The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said after his one-on-one meeting with the president of Pakistan, General Pervez Musharraf, that he thought 'we can do business with him'. Some people have criticized his statement, on the ground that he should not have said this without consulting his cabinet and should have, in any case made it in parliament. Others have said that the prime minister was ignoring the unreliability that the 'devious' general has shown in the past in his dealings with India. They feel that he has still to prove that he can be trusted to stick to commitments and to keep his word.
Perhaps we should consider the constraints on his vision for Pakistan. He is not an Islamic fundamentalist of the vintage of the late president Zia ul-Haq. He is a commando and changes his tactics quickly when he thinks the circumstances demand it. He was not above using fundamentalists as he did when he helped to build up the taliban. He saw control over Afghanistan as a means to put pressure on India to settle the Kashmir dispute. The taliban were his instrument.
After 9/11 he was probably the first to understand how it could benefit Pakistan and help him achieve his vision for it. He changed tactics and abandoned the taliban. He anticipated the American invasion of Afghanistan and decided that he could not stand in the way. Instead he cooperated, withal hesitantly and not always fully, but enough for them to regard him as a close ally. He obviously observed the very adverse impact of Islamic fundamentalism on the Pakistani society and image in the world. He became an enemy of terrorism since he saw the opportunity it gave him to crack down on terrorist groups within Pakistan that were giving it the name of a failing state, fragmenting into bits.
He was always for putting a closure to the Kashmir issue. As a soldier, he recognized what the defeat of Pakistan in three wars with India proved ' that Pakistan was economically and militarily too small to ever win a war with India. Nuclear weapons might contain a war but could not settle the Kashmir issue. Kargil was his attempt to dominate the road to Kashmir and force India to the negotiating table. When it failed he jumped at the opportunity to cut a deal with a peace-loving Atal Bihari Vajpayee in Agra. He probably recognized that Vajpayee and the Bharatiya Janata Party were more likely to settle Kashmir than other political parties. But his very clever charming of Indian editors at the press conference and his haughty walkout when he did not get his way renewed Indian doubts about his reliability. He tried to get his American allies involved with Kashmir but the United States of America and the rest of the world were more interested in the goodwill of India.
He saw that Kashmir was not merely the 'core issue' with India but it was the root cause of Pakistan's erratic development, of its being hostage to fundamentalists and its dependence on terrorist groups. These began to operate inside Pakistan as well. His freedom of action is constrained by the army from which he draws his power. Elements in the army regard compromising on Kashmir as contrary to what they had fought so many wars for. They are not keen to restrain cross-border terrorism. Hence the flip-flops when at times after weeks of sweet reasonableness, Musharraf becomes belligerent about Kashmir or suddenly denies that there are terrorists moving across the border from India to Pakistan. This constraint imposed by an army that he cannot entirely trust (after all, the almost successful assassination attempts on him must have had information and support from the top ranks of the army) must be recognized and used by India in its negotiations with him.
Our approach must be to make friends with the many liberal elements in Pakistani society (including the army) while taking unilateral actions to encourage Pakistanis to learn how India is faring as a democratic society is growing.
Musharraf's objectives must be to get Kashmir out of the way so that Pakistan can go about building a prosperous society. For this he must rid the country of Islamic fundamentalisms. Obviously he will not disband the 'cross-border terrorism' altogether till Kashmir is settled, if then. Our guard cannot come down on this matter while we should put all possible pressure so that terrorism is reduced as it has in the last nine months. But Musharraf cannot himself be happy at continued dependence on and support to these terrorist groups. His interest in resolving Kashmir is closely tied to his desire to rid Pakistan of fundamentalisms.
Tactically his support to the hardline wing of the Hurriyat in Kashmir is akin to allowing the terrorist groups to continue operations, but on a leash. It is another instrument to get a better settlement on Kashmir when India starts negotiations.
The Indian objective must be to eliminate or at least drastically reduce terrorism and maintain the integrity of Pakistan so that we do not get the Wild West that is Afghanistan closer to our borders.
Pakistani hostility to India has seriously affected its development while India has had to waste resources to contain it. It has, until 9/11, bedevilled our relationships with other Islamic countries. China has used Pakistan to add masala to this hostility by fairly inexpensive but successful support to Pakistan. Kashmir has meant substantial financial and human costs for India. It has given human rights groups a stick to beat India with. Dead army and other security personnel on duty in Kashmir exacerbate anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. The large presence of security personnel in Kashmir locks up our forces in a civilian operation that can only brutalize them and at high cost. India can bear the cost but it is a diversion from development. Terrorist groups in Pakistan, the declining law and order situation there, the infiltration of Islamic fundamentalism into India, are all against Indian interests. Musharraf's objectives for Pakistan thus coincide with Indian interests. This is what 'doing business' is about.
But after years of advertising India as the 'enemy' it is difficult for the army to unbend. That is why reciprocity is so slow to India's offers of confidence building measures. 'Doing business' also requires that agreements be honoured. Here we can never be certain, given the constraints imposed on Musharraf by hostility within his army and the religious clergy that the army has encouraged for so long. The India-Pakistan border will always be a tense one. The relationship will never be overly friendly. For one thing India is too big and apparently successful. The envy of India is endemic to south Asia where the other countries regard India as a giant neighbour that acts superior and dominating.
We have to keep our guard up. However if the strategy is to make friends, we should unilaterally encourage visits of ordinary people, journalists and academics. Some of this has started. We should encourage intellectual intimacy through scholarships to IIITs, IITs, IIMs, medical colleges, and so on. The ICSSR should have a research budget for collaborative social sciences research about India-Pakistan relationships and societies. We should invite them to our various conferences and conventions and provide funding to make it happen. We need to go out of our way to be helpful and friendly. Let us not wait for Pakistan to respond to such measures but just go ahead and publicize them. Given the macho attitude of the Pakistan army, they will not want to appear responsive to our initiatives. But they will respond in some way at some time. We must demonstrate our desire for friendship with Pakistan, whoever might be the person in power. Some unilateral actions by us will surely improve our business with Pakistan.