By A Rashid
In Pakistan, it has been almost blasphemous for a military leader to address India as anything other than ‘the enemy’, let alone declare in loud and clear terms the need for an improvement in relations between the two countries. This is why Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s recent statement, given when he accompanied President Zardari to the Gayari sector following the Siachen tragedy, is so important. The general expressed the need for peaceful co-existence with India and stressed the importance of demilitarising the Gayari sector. He also hoped that the current peace process between the two countries would be a success. This is obviously a statement given after due deliberation and thought, and should not be mistaken as an impulsive or spontaneous move.
The international community has been mocking us for the futile war path treaded by our leadership for over six decades, but we fail to see the futility. The religious right trailing behind the army leadership has constantly maintained the hype of Indian animosity and the damage done to the subcontinent due to this flawed premise is colossal and immeasurable.
Our defence establishment, our political leadership and our civilians all have vivid memories of applying violent means to solve our problems with India – and they must also remember that every attempt in this regard resulted in bloodshed and colossal economic downturns that substantially added to the miseries of our people. Common sense dictates that we now give peaceful means a chance. Admittedly, without the army leadership’s support, no political leadership can successfully carry out such a policy. Now, with the army apparently on board, one can logically hope for better results.
Another problem was the religious right. Having failed to secure a place in the mainstream political canvas of Pakistan, it had in the past found common ground with the army — perpetuating non-democratic rule in the country. The aim was to isolate the populace away from the modern world, thereby facilitating their exploitation by religious pundits. That arrangement worked as long as the government’s highhandedness and the anarchic workings of the security establishment remained hush affairs. However, a decade of free media has gradually exposed the misdeeds of all and sundry. The army, possibly the best organised institution in the country, has realised the importance of transparency.
That there has been a definite change of heart within the military leadership with regards to foreign policy is obvious from another example – the aftermath of the Salala check post attack, which caused a serious breach in US-Pakistan relations. Both countries realised the need to fill this breach. Pakistan, instead of taking dictation from the army, chose to take the parliament into confidence and get the terms of reorientation of our ties with US formulated by the legislators of the state. The army expressed solidarity with the parliament. Although some pundits, instead of calling it a welcome move, brushed it aside, terming it window dressing by the defence establishment, the statement by the army chief during his visit to Gayari has a clear link with the army’s support for parliament.
General Kayani may well go down in history as a realist who broke the ominous ice of perpetual conflict with India. It is now understood that the religious right, left high and dry by the defence establishment, will fight tooth and nail to resist this change. But they seem to be on the wrong side of history as peace, enlightenment and democracy are poised to move into top gear. The need for transparency imposed on all state and non-state actors imposed by the media will make it impossible to reverse this process.
The democratic governments of Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto in the past, and Asif Ali Zardari during the current epoch, had tried their best to initiate the process of normalisation of relations with India but neither the Indian leadership nor the world at large took these overtures seriously, because the shots were being called by the military. Now, it appears things may be changing – the COAS’s statement, a landmark development, will go a long way in diluting distrust. I sincerely hope that the ongoing peace process with India will gather momentum and we will be closer to our destination of resolving our problems — particularly the core issue of Kashmir — thereby bringing about a lasting peace with India.
The writer is a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Pakistan army, A Rashid is a political analyst, who occasionally writes Op-Ed pieces for various newspapers. He can be reached at E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org