Will Pakistan’s ‘newly empowered liberal, democratic community’ please stand up?
Over to Prem Shankar Jha. In his op-ed column in Outlook magazine, he explains why Pakistan’s limited acceptance of disaster relief assistance from India is ‘understandable’. He characterises its rather confused response as arising from a tug of war between its old dogmatic quarter and a ‘newly empowered liberal democratic community’. Gen Musharraf, of course, sympathises with the latter but is torn between the two. That, by the way, is the White House line on the Pakistani dictator. It is also wrong. Jha may have missed out on that little business of Gen Musharraf’s comments to the Washington Post reporters. Besides, where is that newly empowered liberal democratic community? Surely, he can’t be referring to the recent municipal elections that the pro-Musharraf candidates won in a landslide.
At first sight Pakistanâ€™s decision to put politics ahead of humanity looks heartless and discouraging. But its reasons are understandable. Thereâ€™s always been a strong school of thought within Pakistan, fed by the likes of Syed Ali Shah Geelani from Kashmir, that Indiaâ€™s goal in opening the border between the two Kashmirs is to take the steam out of separatism. That would automatically reinforce the case for a solution based upon the status quo. The last thing adherents to this school want Kashmiris in â€˜Azadâ€™ Kashmir to see are Indian choppers dropping life-saving food packets, blankets and medicines to them and air-lifting them to safety. That would destroy, in a single stroke, the preconceptions about â€˜Hindu Indiaâ€™ that have sustained hostility in that part of Kashmir towards India. [Outlook]
Jha’s case goes something like this: Musharraf is determined to push for peace with India, but needs to accomodate his establishment hawks. So India should seize on the opportunity and make concessions that will please the hawks. This, by the way, is called the good cop-bad cop routine. The question Jha needs to answer is that if concessions are the price India has to pay to buy peace with Pakistan, then what’s so special about Musharraf?
On the issue of accepting aid, Pakistan now has taken the line that it will accept Indian helicopters on condition that Indian pilots don’t fly them. Given that Pakistan attached no such conditions for American helicopters (who too, by the way, are concerned about jihadi camps), this is clearly a political move — to deflect criticism for not accepting Indian assistance — than one motivated by concern for the quake victims. After decades of feeding its Kashmiris with propaganda about the atrocious Indian security forces, even Gen Musharraf cannot allow that myth to be shattered by Indian choppers dropping food and medicines. For that myth is all that Pakistan has in order to cling to Kashmir. If Musharraf really desired peace, he had a golden opportunity — in the form of a natural disaster — to change perceptions. That he missed, is not an accident, but part of the design.
Tailpiece: Headlines in Pakistan’s newspapers go: India refuses to send copters without pilots. It is to generate this kind of a headline that the Pakistani government played the rather clever trick of asking for the crewless copters. Clever yes, but this is just one more thing the Pakistani military establishment will have to account for when the time comes to take stock of its failure in managing this disaster.