BY SAEED NAQVI
How will Osama bin Laden’s elimination by US Special Forces impact on Indo-Pak relations?
The Pak army is demoralized.
The civilian authority, without any sheen at the outset, is looking creditable.
It is beginning to look like 2007 all over again.
Gen Pervez Musharraf had signed on with the Americans post 9/11, in November 2001. The theatre for military action was Afghanistan, but even in early 2002, militants or their relatives had started crossing over to the North West Frontier.
Ofcourse, Musharraf made the U-turn on Afghanistan but with one caveat. He would join the US led war on terror in Afghanistan, but the Jehad in Kashmir would continue because the Pak establishment would not be able to cushion the backlash if Pakistan were to turn its back on both the militancies. New Delhi must remember: Americans accepted the difference between global and regional terror.
The Americans and the Saudis understood Musharraf’s predicament. The General had committed himself to fighting the very same militant Islamist forces his all powerful Inter Service Intelligence had diligently put together since 1980.
Initially, Musharraf was given room to play both sides of the street. But as the theatre of war shifted from Afghanistan to the Af-Pak border, indeed regions like Swat, Pakistani military action invited a huge backlash in terms of suicide attacks and general unpopularity among the people, as the impression was amplified that Pakistan, in fighting America’s war, was killing its own people.
Remember, these were days when President Bush’s regular incantation was that President Musharraf was his stoutest ally. In fact Musharraf’s grades in the White House were in inverse proportion to his grades in the Pak street – particularly after the Lal Masjid crackdown in the heart of Islamabad, killing hundreds of Madrasah students, including women.
Opposition by the Chief Justice, Lawyers agitation, the pressure from US Congress to have democratic elections in Pakistan (because both Afghanistan and Iraq had gone woefully wrong for the US), were all votes of no confidence in the Army.
The atmosphere in which the elections of February 2008 were held was something of a watershed. Not once was an anti India slogan raised. Kashmir was not even mentioned.
The Pak army, its head bowed over the Af-Pak operations, bereft of the anti-India card, its raison d’être, because of total public disinterest in the theme, had never felt so humiliated since the creation of Bangladesh. To be seen in uniform was an embarrassment.
This was the state of affairs when the Taj in Mumbai was set ablaze on November 26, within three weeks of President Obama’s victory and barely nine months after the most India/neutral election campaign in Pakistan’s history.
It was such high voltage drama on live TV that the Indian media virtually declared war on Pakistan. Pakistani media, which behaved with exemplary restraint on the India theme so far, willy nilly retaliated. All promises of Indo-Pak bonhomie were turfed out of the window.
The Hamsaya Dushman (enemy neighbour), Hindu India loomed once again. The army uniform was back in vogue.
Despite the uneasy CIA-ISI equation (for over a decade), the apparently cozy drift continued until the US NAVY SEALS administered a lethal one-two punch on the Army’s chin in Abbottabad. It was supposed to be a routine sparring round in the ring, not the real thing.
In other words, as in 2007, the Army’s stock is dismal. PMLN leader Nawaz Sharief has criticized the army and demanded a judicial inquiry. Even the Jamaat-e-Islami is chastising it.
The Supreme Court Bar Association, Lahore and Peshawar High Court Bar associations, among others, are seeking judicial inquiries.
The decline in public esteem in 2007 was galling for an army which generally keeps itself pampered. But it bounced back after 26/11.
How will the army seek to rehabilitate itself in the public eye this time? The end of Osama bin Laden will loom so big in global consciousness that anything resembling terrorism (even the cross border variety) will come under close scrutiny of the international community. Pushed thus against the wall, the mind may furnish some sensible solutions.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has the right ideas on Pakistan. The Indian media can help by gloating a little less.
(Saeed Naqvi is senior Indian journalist, television commentator, interviewer, and a Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Naqvi is also a mentor and a guest blogger with Canary Trap)