kashmir, going back to the 1947 partition of British India into Pakistan and India on religious lines.

The first group is led by National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan. Many members of this group believe that Pakistan can never make a successful transition to democracy given the overwhelming weight the military occupies in its society and politics. Nor can it overcome its hostility to India. Therefore, it is best to deal with a Pakistan under a military leader or someone assured of the army's support.

Exactly one week before Musharraf announced he was quitting, Narayanan told a Singapore-based newspaper that Musharraf's impeachment could create "a big vacuum" which would give extremists a free run "on our side of the border."

Echoing a view held by the United States, Britain and Saudi Arabia, which reportedly negotiated the terms of Musharraf's departure, Narayanan said: "We thought President Musharraf's impeachment might not take place. And if at all he has to go, he will be allowed to go in grace and some sort of a compromise would be reached."

Narayanan added: "Whether he is impeached or not is not important from the Indian point of view... that leaves a big vacuum, and we are deeply concerned about this... because it leaves radical extremist outfits the freedom to do what they like, not merely on [the] Pak-Afghan border, but clearly on our side of the border too... we abhor the political vacuum that exists in Pakistan. It greatly worries us..."

The other point of view is more tentative and cautious. It recognizes that Musharraf's position got greatly weakened after he relinquished charge as chief of army staff last November, and that he has long suffered a growing loss of legitimacy.

His departure became inevitable especially after the Pakistan People's Party decided two weeks ago to join hands with the Pakistan Muslim League (N) in asking him to quit, or face impeachment.

"But even this more sober view does not amount to a coherent policy response," says Anuradha Chenoy, a professor of international studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University here. "India's position is deeply contradictory. On the one hand, India takes pride in being a democracy, and has joined a global initiative for promoting democracy, led by the U.S. On the other hand, it does not welcome democratization when it happens in its own region."

Chenoy cites the case of Nepal, where Indian policy was led until recently by visceral hostility towards the Maoists. India continued to support the monarchy just as a mass movement for its ouster was building up.

Only days before the landmark constituent assembly elections of April, Narayanan maladroitly expressed India's preference for the conservative Nepali Congress party, which performed badly in the elections, in which the Communist Party on Nepal (Maoist) won the largest number of directly elected seats.

"India's policy incoherence as regards Pakistan," argues Chenoy, "arises from a deeper conceptual failure. Many Indian policymakers believe, like their U.S. counterparts, that it is easiest to deal with power when it is concentrated in the hands of a single individual or an institution like the army in Pakistan. In reality, the wielders of power in a democracy are more responsible and accountable."

In any case, adds Chenoy, "it is futile for India to get nostalgic about Musharraf. He is gone and a new set of rulers have replaced him. It has to deal with them. It is hardly a sign of maturity to hold that there is a power vacuum in Pakistan. There isn't. Besides, Musharraf's own record in keeping militants under check has been unreliable."

The Indian national security establishment's position on Musharraf has had a chequered history. For the first four years, it regarded him with deep and unremitting suspicion because of his role as the architect of the Kargil conflict, which broke out a year after the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests of 1998.

But after the peace process began in early 2004, and a series of confidence-building measures were negotiated between India and Pakistan, the establishment's attitude changed. It particularly appreciated Musharraf's offer to discuss the Kashmir issue and find an "out-of-the- box" solution to it without redrawing borders.

The national security establishment's current assessment does not square up with the claims made by India's own intelligence agencies. In recent weeks, these agencies claim, Pakistan has facilitated the infiltration of militants across the Line of Control in Kashmir, albeit on a much smaller scale than in the past.

That apart, Indian policymakers exaggerate Musharraf's contribution to the peace process with India and his commitment to fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Recent disclosures reveal that Musharraf shielded these militants for years, while claiming to be fighting them as part of the U.S.-led ‘war on terror' and reaping huge economic benefits.

Again, Indian policymakers profess a strong commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. But they wholly ignore Musharraf's complicity in the A.Q. Khan operation in transferring nuclear weapons technology and components to other countries, including North Korea and Iran.

Simultaneously, many Indian policymakers underrate the shift in the civilian-military balance of power that underlay Musharraf's resignation. Although Musharraf had shed his uniform, he was widely regarded as a symbol of the army's power. His departure will further strengthen the power shift in favour of the people's elected representatives.

They also discount the importance of the civil society mobilization in Pakistan, which has greatly influenced recent politics and broadened and deepened the process of democratization.

Says Karamat Ali, a Karachi-based labor unionist and social activist: "There is simply no doubt that Musharraf's resignation came about as a result of a major change in Pakistani public opinion, which is attributable mainly to civil society activism to restore the judges Musharraf sacked, and to an increasingly irreverent media."

Adds Ali: "There is nothing unique about Musharraf's commitment to the peace process with India. There is widespread support for it amongst all of Pakistan major political parties, and in the wider society. The process is not going to stop because Musharraf has left the scene. Besides, Musharraf recently became the biggest obstacle to the peace process because of his growing unpopularity."

India, then, seems to be taking a particularly myopic view of the events in Pakistan and has failed to express any appreciation of and solidarity with the democratization process there.

Unless it corrects course, India risks alienating public opinion in Pakistan and marginalising itself. Worse, it stands to lose its credibility as a force for democracy.

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Albion Monitor   August 20, 2008   (

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