My op-ed in WSJ Asia – Dr Singh’s leap of faith

India’s decision to resume dialogue with Pakistan is a triumph of faith over reason

The following is the original draft of my op-ed that appeared in the pages of the Wall Street Journal Asia earlier this week:

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh waited until public memory of the terrorist attacks on Mumbai on 26th November 2008 faded to a level that it was politically feasible for him to resume the composite bilateral dialogue with Pakistan. The attacks had compelled him to reluctantly suspend official talks two years ago. Despite increasingly compelling evidence that the Lashkar-e-Taiba carried out those attacks with the connivance of the Pakistani military establishment, Islamabad has preferred to engage in a dilatory game of dossiers-and-lawsuits to avoid having to take any action against the perpetrators of one of the most provocative acts of terrorism in recent years. Yet, in the absence of the tiniest acts of good faith from his Pakistani counterparts, Prime Minister Singh has dogmatically persisted with his pursuit of dialogue — a policy which last week saw New Delhi effectively yielding to Pakistan’s demand of talks without preconditions.

Dialogue for Mr Singh is neither an eyewash to satisfy the international community nor a pragmatic policy tied to outcomes. It is almost a matter of faith, oblivious to facts or reason. Continue reading “My op-ed in WSJ Asia – Dr Singh’s leap of faith”

Brains and Thapar

Who in India really cares what they say on TV anyway?

Karan Thapar is terribly impressed with Pervez Musharraf. “We may not agree with (General Musharraf’s) arguments and often we disapprove of his tough language”, he writes, “but it’s impossible not to admire his courage and be impressed by his performance.” And “you may walk away from a Musharraf encounter put off by his personality but, despite that, you also know you’ve just met a very special man. That’s why Musharraf has fans in India and not just foes.”

Well, at least one Musharraf fan has come out of the closet and declared himself.

Mr Thapar makes two arguments: that General Musharraf is better than Indian politicians because the latter “are not prepared to pit their arguments against challenges.” And second, that Pakistani leaders open themselves to the Indian media but their Indian counterparts do not reciprocate. Therefore, Mr Thapar implies, the Pakistani leaders are better.

(Those of you who want to wipe the coffee off your shirts or keyboards can do so now. Sorry.)

It the rarefied world of TV studios where Mr Thapar resides, a telegenic personality might suffice as a quality for being a good leader. But in the reality of India’s democratic politics and constitutional governance, it is insufficient. And perhaps even irrelevant, for there has hardly been a telegenic prime minister since Rajiv Gandhi, and lot of nice things seem to have happened in India since then. As General Musharraf proves, regardless of his actual record, anyone can defend himself on television—provided he has a nice suit, decent wit and good English. It’s quite another thing to convince, cajole, compromise, threaten and force through a political agenda democratically and constitutionally. Guess why General Musharraf retired?

This is not to say that Indian politicians shouldn’t be more media savvy. They should. But that being articulate on TV and delivering good governance are two very different things. And the comparison with Pakistani political leaders is absurd. For all his failings, the least of which is appearing as text-to-speech converter on television, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is infinitely a better leader than General Pervez Musharraf. At least Dr Singh didn’t silence a rape victim so that his TV interviews would go well.

As for Pakistani leaders being generous in giving interviews to Indian journalists, well, isn’t that what you would do if you and your country were in an international doghouse? Pakistani politicians crave international legitimacy: speaking to the Indian media or getting lobbyists to place op-eds in major US newspapers are attempts to attain it.

Mr Thapar forgets that it was an act of great loftiness—and according to this blog, poor judgement on the part of the organisers—to invite a devious and malicious ex-military dictator to India and give him a soapbox. Let’s not forget that Pakistan has been responsible for a proxy-war against India, a war that is ongoing, and General Musharraf was personally responsible for some of the worst bits of it. Instead of calling for his trial as a war criminal, the Indian media dignified him with a place on the podium. Unfortunately, some, like Mr Thapar, are even his fans.

A Q Khan, China and the truth

Bidirectional proliferation

Please don’t yawn. Savour the details. The Centrifugist revealed his side of the story to Simon Henderson. The latter’s article in The Sunday Times should put paid to the “Khan’s was a rogue operation” farce. It also tells the story of how China and Pakistan helped each other in nuclear technology.

