People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
September 26, 2004
the time we go to press, Indian prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh and Pakistan
president Pervez Musharraf were yet to meet in New York, on the sidelines of the
UN General Assembly session 2004, with Musharraf promising that he would meet
Singh with an open mind. The proposed meeting is significant in view of the
hopes it has generated, as sentiments for friendly relations between the people
of India and Pakistan were never so intense as they are today. It is being
increasingly realised that mutual cooperation and friendship between the two
countries can go a long way in solving the problems facing the population of not
only India and Pakistan but of the entire subcontinent.
such sentiments are not confined to the people of India and Pakistan. As the two
countries are now nuclear weapons states, any flare-up in this part of the world
can pose a serious threat to world peace. That is why the current round of
Indo-Pak negotiations are being keenly watched all over and the world peoples
have repeatedly expressed hope that progress in the talks would be unhindered.
was with such feelings that as soon as the government of India announced its
intention to hold a dialogue with Pakistan, the CPI(M) extended it an
unconditional welcome. To recall a bit of history, way back in 1965 we were even
persecuted and hounded for advocating that the two countries must solve their
disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations. Just as we were persecuted and
hounded in 1962 for advocating a peaceful, mutually advantageous solution to the
that as it may, the fact remains that, compared to the day Vajpayee and
Musharraf met at Agra, substantial progress has taken place in Indo-Pak dialogue
even though much more remains to be done on several fronts. Many less entangled
issues like those of fishermen, war prisoners, etc, have been more or less
solved; visa restrictions in the two countries have been further eased. At the
same time, the process of people to people contact has gone much ahead and
steadily helped in reducing the tension between the two countries. The
successful treatment of a couple of Pakistani children in hospitals at Bangalore
and Hyderabad, of an Indian child in a hospital in Pakistan, and the people’s
heartfelt desire for the success of these treatments have in a most dramatic
manner demonstrated that the process of détente between the two countries will
have unreserved support of the masses of the subcontinent and the world. This is
an asset whose value cannot be minimised.
was in this atmosphere of pro-peace sentiments that Pakistan foreign minister
Khursheed Ahmad Qasuri recently visited New Delhi and his talks with his Indian
counterpart yielded a bit of positive result, including the idea that technical
hitches in running the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service would be sorted out
soon. The resolve to continue the composite dialogue was in itself a big thing,
at least in the present stage when sceptics were vocal about its utility and its
hardly had Qasuri settled in his job after getting back to Islamabad when the
newly appointed Pakistan prime minister Shaukat Aziz stunned the people by
saying that even the initiative in allowing the Iran-India pipeline to pass
through the Pakistan territory would depend upon the successful conclusion of
the Kashmir dispute. This was a piece of bad diplomacy, to say the least.
need not go too far to understand the illogicality of Aziz’s demand. There was
a time, in a not too distant past, when both India and Pakistan used to put
forward preconditions for initiating a dialogue. India’s position under
Vajpayee was one of no talk till cross-border terrorism was stopped and the
terrorist training camps were dismantled. From the other side of the fence came
the voice that the Kashmir tangle should be resolved before the start of any
dialogue. We may recall here that Musharraf went back from Agra with precisely
this contention that he was not prepared to discuss any other issue till the
Kashmir dispute was resolved.
the contrary, saner voices kept urging the two countries that, all their mutual
bickerings apart, they must come to the negotiating table without any
precondition, first settle as many less complicated issues as possible, and
thereby create and increasingly strengthen an atmosphere of mutual confidence in
which even more complicated issues may be sorted out at some later date. To the
satisfaction of one and all, it was this sane view that finally prevailed and
both India and Pakistan agreed to have a composite dialogue in which Kashmir and
cross-border terrorism were not preconditions but two among the issues to be
discussed. In fact, whatever progress has so far been made has been because of
this change in approach.
underlines the illogical nature of Shaukat Aziz’s demand that Kashmir must be
resolved first before Pakistan allows a gas pipeline to pass from Iran (or from
Central Asian countries) to India through its territory.
it was a piece of bad diplomacy is also evident. India has two options before it
about how to get gas from Iran. It may lay a pipeline either through the Arabian
Sea or through Pakistan, and it is yet to take a decision in this regard though
the discussion in official circles is in an advanced stage. However, while in
New Delhi, Qasuri had himself asked India to give priority to laying a pipeline
through Pakistan, and had even promised that Pakistan would guarantee the safety
of that pipeline or of the gas passing through it. But if Qasuri made this
promise, it is certain that he must have got the prior approval from his prime
minister, Shaukat Aziz. In other words, by linking the progress of this pipeline
with Kashmir, Aziz has not only pushed his own foreign minister into an ackward
position but even lowered the credibility of Pakistan ruling circles in the
comity of nations.
does Aziz’s statement make any economic sense. If the envisaged Iran-India gas
pipeline passes through Pakistan, the latter stands to gain 80 million dollars a
year as royalty, which may be of much help to it in meeting the social sector
needs in particular. The importance of this money for Pakistan cannot be
underestimated as more than half of the country’s budget goes only for defence
expenditure and debt servicing, leaving very little for the social sectors.
