Repeating in public what is already an open secret is hardly a mea culpa. In the fluid world of Pakistani politics, President Asif Zardari’s admission that militants of yesteryear are today’s terrorists has the appearance of an apology. The rub is, does the Pakistani establishment think that it was a mistake?
In an interview to the Daily Telegraph and in comments made to retired civil servants, Zardari said militant “...groups were not thrown up because of government weakness but as a matter of policy.” Zardari said, “they were deliberately created and nurtured as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives...”
It is, by far, the clearest admission of Pakistani involvement in creating and supporting a terrorist infrastructure in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
While his statement deserves praise, it is unlikely that it will in any manner change things in J&K.
The Pakistani army has simply invested too much military and political capital in terrorist groups in J&K to change its outlook and tactics. If cross-border terrorism were to be curbed, it is axiomatic that Pakistan will lose a big bargaining chip in any future talks on J&K. That will mean giving primacy to diplomacy alone in dealing with India, a course of action in which it has not had much faith since 1947.
The futility of such statements has another, political, aspect to them. Pakistan has seen cycles of civil and martial rule since 1958. This has resulted in a curious dichotomy in its dealings with India. When the military is in command, it is willing to be “realistic” with India, as it was, for example, in the Pervez Musharraf era. When the country returns to civil rule, politicians are handicapped in many ways to make meaningful compromises (on J&K, to give one example). Doing that is certain to undermine them politically with the people of Pakistan. During such periods of civil rule, the army, too, is utterly uncooperative with the established civil authorities.
The result is that Pakistan has two sets of players who are willing to compromise with India individually, but not in tandem. This is the situation that prevails in Islamabad at the moment.
Zardari’s statement: admission of guilt or playing to the gallery? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org