(Khan’s) team was also the recipient of a gift from China of a design for an atomic bomb and enough highly enriched uranium for two devices, after Beijing decided to back Khan to jump-start Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. I remember being told about China’s nuclear generosity by an outraged British official in the 1980s. I later asked what Beijing had received in return. It was an enrichment plant.

The plant is at Hanzhong in central China. C-130 Hercules transports of the Pakistan air force made more than 100 flights to China carrying centrifuge equipment. Beijing needed the plant, not for bombs but to fuel its nuclear power plants. Centrifuge technology is good for both levels of enrichment, hence the current concern that Iran’s nascent plant at Natanz has a military purpose. China could not make the Pakistan-supplied centrifuges work properly, so replaced them with Russian centrifuges. What happened to the Pakistani centrifuges? A good question. They were not returned to Pakistan. Could they have ended up in Iran?

…Musharraf said Khan had shipped examples of centrifuges to North Korea. Correct, but with the connivance and at the instruction of the Pakistan military. [Times]

(linkthanks: the indefatigable Swami Iyer)

Weekday Squib: Baldev Haeussler Singh’s proposal

…to Pakistan’s former president Pervez Musharraf

At first glance, it appeared that Baldev Haeussler Singh might have been a distant member of the Pandey family. But our ever resourceful research assistant has found that the good Mr Singh is a documentary film-maker, originally from Mandi Dabwali in Punjab-Haryana, but settled in Germany since 1989. So in the unlikely event of there being two persons with the same name, this must be the person who—brace yourself!—offered Mr Musharraf “350 acres of cultivated lands, well-bred horses, a bungalow and a luxury vehicle”, presumably in Punjab.

That’s because Mr Musharraf is a person of Indian origin and “although the Pakistani politicians did not hold Musharraf in high esteem, he is popular in India and that all Indians love him because of his straightforward foreign policy.”

Nice one, Mr Singh. No one, not the Americans, not the British, not the Turks and not even the Saudis thought of including well-bred horses into the package. He should have mentioned that the package includes free electricity courtesy of the Indian government.

In case of fire, head for the exit

…ideally, in a calm and dignified manner
Fire Exit

You don’t have to go beyond the oft-repeated cliche about Pervez Musharraf—that he is a commando, and doesn’t back down when he’s cornered—to grasp the limits of his political wisdom. Forget politics, this motto does not even make a lot of sense in a broader military context. That his advisers should refer to his commando credentials now, when the politicians have given him possibly the last chance for the most decent exit possible under the circumstances, brings home the enormity of his folly.

If it was a threat to deter Asif Ali Zardari and Nawaz Sharif from going ahead with the plans to remove him, it is not too credible. General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani is unlikely to want to overtly wade into a political quagmire when he can wield power behind the scene. And if Mr Musharraf does intend to “fight back”, he will be seen the source of additional instability, and hence a liability that no one—neither the army nor the United States—can afford. This may cause him to be removed from the scene.

Messrs Zardari and Sharif have demanded that he seek a vote of confidence in the provincial and national assemblies, failing which impeachment proceedings will be initiated against him. They have not only given him room and time to head for the exit, but also—in their communique—refrained from criticising his foreign policy. What was left in catered to the domestic audience. What was left out should appeal to his personal friends in high places abroad. [Update: Those friends have started disowning him]

Related Posts: Finding a home for Mushie, Graceful exit wounds, the curious incident of the General in the night-time

Framing the Pakistani army’s problem

Saving those who have crossed over

Khaled Ahmed puts it very well:

Today an army built to face India is being asked to retrieve territory lost to the terrorists. Trying to reclaim lost terrain is like invading your own people, but the additional handicap imposed on the army is that it is being sent in without political support. Meanwhile, the anarchists have discovered that when they kill non-Muslims in the West they inspire fear and loathing, but when they kill Muslims in Pakistan it leads to conversion. The army has the impossible task of saving a country of converts to the cause of the enemy. [DT]

The other General Kiyani

An angry retired general on television

Lieutenant-General (retd) Jamshed Gulzar Ahmed Kiyani, who served as a corps commander of the Pakistani Army under General Pervez Musharraf had a lot to say about his former chief. And none of it charitable. General Kiyani has joined the ranks of a number of former general officers at the head of an ‘ex-servicemen’s movement’ against General Musharraf. Here are two of his recent TV appearances: first, on PTV’s Live with Talat, and a second, more beans-out-of-the-bag one on GEO TV’s Meray Mutabiq show with Shahid Masood (via UB). The latter is 90 minutes long, but is worth watching in full. (alternative link, report).