Indeed, this was the reason Qasuri made a strong plea that India must decide in
favour of laying the proposed pipeline through Pakistan. In fact, Aziz’s
contention that India’s development would suffer if Pakistan does not allow
the pipeline to pass through its territory carries little weight because, even
if with difficulty and at a higher cost, India may well run this pipeline
through the Arabian Sea.
good thing to happen in this regard is that India has refused to get provoked by
the statement made by Aziz.
this we come to the issue of how to go about solving the pending issues between
India and Pakistan. Not that these are the only countries to have disputes
between them. There was a time when Indonesia and Malaysia had had serious
disputes between them, but yet they decided to cooperate in economic, trade and
other spheres, and thus created an atmosphere of mutual confidence in which
their territorial disputes were amicably solved. France and Germany adopted the
same approach, as did China and the former USSR or as did China and Vietnam.
take another example. Even today, keeping their border dispute in abeyance,
China and India are forging their cooperation in other areas. Moreover, to cite
just one example, the easing of situation on the Sino-Indian border is helping
us save some Rs 4,000 crore a year; otherwise this money could have gone waste
instead of being utilised for productive purposes. The process of détente
between the two countries has even elicited from China a de facto recognition of
Sikkim as Indian territory.
question is: why can’t Pakistan and India adopt the same approach in solving
their problems? Shaukat Aziz should better give a thought to it.
fact is that the military dispensation in Pakistan has its own compulsions and
it is these compulsions that make the establishment try to divert the people’s
attention from real issues. Today, in Pakistan, the demand that President Pervez
Musharraf must give up the post of army chief is becoming increasingly strident.
In the past three years, Musharraf has promised several times that he would give
up his uniform but never bothered to fulfil his promise, nor has he set a date
for honouring this promise. This has created a lot of resentment in the country.
the same time, works by scholars like Dr (Mrs) Ayesha Siddiqa and others are
increasingly exposing the “corporate role” the army’s top brass, serving
as well as retired, are playing. Many of these army officers are running NGOs,
housing societies, educational institutions and other businesses, and are not
only minting money but even milking the state exchequer by both hands. If a
country arranges for employment for its retired army personnel, it is perfectly
justified. But this is not what is happening in Pakistan. According to a recent
report in the Dawn daily and another in Washington based South Asia
Tribune, several corporate businesses in the country took loans from banks,
then went bust, and the military government poured in more funds to rescue them.
In yet another case, a road project was recently converted from a BOT (build,
operate, transfer) project into a government funded project, and handed over to
a company that had no expertise in road construction but got the contract only
because its promoters were close to the establishment. In return, that company
employed a retired brigadier as a consultant for 25 years, with the provision
that that ‘consultant’ would get 2 per cent of the annual profits. And why
was this brigadier thus obliged? He happens to the father-in-law of Bilal
Musharraf, General Pervez Musharraf’s son.
Only last year, a number of peasants were evicted from the sprawling Okada farm so that valuable prime lands could be handed over to the top army brass. A number of them are engaged in land development all over the country so as to sell plots at exorbitant prices.
instances of naked corruption are coming out everyday in Pakistan, causing
popular resentment against the military establishment’s lack of
accountability. The tragedy is compounded by the fact that, after throwing Nawaz
Sharif into jail and subsequently throwing out elected president Rafiq Tarar in
a patently illegal act, the Musharraf dispensation sought to gain legitimacy by
pointing to the rampant corruption under the civilian regimes of Nawaz Sharif
and Benazir Bhutto. To their grief, now the people find that the Musharraf
regime is no better than its predecessors insofar as corruption is concerned;
the only difference is that this regime feels it is not bound to give an account
of its deeds and misdeeds to anybody.
third major factor is the grievance the Baluchistan people are harbouring
against the military establishment that is adamant to create three new
cantonments in the province, in addition to the existing ones. The people are
not prepared to buy the argument that these cantonments are needed to fight
terrorism, as the province is comparatively free from this scourge. Their fear
is that these will be used to crush their own legitimate aspirations. Discontent
is already simmering in Sind.
IT is these and some other factors that are causing a lot of discontent in the country where the successive regimes have failed to meet the people’s aspirations. Hence, trying to incite the people’s passions in the name of Kashmir or some such slogan remains the only course open for the establishment.
the pitfalls of this course of action are not hidden from the people. After
having okayed the Kargil misadventure, Nawaz Sharif did realise the folly at one
stage, but only when it was too late. And paid a heavy price in the bargain.
the only sensible course open to Pakistani rulers is that they bow to the wishes
of their people and renounce their antipathy towards India. At a time the USA
has forged the NAFTA and is trying to regain its prominence in the American
continent, and while the European Union has already expanded, the people in
other parts of the world are set to face tougher days in their dealings with
these economic giants. This is all the more true of the people of South Asia
where the SAARC has failed to grow into a viable unit, and bodies like the SAPTA
and SAFTA are yet to take off. Forging mutual cooperation remains the only
course for the countries of the region if they want to cope with the travails of
a globalised economy.
is all the more necessary in view of the fact that, barring the sub-Saharan
Africa, South Asia is perhaps the least developed region of the world. Be it
literacy and education, health and sanitation, housing and potable water, or any
other area, the region is beset with a myriad of problems that at the moment
seem intractable. Not that these countries are devoid of resources. They have
tremendous manpower and natural resources, and while working in western
countries their scientists and technicians have proved their worth. These
countries do have a shortage of financial resources but, given their mutual
cooperation, ways to overcome this problem can also be devised. There is
therefore no reason why these seven countries should not develop cooperation to
their mutual advantage.
It goes without saying that, being the biggest countries of the region, India and Pakistan have to take the lead in this process. In the not very distant past, the SAARC summit could not take place for three consecutive years simply because the then prime minister Vajpayee was not agreeable to attending the summit as it was to take place in Pakistan. This amounted to holding to ransom the aspirations of smaller countries --- Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka --- for no fault of theirs. Such a folly has to be avoided. On its part, while continuing its dialogue with India, Pakistan too has to avoid trying to incite people’s sentiments in the name of Kashmir, so that the process of détente moves ahead and the whole region is able to move on the path of prosperity and development.