Monday, October 6, 2008

ZARDARI'S PEACE NUKE

The new President of Pakistan has dropped a nuke. He has, without warning, all but trashed the foundational underpinnings of Pakistan and shocked not just the people of that country but Indians as well.

Asif Ali Zardari has told Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens that Islamist groups operating in Kashmir were 'terrorists' and that India has never been a threat to Pakistan! He has also said that he and his government does not begrudge "the largest democracy in the world getting friendly with one of the oldest democracies in the world."

Since 1989, Pakistan sponsored terrorism has turned the Valley of Kashmir into a besieged land and has claimed thousands of lives, both of Kashmiri Muslims and personnel of Indian security forces. In 1999, India and Pakistan almost went to war when Pakistan sent trained terrorists to occupy Indian territory in Kargil. In 2001, after Pakistani terrorists attacked India's Parliament, India mobilised its troops; a full fledged war was prevented almost at the last minute due to intervention by the US. Earlier, the two countries had gone to war in 1947 and 1965 over Pakistan's claim that Muslim majority Kashmir was the unfinished agenda of Partition.

As recently as August 14 this year, the then Pakistani President, Pervez Musharraf was telling his country that Kashmir "runs in the blood of Pakistanis". It may also be recollected that Pakistan has been stonewalling all attempts to normalise relations with India before addressing what it calls "the core issue" of Kashmir.

Predictably, Zardari's statement has been welcomed by India as a confirmation of its assertions all these years. He has, however, been slammed by Nawaz Sharif's PML(N) party and others in Pakistan. The PDP and the Hurriat, equally surprised and dismayed, have also criticised Zardari for calling 'freedom fighters' in Kashmir 'terrorists'.

It is difficult to believe that Zardari was not aware of the quake that his statements would cause in Pakistan. He also knew that he was speaking as the Head of State of that nation and not as an irresponsible politician belonging to the opposition. Why, then, did he choose to hit at the very roots of the policies that Pakistan has been pursuing since Independence, to bleed India to death by inflicting on it a thousand cuts? It may be recalled that just before he became President, Zardari had publicly spoken out against the creation of his country, the Taliban, when he said that Pakistan faced a grave danger from it and that it should be banned.

If one examines both these statements, it begins to appear that Zardari is clear in his mind that Pakistan's rabid anti-India psyche and its increasing Islamic radicalisation are both almost equally responsible for landing Pakistan in the mess that it finds itself in today. Like most informed Pakistanis, he recognises that it was never India which threatened Pakistan after its creation, but that it was his own country that could not accept, and live in peace with, a big 'Hindu' neighbour despite having emerged from it as a homeland for India's Muslims. But unlike any other Pakistani leader, he has shown the courage to say as much. After 61 years. Similarly, he also understands that the very existence of Pakistan is in danger due to elements like the Taliban and the Al Qaida who are threatening to take control of the whole country.

Zardari is a Sindhi. The architects and supporters of the fanatic and visceral anti-India policies of Pakistan have been Punjabis, Mohajirs and the Punjabi dominated military. Sindhis, Baluchis and Pakhtoons have not shared the same passion and essentially are not much different in this respect from the Bengali Muslims of East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. So, for a Sindhi, it is relatively easier to remove past blinkers and recognise the factual position publicly.

There will undoubtedly be a storm for Zardari to face for facing the bitter truth. He will certainly 'withdraw' his statement and say that he was misquoted. But, he may have set in motion some very profound changes in the way the the military and the ISI operate in future. With the US on the verge of entering Pakistan to hunt down the Taliban and Al Qaida, the Pakistani Army is getting increasingly tied down on its Western border regions, something it could not have even visualised till a few years back. If India were really a threat to that country in the same mould as Pakistan has been to India, what do you think India would have been doing now?

That truth has been been recognised by President Zardari. And he also recognises that the only one way to ensure that India remains at least a 'non-threat' to his country is by putting an end to the terrorism that his country has unleashed in India, including Kashmir.

Therefore, Zardari's statements can also be seen as an oblique warning to the ISI and the military, both of which are out of his control, to accept the positive reality of India's stance and mend their ways, even at this late stage. That, as most sensible analysts understand, is about the only way to save Pakistan as a country in its present form, given the threat it faces from Islamic terrorists who have turned on it.

He may have been Mr. Ten Percent at one time. But in the hot seat of power, Zardari is displaying exceptional courage by taking on the most powerful elements in Pakistan on both sides of the divide. His wife, Benazir Bhutto, fell to an assassin's bullets only a few months back. He is a certain target too. In the dangerous place that Pakistan has become, he too may fall. Knowing all that, perhaps that is why, he has said what he has. This nuke that he has dropped is one that can bring about lasting peace and stability in region.

Will the rest of the Pakistani establishment listen to him and do what is needed to save the country from falling off the map? Only time will tell. If Zardari's words are ignored, as most likely they will, then he may find himself either killed or President of an independent Sind that will recognise the truth that Pakistan tragically did not.