Global Geopolitics Net
May 21, 2008

© Copyright 2008 Malladi Rama Rao. All rights reserved.

Delhi based journalist

The reaction in the Pak media to the Jaipur blasts is indeed very swift. Most mainline dailies came out with editorials two days after eight blasts rocked down town Jaipur on Tuesday May 13. A common thread running through these commentaries is that the four - year - old peace process between India and Pakistan must not derail.

Surprisingly, however, none of the dailies, the Lahore based Daily Times and Karachi based Dawn including, referred to firing across the Line of Control (LOC) in North Kashmir also on Tuesday. The Times of India (TOI) termed the firing as heavy and described it as the ‘first clear-cut major violation’ of the almost five-year-old ceasefire along the contentious LOC.

Ceasefire was a confidence building measure (CBM) agreed to by both sides and is enforced not only along the 778-km long LOC but also 198 –km long International Border (IB) and the 110-km Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) in Siachen Glacier, which emerged as the highest battle field under Gen Zia-ul-Haq doctrine of ‘Bleed India’.

Over the past five years there have been instances of firing from across the border but these were minor and at best sporadic aimed at providing cover to militants trying their best to sneak into India. Only a week back Samba sector witnessed a major infiltration and the killing of a Photo Journalist covering the gun fight between militants and troops. But Tuesday, May 13, firing came directly from Pakistan army’s Papa- Bunker Post targetting the Indian T-Hut bunker which was around 9000 feet from the LOC. It was not fire cover to infiltrating militants but as the Times of India says quoting military sources, an irrefutable violation of the ceasefire CBM.

There is however some significance which Pakistan commentators have not missed. The leader in the Daily Times said, “The blasts (and also ceasefire violation) occurred on the 10th anniversary of the May 13 nuclear tests’ that India had conducted in Rajasthan where Jaipur is located”.

It is the general practice of Pakistan over the past several decades to whip up anti-India sentiment whenever the domestic going becomes tough. And admittedly, Asif Zardari led – People’s Party of Pakistan (PPP) and its government are facing tough challenges what with inflation raging at a record 30 per cent and with foe cum ally Nawaz Sharif baying for his pound of flesh in his new found capacity at the ‘saviour’ of the coalition. The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) leader has made his ministers walk out of the coalition but that move has not deprived him of the ability to undermine the Syed Yousuf Raza Gillani government.

The Zardari-Nawaz differences are not centred on the question of reinstating former chief justice Iftikhar Ahmed Choudhary, as some media reports say. These are far more fundamental and relate to Zardari’s willingness to do business with President Pervez Musharraf at the behest of the Americans, who see in the General, whom they had forced to retire from the army last year, the only life-line to their plans to checkmate Al Qaeda and Taliban

For a layman steeped in conventional politics, the Zardari gamble may appear as political suicide. But as the News International said editorially on May 12, Benazir Bhutto’s husband has his compulsions. To begin with the permanent establishment of Pakistan, an expression coined by the News International, to describe the army and intelligence set up as also top brass of the civil service, is not neutral but sharply divided into pro-Musharraf and pro-Nawaz factions.

Musharraf camp has been pampering PPP; initially it offered several concessions and relief’s Benazir. After her assassination, Zardari is kept in good humour. This makes the shrewd businessman to tag along Musharrafites and milk their desperation to his advantage. He has two immediate goals – one install a government of his choice in Punjab and second teach lessons to the Chaudhary brothers – Shujaat Hussain and Pervaiz Elahi, who dominate the King’s Party as the PML-Quaid created by Musharraf in the early days of his presidency is known. .

The pro-Nawaz establishment includes primarily his Saudi Arabian backers and ethnic Punjabi elite who had forced his return in a bid to offset the return of Benazir. They are no longer enamoured of his anti-Musharraf plank and therefore will not like to push his cause beyond a point. The turn of events show that Nawaz politics are once again entering a dead-end unless of course his overseas patrons like to put in a rescue act for him yet again. Any how the home grown patrons will not like to distance themselves from Musharraf as they see their interests are secure in the longevity of the General in the Presidential palace.

What would Benazir have done had she been alive? This is a question with no answers. Probably, she might have strived for a middle path cashing in on her image as the daughter of the East and as a bridge for the West to the Muslim world. She would not have discarded Musharraf certainly since he had gone out of his way to ensure her return home and participation in the elections last year.

By refusing to quickly solve the judges’ issue, Zardari has helped Musharraf in no small measure. And as a leading Pak daily said editorially, “Musharraf camp is back in business and the President seems to be in high spirits with making efforts to revive the PML-Q by ditching the Chaudhrys”. The Daily Times doesn’t rule out the possibility of PPP and PML-Q forming a coalition. Already PML-Q seniors like Sher Afgan Khan Niazi, Rana Asif Tauseef and Muhammad Asim Nazir are active openly at the behest of Musharraf.

Another PML-Q, Mian Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo quit his party and became an Adviser to the Prime Minister on Science and Technology. The Ministry of Science and Technology was headed by PML-N vice-president Tehmina Daultana before she and eight other ministers belonging to the party quit the cabinet on Nawaz Sharif’s orders. Wattoo’s appointment is a clear indication that the PPP may have started thinking about minus PML-N though PML-N ministers’ resignations are yes to be accepted. Wattoo was speaker of the Punjab assembly when Sharif was chief minister of the province but their honeymoon was brief.

