It’s all about trust

Questioning Musharraf’s trustworthiness is important

Those who question Gen Musharraf’s trustworthiness, Pratap Bhanu Mehta writes, are party poopers, who, thanks to their wholesome distrust of Pakistan’s military dictator, risk missing new opportunities (via India Uncut). Trust, Mr Mehta argues, is beside the point for three reasons: because India has given nothing away, because the peace process is not incompatible with a tough line on security; and because the situation on the ground today gives India reason to think it can do business.

Each of these arguments sounds reasonable enough, but ignores the dynamics of the peace process. One of the key elements of that dynamic, relevant in this context, is the asymmetry in the costliness of reversing any move. That asymmetry is loaded in favour of Pakistan. Being a status quo power, India can only concede ‘real ground’ to move the process forward while Pakistan just has to concede its ‘claims’. In reverse, India can take back what it has already conceded only if Pakistan is willing to let go.

India has given nothing away? What about its claims to those parts of Kashmir occupied, annexed and ceded away by Pakistan? Or is it too curmudgeonly to point out that in reality this has already been given away? India is poised to pull back from Siachen, build a vital gas pipeline through Pakistan, and even hand their Kashmiri property back to Pakistani citizens. The forward dynamic of the peace process will almost certainly bring all these about, with reversal becoming well nigh impossible.

The peace process is not incompatible with a tough line on security? Well, it was the Indian Express and its foreign affairs columnist that called for India to halt counter-terrorism operations in Jammu & Kashmir.

And even if the squeezed-from-all-directions Gen Musharraf is forced to make a deal with India, there is little reason to believe that such a deal will outlive his rule. Just ask those who are holding on to contracts signed by Suharto, Marcos or Leonid Kuchma. Fears of Islamic fundamentalism may (or may not) be overstated, but it is the corporate interests of the Pakistani army that are of primary concern. Can the Pakistani army remain in power if India is no longer ‘the enemy’? Any number of Musharraf’s potential successors are not quite on board on the trade-offs that must follow if the peace process is to go anywhere. Given that Musharraf himself came to power thanks to a ‘doctrine of necessity’, a future Pakistani regime can always cite a some other ‘doctrine’ to repudiate all or part of Musharraf’s concessions. What then? Call the White House?

These risks are serious enough by themselves, but they are greatly magnified by Musharraf’s extremely poor record in keeping promises. His modus operandi has been to strike tactical compromises whenever he is under pressure, and renege on them as soon as the situation permits. Ask the Taliban, the MMA, or the people of Pakistan. Or guess his latest position on Kashmir.

Interestingly, Mr Mehta feels that “we will be doing ourselves a favour by giving (the Pakistanis) some elbow room to not come out feeling totally vanquished”. Magnanimity in victory is not only a virtue, but also a pragmatic move under certain conditions. But surely, it is way too early to declare victory — a few cricket matches and bus trips do not mean that all problems have been solved, that too in India’s favour. It is exactly this mental frame that makes the peace process incompatible with a tougher line on security. It just wont do to blame incidents like Kargil entirely on lack of vigilance by the security forces.

Charging hawks with cowardice and realists with myopia is beside the point. The key issue is trust — not just in Musharraf’s person, but also in the longevity of his dispensation. Instead of deliberately side-stepping this vital issue, proponents of the current dialogue would do well to emphasise on how big a leap of faith the Indian government is taking — by allowing hope to (yet again) triumph over bitter experience.

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