Pakistan Diary 2: Does the Pakistani army want peace with India?
Sudheendra Kulkarni, aide to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, asks should the Indian government not engage with the Pakistan army when we know it is an important centre of power?
Ashraf Jehangir Qazi Sahab has a special and honoured place in the evolution of Indo-Pak relations. He worked closely with our former Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani in planning the Agra Summit between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf in July 2001.
For a good account of his efforts, read Karan Thapar’s recently released book Devil’s Advocate. Qazi Sahab told me that his own memoirs would be out early next year. All his admirers in India will eagerly await its arrival.
Imran Khan’s popularity notwithstanding, I met several Pakistanis who expressed concern over his perceived closeness to religious extremists. One middle-class woman in Lahore (I had gone to her house to deliver a gift from a relative of hers in Mumbai) said sharply, “I will never vote for his party. If they come to power, they will force us to cover our faces with a veil and dictate to us what kind of work we can do and cannot do.” She was by no means a westernised type, just a traditional but educated Muslim woman who teaches in an art and design school.
Women like her would have surely welcomed the would-be prime minister’s initial assurances in his “victory speech”, which he began by invoking the name and the progressive vision of Pakistan’s founder. “When I came into politics, I wanted Pakistan to become the kind of country that our leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah wanted.” He also pledged: “For the first time, Pakistan's policies won't be for the few rich people, it will be for the poor, for our women, for our minorities, whose rights are not respected.”
Again, we should wish him well in this difficult but transformative endeavour.
‘Army wants peace with India’
When it comes to Pakistan, one of the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) in India is: “Does the army in Pakistan want peace with India? It does not matter what Imran Khan or Nawaz Sharif or Zardari wants. What matters is what the Pakistan army wants.”
A common mistake we Indians make, when we look at the political happenings in Pakistan, is to think that the Pakistan army wields illegitimate power.
Yes, the army has a lot of power in that country and naturally has an influence over critical aspects of its governance. And its power is rooted in the peculiar history of the creation and evolution of Pakistan. In this sense, Pakistan is quite different from India. But why should we Indians want Pakistan’s system of governance to be quite like ours? And why should our government not engage with the Pakistan army when we know it is an important centre of power?
True, Pakistanis themselves—people as well as political parties—have been fighting for the expansion and deepening of democracy in their country. But we should recognise that this so-called “Islamabad versus Rawalpindi” struggle is basically their internal struggle. India has no role in it, nor should it choose sides.
Lt Gen (retd) Nasir Khan Janjua: “Our talks were always held in a cordial and friendly atmosphere. We were both very frank in putting forth our arguments. But we were also willing to listen to each other. I must say I developed a great regard for Doval Sahab, and I think it was mutual”
In my interactions with Pakistanis from various walks of life, I have found that they resent when the Indian media, Indian intellectuals or Indian politicians question the legitimacy of their “Establishment”. This is because, when it comes to India, most Pakistanis (including those who want greater empowerment of the civilian government) view their army as the dependable defender of their national security and national interests.
I met Sartaz Aziz, a senior and widely respected Pakistani public servant, who has held many high-level positions in government, at his quiet home in Islamabad. He is no fan of the Pakistan army, as is evident to readers of his autobiography Between Dreams and Reality, which he published nine years ago.
Nevertheless, he said to me, “India should view our army as a legitimate power centre and an important stakeholder in determining Pakistan-India relations. I find it amusing when I hear many Indians asking whether the Pakistan army favours peace and friendship with India. Let me tell you, our army wants peace with India as much as the people and our politicians. But peace and friendship are possible only on the principle of equality, justice and honour. India cannot behave like a big brother and dictate terms to us. Many other countries in South Asia also dislike India’s big-brotherly behaviour.”
At 89, Aziz Sahab stands ramrod straight and has razor-sharp memory. He even remembers the exact dates of his several meetings with Jaswant Singh, our former foreign minister. He explained to me one of the reasons why the army’s legitimacy and reputation has actually risen in the eyes of common Pakistanis. “Our army has fought, and partly won, a heroic battle against terrorism. Thousands of our soldiers have become martyrs in this fight. This is why incidents of terrorist violence in Pakistan have come down significantly.”
I could see the truth of Aziz Sahab’s words in Karachi. Pakistan’s commercial capital has never been as safe from terrorist attacks and organised crime as it is now. “This is all because of the Rangers (paramilitary forces),” Umair Solangi, a young political activist, said to me.
On what the Pakistan army thinks of relations with India, I had an opportunity to hear the views of none other than Lt Gen (retd) Nasir Khan Janjua, whose name is familiar to many Indians. He had resigned as Pakistan’s national security advisor just a day before I met him at a conference in Islamabad. Almost echoing Imran Khan’s words, Janjua, who previously served as one of the corps commanders of the Pakistan army, said, “Pakistan wants peace and cooperation with India. Let there be no doubt whatsoever on this. Pakistan cannot become a great economic power, and we cannot realise the full benefit of our strategic location connecting South Asia, Central Asia, West Asia and China, unless we have peaceful and cooperative relations with all our neighbours. Of course, how Pakistan-India relations can be normalised is a matter to be decided only through dialogue. Pakistan is ready for dialogue on all issues.”
Recalling his many meetings and discussions with India’s NSA, Ajit Doval, Janjua said, “Our talks were always held in a cordial and friendly atmosphere. We were both very frank in putting forth our arguments. But we were also willing to listen to each other. I must say I developed a great regard for Doval Sahab, and I think it was mutual.”
The writer was an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He is currently engaged in activities to promote India-Pakistan and India-China relations
This is the second part of a three-part article first appeared in National Herald on Sunday. Read the e-paper here. Read part 1 on Sudheendra Kulkarni’s interactions with Imran Khan here