At least in the near term Zardari may not like to appear to be firmly in the Musharraf camp. It is in his interest and in the interests of the image of the PPP to keep up a semblance of distance from the King’s Party. Nevertheless, he will not hesitate to find a solution to the Judges issue that is acceptable to President Musharraf. Only after a trade off that gives him a talking point. There fore the possibility is that Musharraf will allow his powers to be clipped and Zardari will reinstate all the sacked judges except the Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. Nawaz Sharif will naturally go into a sulk. But how he will react and try to bounce back on the centre stage will be interesting to watch.

Two more developments are equally worrisome for Pakistan watchers. One is the admission of Information Minister Sherry Rehman on the floor of Pakistan that permission for an English Channel from the Geo TV stable was denied as ‘a sensitive secret agency did not give clearance and No Objection Certificate (NOC)’. Sherry attributed the denial to the rules of the game put in place by the previous regime. Though she took care to say that the present government would dismantle them soon, the fact remains that the writ of the invisible hand of the establishment runs in Zardari’s Pakistan.

In his media interactions, Prime Minister Gillani has emerged as a soft spoken gentleman who is determined to break with the past. And his answer to an Indian journalist about Dawood Ibrahim was interesting. Because while trying to be different from his predecessors, he spoke exactly as his predecessors. “If India shows proof of Dawood Ibrahim’s existence, we will send him to your country”, Gillani told Karan Thapar in a CNN-IBN interview early May. The interview took place shortly after Gillani visited Muzaffarabad (April 30) and addressed Kashmir leaders. It was his first visit outside Islamabad after becoming Prime Minister.

Frankly speaking, the Gillani address to a joint sitting of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly and AJK Council had no new spark from the Indian perspective. According to The Nation (May 1), “Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani said Pakistan desired result-oriented talks with India for the resolution of the lingering Kashmir dispute. He said the ceasefire along the Line of Control in Dec 2003 was still effective and the bus service still plying and entry points along the border opened”. The Dawn quoted the Prime Minister as saying, “We are hopeful that the ongoing composite dialogue between the two sides will arrive at a better outcome”.

The second development that is of significance is Prime Minister Gilani’s visit to the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Army on May 14. Local media termed the visit as a routine one to meet Chief of the Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani for a briefing on ‘defence preparedness against external and internal threats’. He was also briefed on ‘the operational environment’ and ‘the spectrum of threat’.

Gillani’s Kashmir sojourn coincided with an op-ed article by security specialist Shireen M Mazari in the News International. She is a hawk on defence and security issues. She echoes pro-Musharraf establishment. And anti-India rhetoric. Often to mould the public mood. So, her critique provocatively titled, “Surrendering sovereignty willingly’, questioned soft pedalling India.

Mazari began her thesis saying, “ Scant attention is being paid to the rapid threats to the country's sovereignty that are emerging from different quarters that are linked together in an overarching strategic partnership – that is India and the US with the UK an avid supporter. If one only examines events that took place April 23 to April 29 and connects them up, it becomes clear that either by default or by design Pakistan is in danger of losing its sovereignty”.

And she is quite uncomfortable with the Gillani ‘going the extra mile, unilaterally, to support India on all fronts’. She asked: “Will India allow us to transport foodstuff to Nepal through the land route from across India”.

The reference is to the decision ‘in principle’ to let India send wheat to Afghanistan through the long sought after land route. She went on to observe, “Hopefully, this decision will include certain safeguards like ensuring that the transportation from Wagah to the Afghan border is done by Pakistani transporters and that India pays a transport levy. Since the decision has been taken on principle, one must wait to see how it is operationalised, but to allow India physical access through Pakistan's sensitive areas surely cannot be contemplated”.

Shireen Mazari then brought up the question of India’s plea for clemency to Sarabjit Singh, who is facing death sentence in Pakistan. Calling for a linkage between the Sarabjit case and the case of Pakistani prisoners languishing in Indian jails, she wrote, “No one seems to have shown any sensitivity to this issue at all. Even more critical, commutation of Sarabjit's death sentence to life imprisonment should first be linked to an overall decision by the state to commute all death sentences …. After all, if an Indian who killed innocent Pakistanis is to live why not the poor Pakistanis rotting on death row? Is a foreign life worth more than a Pakistani life for us?”

Interestingly, on May 14, Prime Minister Gilani terminated the services of Mazari as Director-General, Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) though her contract is valid till August 2009. Was she axed for her continued anti-India rhetoric? Banish such thoughts. Because she herself told a local daily, “United States government has influenced her removal” as she was writing hard-hitting articles highlighting US intervention in internal Pakistani affairs.

She may have a point. But it in no way dilutes the ground reality in so far India-Pak relations are concerned on the eve of yet another round of composite dialogue between the two countries on May 21.

About the Author

Malladi Rama Rao is an analyst and writer on the Indian political scene and geo-political and security issues of South Asia. He directs a Weekly Feature Service in English, Syndicate Features, in colloboration with his wife
Vaniram. He is also the India Editor of Asian Tribune.

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