In the early stages of the interview with Dr Masood, he boasts that a Pakistani general is far superior to an Indian one. And then he blames the top leadership of the Pakistani army for the “debacles” in East Pakistan and Kargil. He points out that the Pakistani military leadership did not expect the “intense response” from the Indian side, that used air power and ‘state-of-the-art’ Bofors howitzers (when the latter were at least 15 years old in 1999). On the other hand, he does admit that “you can’t dictate terms to the enemy” and admits that the fighting was done by young Pakistani army personnel—that ‘mujahideen’ fig-leaf being fully dead.

While General Kiyani comes out as a harsh critic of General Musharraf, he is more sympathetic to Nawaz Sharif. He first absolves Nawaz Sharif as having knowledge of the Kargil operation, but then goes on the describe a meeting of leading figures where Sartaj Aziz, the foreign minister, opposed it on the grounds that it would be diplomatically indefensible, and General Majid, the minister of Kashmir and Northern Areas grilled the Rawalpindi corps commander on whether the army had the logistics capability to support the offensive. Mr Nawaz Sharif himself is quoted as saying that he would support it as long as the going was good, but would ditch them if things fouled up.

General Kiyani calls for an impartial closed-down inquiry into the Kargil debacle. It remains to be seen if Mr Nawaz Sharif himself would want that.

Finding a home for Mushie

…if he does get a ‘dignified’ exit

Pervez Musharraf is toast.

When will he go, in what manner will he go, and where will he go? The first two questions are too complicated. Assuming he does get a ‘dignified exit’ that he now seeks, where will General Musharraf spend the first few years of his retirement?

He has too many enemies in a political culture where vendettas are the norm. So he’ll have to get out of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

He could head over to the New England region of the United States to live in comfortable retirement. But doing so would reinforce allegations that he is an American stooge. So he might spend time in the US on ‘extended’ visits, but is unlikely to want the US to be his country of residence.

The Saudi king reportedly asked Nawaz Sharif to take it easy on General Musharraf. Now it would be delicious irony if General Musharraf became the official Pakistani-leader-in-exile, replacing Mr Sharif, but the general has certain lifestyle choices that would make Saudi Arabia a rather uncomfortable retirement home.

So it is that Turkey becomes a leading contender to host the man who holds it in admiration. It is an American ally, an Islamic country, lifestyle choices no bar, and a place where General Musharraf spent some years as a kid. The plane on the tarmac of Islamabad’s airport might well have filed flight plans for Istanbul.

There are other destinations like Dubai and London, also places that host Pakistani-leaders-in-exile, but then, these locations suggest that the said exile has active politics in mind, not retirement.

And finally, there is the village of Chak 13 BC near Bahawalpur in Punjab province. General Musharraf owns land there. In fact, he is the numberdar there, the person who collects water taxes and land revenues on behalf of the state. They don’t want him as army chief and president. Nobody has said anything about not wanting him as the village tax collector.

Graceful exit wounds

The manner of Musharraf’s exit

Most people think Pervez Musharraf is toast. And that, apart from a matter of time, it is a question of how he should go. The American senators who were in Pakistan for last week’s elections have publicly called for a ‘graceful exit’. Well, he’s reportedly building a new home—complete with security bunkers—in Islamabad. “He has already started discussing the exit strategy for himself,” a close friend told the Sunday Telegraph “I think it is now just a matter of days and not months because he would like to make a graceful exit on a high.”

Now the wonderful retired Major General Rashid Qureishi has denied the authenticity of the report, not its content. So it may well be that we will soon see some grace.

It won’t be impossible for Mr Musharraf to hold on to the presidency—but he will have to share power with the politicians and Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani. If he was the sort who could share power he wouldn’t have been in this hole in the first place.

Impeachment—and there’s a lot of political support for this—is not impossible. But as Ali Khan of Washburn University School of Law argues on Jurist, impeachment is for legally elected presidents, not usurpers. “The proper constitutional treatment for usurpers”, Mr Khan writes, is “removal by incarceration”. Since lawyers are a vocal political lobby at the moment, they might insist on meting out the proper constitutional treatment to Mr Musharraf. Such an exit is unlikely to be graceful though.