Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Conversing at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, President Asif Ali Zardari succeeded in doing what many Pakistani leaders have done before him, enamoring the chatterati in New Delhi with his glib responses and hollow promises playing to a gallery of the Indian hoi polloi.
What Zardari said was sweet music for the ears of those who feel that every new Pakistani leader who comes to power is a liberal who seeks better cooperation and good relations across the border or the Line of Control. While optimism is important in international relations, false hopes can lull a nation into slumber as has happened with India in the past, be it Lahore in February 1999 or nine years later in February 2008 when an elected government only resulted in violation of the Cease Fire on the Line of Control after it had held out for many years of President Musharraf’s leadership. The message to those who could read it was clear; the Army is more reliable than the political class.Coming to President Zardari’s assertions during the video conferenced HT summit. The one that has drawn maximum media attention was response to a student from Stephen’s College, Delhi "Will you use nuclear weapons against India?". Pat came the reply, “I can assure you that Pakistan will not be the first country ever to use (nuclear weapons). I hope that things never come to a stage where we have to even think about using nuclear weapons (against India).” This reply seems to have taken even seasoned Indian Television anchor Karan Thapar off guard as he applauded the President after confirming that he was giving an assurance of a, “no first use” stating, “If so, you have just made headline news.” Thapar seemed to ignore the caveat by Zardari, no first use only if India is willing to sign Non Nuclear Treaty in South Asia. The import of the same was also obviously missed by the seasoned interlocutor who anchors the supposedly hard hitting interview program on India’s leading English news channel, CNN IBN, The Devil’s Advocate.
A non nuclear treaty in South Asia as proposed by Pakistan from time to time with a nuclear China armed with IRBMs and ICBMs would be a non starter as far as India is concerned. So Zardari very effectively entrapped his audience. Possibly policy watchers in Beijing would also have cheered their all weather friend proposed to shackle India’s nuclear arsenal to the unstinted advantage of its northern neighbor. So much for our strategic acumen.
By striking an emotional chord of, "I do not know whether it is the Indian or the Pakistani in me that is talking to you today," Zardari added to his appeal even stating that Kashmir, " belongs to Kashmiris." If that be so Mr President why is Islamabad continuing to hold a large portion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir including the Northern Areas beholden to Pakistani, “democracy”.
And even as the country is negotiating with the IMF with a MOU in the offing he claimed that Pakistan, “want(s) to move from aid to trade." Reality however is different as Pakistan faces an inflation of over 25 percent for the first time in thirty years. Thus it is aid from China, UAE and Saudi Arabia that will possibly bail out the country even as the Army has suspended construction of its new General Headquarters in Islamabad due to paucity of funds.
Perhaps the most ludicrous proposal by Mr Zardari was that of a smart card based e enabled visa between India and Pakisan. With reports of terrorists continuing to travel to India from outfits as the Jaish e Mohammad and the Lashkar e Taiyyaba, easing travel between the two countries is far fetched. Pakistan has to first clamp down on the likes of Hafez Sayeed the head of the Markaz ud Dawa mother organization of the Lashkar before India can consider relaxation of the visa regime.Seeking answers to strategic issues as nuclear strategy and Kashmir from an elected President of Pakistan is passé when the geometry of power indicates the Chief of the Army staff continues to occupy the apex of the triangle. Other nations seem to be more perceptive as General Kayani is feted by the President in Turkey and the NATO brass in Brussels, we have Zardari trying to pretend he is the boss. It is time India’s chattering classes and hard nosed journalists as Karan Thapar get realistic about Pakistan.