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Pak can’t be electoral game-changer in India

By Neena Gopal

The day that Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf drove into his official residence, set in the barricaded General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, from a road bound on one side by a row of horse-drawn tongas and the chatter of roadside vendors who miss nothing, no one expected a bomb to go off. It blew up the bridge the presidential motorcade had just passed through, leaving a huge crater in its wake, imperilling the life of Pakistan’s head of state.


That was in December 2003. Two previous attempts against the President had similarly failed. He would be the target of one more. Shockingly, the very same general who brought Pakistan to the brink of war with India in a bid to prove that he was more Pakistani than Mohajir with the 1999 Kargil misadventure (his ancestral roots lie in Old Delhi), and then saw the rug pulled from under his feet by the obstreperous Lal Krishna Advani playing the spoiler at the Agra Summit in June 2001, was the target.
Was Gen. Musharraf paying the price for reaching out to India? Or was it for trying — and failing — to cut the establishment’s militant arm, the Jaish-e-Mohammed and others of its ilk, down to size.

Gen. Musharraf admitted as much in a revealing interview months ago, where he said he was unable to act against terror groups like the Jaish when he was President as they were under the protection of the Pakistan Army, that ironically he headed. Clearly, just as he had once been backed by a secret coterie within the armed forces and the intelligence community, the so-called “Deep State” that gave him carte blanche to move against Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto, his civilian betenoires, Gen. Musharraf was now at the receiving end of their ire. He was seen as eminently dispensable, and it wasn’t just for the Indian outreach he had embarked on, without their blessings. In retrospect, ill-advisedly, he may have planned to present the “keepers of the faith” with a fait accompli.

Ailing and in poor health now, after he was forced to step down after a decidedly unusual lawyers’ movement led by the then Chief Justice himself, and accused of treason by a Nawaz Sharif government that was seeking to settle old scores, he was allowed to take refuge in the United Arab Emirates. Nawaz Sharif, incidentally, is refusing to take that route to redemption.

Either way, the salutary lesson is this — that anyone who messes with the two no-nos held sacred by the Pakistani State — seeking to change the status of India as the eternal enemy and the jihadis as patriots — would be drummed out of office.

Across the border, in this “andhernagri”, a Delhi under Atal Behari Vajpayee had given way to a Manmohan Singh-led Congress, that not only found its hands tied by a vocal Opposition in the form of the BJP that blocked any and every move to open dialogue with the western neighbour, but also was being blamed for a policy paralysis on Pakistan.

And yet, the next government that came in, headed by the hawkish Prime Minister Narendra Modi, did just that. Not only did the BJP leader not think through on the ramifications of his overture to a Pakistani civilian by the name of Mian Mohammed Nawaz Sharif, who had begun to believe in his own invincibility after he had won elections and had become Prime Minister for the third time, the question that struck one at that time as it all went south, within minutes of the Narendra Modi-Nawaz Sharif meeting in New Delhi at Mr Modi’s swearing-in, was this — did Mr Modi’s advisers not factor in that any India-Pakistan bonhomie would only spell finis for Mr Sharif, as it would for any politician who did not dance to the tune of the unseen Pakistani puppeteer?

Was this the sum and substance of India’s Pakistan policy? An invitation to a swearing-in? Followed by an inexplicable public dressing down of an India-leaning Pakistani leader by a low-level government official, and months later by the decidedly odd, unannounced visit to Mr Sharif’s grand-daughter’s wedding in Lahore. An Uri and a Pathankot could have been predicted by any Pakistan watcher.

In today’s “Naya Pakistan”, the names of personalities who sit at the high table may have changed. But neither the personable Imran Khan as Prime Minister nor Gen. Qamar JavedBajwa, the “peacenik” military chief, will cross the unwritten, unspoken line on India.

Both men have made all the right noises. First, with the Kartarpur Corridor and now Sharda Peeth. But these grand photo-ops do nothing to erase the central premise that eats away at the India-Pakistan narrative. Neither Imran Khan nor Gen. Bajwa’s public disavowals of terrorism and the Pakistani nation being victims of terror garner sympathy internationally, when the world knows that there is a standing army of jihadis, well-armed and trained, a call away from war.

Pulwama, which the Jaish-e-Mohammed took responsibility for, only hardened the perception that unlike the fiction of the Pakistani military not being involved in 26/11 in the 72-hour siege of Mumbai, the story that the men behind Pulwama too were “non-state actors” simply didn’t wash.

Except, could they have been acting on their own?
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi shifts his own narrative to suit his election campaign that papers over the domestic to project himself as the last man standing between him and the enemy at the gates, he must realise that the Pakistan we see today cannot be tamed by surgical strikes, by a Balakot and a Balasore. Drumming up support against Islamabad’s army of the “pure” requires a far savvier Delhi to go public with — no, not the details of Balakot — but the danger of a Pakistani “state within a state” that marches to its own drummer and harbours militant organisations that no longer operate under its control. Pakistan must be forced to purge its military and bureaucracy of the jihadist sympathisers that hold the state, and the entire South Asian region, to ransom.

More important, the Narendra Modi government has to stop using Pakistan as an electoral game-changer to score poll points, and step away from the ultra-nationalist rhetoric and truly put India first.