Zardari’s Kashmir remarks welcome but India experts advise caution

October 6th, 2008 - 8:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan SinghNew Delhi, Oct 6 (IANS) President Asif Ali Zardari’s description of militants in Jammu and Kashmir as “terrorists” is a tectonic shift in Pakistan’s policy but New Delhi should wait and watch to see if this position holds in the future, say strategic experts here. “It’s a very helpful statement from the Indian point of view. He has moved 180 degrees from Pakistan’s traditional position on Kashmir,” P.C. Chari, who heads the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies, told IANS.

In headline-hogging remarks that spiked Pakistan’s decades-old support to Muslim separatism in Indian Kashmir, Zardari told The Wall Street Journal that militants in Jammu and Kashmir were “terrorists” and that India “has never been a threat” to his country.

Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma has welcomed the statement, saying it had been “made, perhaps, for the first time by a top Pakistani leader which is in contrast with its earlier position of terming militants as jehadis”.

Sharma added that the remarks were a confirmation of India’s stand all these years.

K.S. Subrahmanyam, a strategic expert who has advised successive governments, is surprised by Zardari’s remarks as it “goes so much against the thinking of the Pakistani establishment for the last 50-60 years.

“There is no doubt it’s a tectonic shift. But the real question is whether this position will last,” said Subrahmanyam.

Asked what could be Zardari’s motives, Chari said: “He may have done this partly under American pressure. He is also trying to draw a line between the ISI-army combine and the civilian political establishment in Pakistan.”

Chari’s reference was to Pakistan’s power Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Pakistan Army, which are together widely viewed as a state within a state.

“Zardari is trying to carve an independent base for himself. He is trying to shore up the image of Pakistan and his credibility at a time when Pakistan is getting bad press,” he said.

Alok Bansal of the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), however, pointed out that what Zardari had said was “actually consistent” with what he said when the civilian regime took power in February.

At that time, he spoke about putting off a settlement of the dragging Kashmir row for future generations so that India and Pakistan could focus their energies on promoting trade and economic issues.

Bansal said: “The US has been nudging India and Pakistan to come closer. (The remarks) show that Zardari enjoys the backing of the Americans and he has consolidated his position in Pakistan.”

Subrahmanyam sees a larger pattern behind Zardari’s statement. “It’s a larger question of whether the army, Americans and Zardari have agreed on a strategy to go soft on India.

“There have been major restructuring in the ISI and the military in which Musharraf loyalists have been removed. It shows that Zardari is consolidating his hold on major levers of power in Pakistan.”

Pointing at the the civil-military tussle in Pakistan, Bansal underlined that Zardari could have felt that focusing on cross-border trade and economic ties could be more productive in the long run, specially in the context of the financial crisis in Pakistan.

Although New Delhi is still not sure about Zardari’s clout in the emerging dispensation in Islamabad, it is ready to give a chance to him as was evident from the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Zardari on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York over a week ago.

The joint statement after the talks had Zardari reaffirming Islamabad’s 2004 commitment not to allow Pakistani territory to be used for terrorist activities against India. The two countries agreed to resume cross-border trade Oct 21.

An official said that India would wait for tangible results on these two fronts as a test of whether Zardari can actually live up to his words that have caused a sensation in both parts of Jammu and Kashmir.

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