The current Pakistani incursions across the Line of Control give clear indication of serious differences between its civil government and its army. Consider the background.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made all the right noises during his poll campaign and assiduously avoided mentioning Kashmir as a central issue for arriving at a peace agreement with India. After winning the poll on this approach and assuming office he continued for some time to make the right noises. The Kashmir issue of course cannot and was not ever altogether ignored by New Delhi or Islamabad. But Sharif’s emphasis earlier was on furthering economic and cultural ties. But soon the tune changed. Kashmir returned as a central issue. This was happening while Pakistan Army Chief General Kayani was about to retire and a replacement was to be selected for appointment. In deference to western opinion General Kayani dutifully accepted the civil government’s decision to retire on time and promote the idea that Pakistan now was functioning as a stable democracy.
However two developments followed. The cross border incursions with the army’s help started to mount. General Kayani stated that India and Pakistan ought to conduct a joint probe into the border incidents. Had the Indian government responded positively it is true that a window to cooperation between the armies of both countries would have opened. But the entire Indo-Pak peace process would have hinged upon the Pakistan army and not on its civil government. Even after retirement General Kayani would have continued to call the shots. He could conceivably have remote controlled the Pakistan army.
In desperation Mr. Nawaz Sharif pleaded with America to intervene and resolve the Kashmir dispute thinking that American dictation on the Indo-Pak peace talks would curb the influence of General Kayani. President Obama refused to oblige. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was equally unhelpful by not relenting on the need to end terrorism before a meaningful dialogue could be resumed. Meanwhile Pakistani incursions continue unabated. This is where matters stand.
Close cooperation between the Indian and Pakistani armies is not only helpful but necessary if any stable peace between the two countries is ever to be established. After the sensible proposal by former President Musharraf to make borders irrelevant by creating some sort of joint management in Kashmir by New Delhi and Islamabad, it was pointed out in these columns that this was not practicable unless contention between the two armies ended that might lead to some form of overall confederation.
General Kayani is seeking his army’s role in the wrong way and is indulging in a dangerous gamble. No government is ever going to talk peace with a gun held to its head. One does not know what General Kayani’s calculations are. His approach could lead to a total breakdown of the peace process resulting in the eventual implosion of Pakistan. Perhaps he is counting on support from Beijing. If so, he could be making a fatal miscalculation. Times have changed. One doubts that when it comes to the crunch President Xi Jinping would be more helpful than President Obama. Beijing has new priorities.