In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has called militants operating in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) terrorists. His statement has opened, so to speak, a new battle front for him.
Any such statement from a head of government in Pakistan is certain to evoke a range of responses: scepticism (from India), outrage (from the Pakistani establishment) and being let down (from the separatists in J&K). Some of these have already been vented. Hurriyat leaders have already decried the statement.
Pakistan “experts” will be quick to point out the changed strategic equation in South Asia as the cause of this new-found warmth on Zardari’s part. This may not be an accurate diagnosis. In the same interview, he stated that he looked for $100 billion from the world to bolster confidence in his country’s economy. Pakistan’s treasury has less than two months foreign exchange reserves left for food and oil imports. The dire security situation in almost the entire country is obvious to the world.
Jayachandran / Mint
In such a situation, only an irrational leader will issue a negative statement against a powerful and ascendant neighbour. Zardari is anything but that. He is aware of his political weakness: He is at the head of a polity that is polarized to the breaking point. He may have other motives and his statement must be seen in that context.
For one, it is unlikely to go down well with the army. But such is the loss of credibility of that institution that it may be in no position to harm the President. Politically, by issuing such a statement, Zardari may be exploring the limits of what he can do with respect to the army. Militarily, it may not mean much as planning, operational control and logistic support for anti-India activities lies largely with the army.
Decades of propaganda in that country have raised animosity against India to such a level that a mere statement is unlikely to change things. This is most likely in the case of J&K, a cause on which Pakistan has expended a huge amount of political capital, internally and internationally. Some signals are already clear. In the recent reshuffling of senior officers of the Inter-Services Intelligence, almost all Kashmir hands have been left untouched, or have been shifted to positions where their expertise is a requirement.
Indian leaders ought to carefully evaluate what Zardari says. Atmospherics are fine, but on no account should any compromises be made, especially with regard to J&K.
Change of heart or tactical shift: what does Zardari’s statement signify? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org