What Musharraf’s exit means for India

August 18th, 2008 - 7:29 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 18 (IANS) With the resignation of Pervez Musharraf as president of Pakistan, there is a growing feeling here that Islamabad is likely to be more hawkish on the Kashmir issue and its preoccupations with internal politics may affect the pace of the peace process between the two countries. Although Musharraf is widely seen as the architect of the 1999 armed engagement in Kargil that led to a suspension of the peace process before its resumption in 2004, his tenure as the de facto ruler of the country for eight years and later as civilian president of the country saw perceptible improvement in the content and tone of dialogue not just over the Kashmir issue but in other areas also.

Nearly two years ago, it was Musharraf who floated a trial balloon in the form of a four-point formula for resolving the Kashmir issue that revolved around self-governance, demilitarisation and a joint supervisory mechanism and making the Line of Control irrelevant through more cross-border trade and travel.

Musharraf was the first Pakistani leader to suggest that Pakistan was ready to give up its demand for an independent Kashmir and assured that Islamabad would no longer insist on plebiscite and the UN resolutions on Kashmir if India accepted his four-point proposal.

Although India rejected the proposal, it underlined a significant shift from Islamabad’s ideological rigidity to a more pragmatic approach, specially Pakistan’s increasing acceptance of promoting a soft border, to resolve a dispute over which the two countries have fought two wars.

“Musharraf was a little more pragmatic than his predecessors. If we look at his exit purely from viewpoint of its bearing on the Kashmir issue, it’s bad news for India,” K. Subrahmanyam, eminent strategic expert and a keen Pakistan-watcher, told IANS.

“Moreover, we don’t know how long will the unity between Asif Zardari, co-chairman of Pakistan Peoples Party, and Nawaz Sharif, head of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), last. It also remains to be seen how stable this coalition will be,” Subrahmanyam said.

“In such a situation, there is every chance that Kashmir will become an issue in party politics, with each side trying to outdo the other by more hawkish postures on Kashmir,” he said.

“Musharraf was a little more reasonable on Kashmir. But his formulations were something India could not accept,” said Kuldip Nayar, veteran journalist who has written extensively on Pakistan.

“The peace process is also likely to slow down due to domestic political preoccupations in Pakistan,” he said.

Although India has made it clear that its ties with Pakistan are not individual-specific, there are concerns here that a weak civilian government in Islamabad may not be in a position to wield control over the powerful military establishment and the ISI who are seen to be driving the foreign policy of that country.

“We don’t really know who is in control and whether they can rein in forces inimical to Indian interests,” a government source, who did not wish to be named, said.

Last week, National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan had voiced these anxieties when he said that Musharraf’s exit would leave “a big vacuum” in Pakistan’s politics.

The last few weeks have seen a straining of ties due to India’s suspicion about the ISI’s involvement in the July 7 bombing of its embassy in Kabul, a spike in infiltration and firing across the LoC.

After last four years of realistic diplomacy on Kashmir, Pakistan is now reverting to hawkish posturing and is threatening to internationalise the Kashmir issue.

Islamabad has accused New Delhi of excessive use of force and human rights violations in India-controlled Kashmir after protests over transfer of land to a Hindu shrine turned violent.

Compared to this, Musharraf’s reign saw marked improvement in ties, after a brief interlude of Kargil misadventure and near-war situation in 2002, and resulted in a slew of ambitious initiatives, including the launch of more cross-border bus services, the restoration of a train link and cross-border confidence building measures like the setting up of an anti-terror mechanism.

Terrorism, however, continued to be a serious issue that shadowed their ties, specially after the 2006 bombings in Mumbai’s commuter trains in which India suspected Pakistan’s involvement - a charge that was denied by Islamabad.

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