General Kayani’s observations on India-Pakistan relations at Skardu airport on 18 April 2012 has come as a huge political earthquake a week and a half after the massive avalanche at Gayari struck the 6th Northern Light Infantry (NLI) battalion headquarters and caused the death of about 140 Pakistani soldiers. The tone and tenor of the arguments made by Kayani has taken many analysts in India by surprise. Does it indicate a change in the mindset of the Pakistan Army? If the tragedy of Gayari has induced some sense of introspection in the leadership of the Pakistan Army, it may be a fitting tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives in the avalanche.
Kayani’s remarks came soon after his visit to Gayari along with President Zardari. He made some points which were in striking contrast to what he had been arguing so far, especially in connection with enhancing the capability of the army, regardless of the intentions. He held that the Pakistan Army understood
“very well that there should be a very good balance between defence and development. You cannot be spending on defence alone and forgetting about development. Ultimately the security of a country is not only that you secure boundaries and borders but it is when people that live in the country feel happy, their needs are being met. Only in that case will a country be truly safe.”
He also said that national security was a comprehensive concept and “therefore we would like to spend less on defence, definitely”. Another important issue, in his view, was the adverse ecological consequences of troops deployment on the glacier, which would affect the flow of the river Indus. The Pakistan Army Chief endorsed the idea of peaceful coexistence between India and Pakistan, and resolution of all issues through dialogue.
Importantly, his observations came close on the heels of Nawaz Sharif’s call to Pakistani authorities to take the lead in withdrawing troops from Siachen. Visiting the avalanche affected Gayari before both Zardari and Kayani, Sharif reportedly went to the extent of offering his services for talks with India on the Siachen issue. While the English language media found value in his views, some of the popular Urdu dailies reacted to it editorially with characteristic disdain. “Mian Sahab ki bachkana tajwiz”1 (childish overtures of Mian Nawaz Sharif) wrote Ummat; “Mian Sahab, zara soch samajh ke” cautioned Jasarat; and Nawai Waqt held that any concession to an enemy country would be counter-productive and any talk of unilateral withdrawal was against the national interest of Pakistan.
Kayani’s indirect endorsement of Sharif’s views must have come as a rude shock for the India-baiters in Pakistan. However, quite interestingly, the mainstream Urdu media has so far chosen not to react to Kayani’s emphasis on seeking peace and friendship with India.
Some observers in Pakistan would argue that Kayani’s statement was a certain departure from the traditional stance the Army had been taking on India. They would also argue that it indicates an overall realisation among the elite—both political and military—that India baiting may not work any more, especially at a time when the Pakistani state and society have been afflicted with multiple crises. The economy is in doldrums; the drip from the West is drying up due to the protracted decline in US-Pakistan relations; the investment climate is extremely bad leading to flight of capital abroad; the underground jihadi groups are defiant despite the efforts to politically mainstream their over-ground patrons; and, closer to the elections, the political parties are busy working at cross purposes, making it impossible to evolve a national consensus to address the critical issues Pakistani state and society are beset with.
In this context, it makes sense to argue that the corporate interests of the Pakistan Army (Military Inc., as it is called) are forcing it to see reason. The business lobby of Pakistan, which is at the forefront of the efforts aimed at India-Pakistan rapprochement, has reportedly convinced the Amy of the economic dividends that would accrue to the state and to the army, if trade with India were to be allowed in spite of Kashmir.
Kayani’s latest emphasis on peaceful coexistence and dialogue with India is thus being seen as an open acknowledgement by the Pakistan Army of the fact that repairing relations with India would be in Pakistan’s best interests. India has chosen to revive the peace process with Pakistan—despite the latter’s failure and/or unwillingness to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai terrorist attacks to justice—with assurances from the civilian leadership in Pakistan that when it pressed the restart button, the Pakistan Army was on board. In fact, the Indian leadership at the highest levels has gone on record to state that the Pakistan Army has been backing the peace process.
While one hopes that this trend will continue, there are looming clouds on the horizon. There are definite indications of forces within the military establishment opposing the process of normalisation of trade and economic relationship with India. The unsavoury expressions about India as a ‘makkar dushman‘ (treacherous enemy), “mouzi saanp” (deadly snake) in the vernacular print media, which has more readership than its English language counterpart, indicate that the spoilers might already be at work to scuttle the process.
Moreover, given the perceived links between the GHQ and sections of the Urdu media, such brazen India-bashing may also indicate that powerful sections within the military are trying their best to keep alive the anti-India constituency, carefully built up over the years to legitimise the Army’s continuing preponderance in Pakistan.
The leadership in the Pakistani establishment can ill afford to ignore these forces, if it is sincere about pursuing the peace process with India. Such elements will have to be reined in for the sake of peace and prosperity of the two countries in general and Pakistan in particular. The true intent of the Pakistan Army will also be judged in the coming days by the action it takes on the jihadi groups fanning terror in India from Pakistani soil, and by its response to the Indian offer of cooperation in Afghanistan against the backdrop of Western troops withdrawal, as has been noted in his recent book by a former foreign secretary of Pakistan.2
India has to find a way of sustaining its peace offensive with Pakistan. It has to engage the growing constituency for peace across the border and blunt the edge of the forces of hatred. The onus for creating an enabling environment for resolution of thorny issues between the two countries also lies squarely on Indian shoulders.