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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2430

Patience is key word in India-Pak dealings

By Asian Tribune India Correspondent

New Delhi, 05 April (Asiantribune.com): There is a new mood in Pakistan – the new government in Islamabad, has buried the destructive old rivalries that had once patterned the behaviour between the two main political parties and its leaders during the brief interregnums of democratic rule in the country. The long delay engineered by President Pervez Musharraf in forming the government did not alter the mood and, a broad coalition of political parties came to office without much difficulty, despite a bitter public tussle for the post of Prime Minister within the Pakistan People's Party. For the new Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani vote of confidence in the National Assembly was a mere formality and he completed this last week without any opposition.

The first decision taken by Yousuf Raza Gillani was to order the release of the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, Iftikhar Chaudhry and other sacked judges from house arrest. It was a politically emotive decision for it was the Iftikhar sacking that had fuelled the long drawn lawyers' agitation which in turn began the rapid decline in Pervez Musharraf's hold on the country.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been more insistent on removing President Musharraf immediately, because of the greater animosity between them; it was Musharraf who overthrew the Nawaz government and unceremoniously bundled the ousted prime minister into exile in Saudi Arabia. The PML (N) leader has also demanded an immediate restoration of the Chief Justice. But there is no word as yet on the restoring the old Supreme Court as it is likely to lead to a direct confrontation between the re-instated judges and President Musharraf. This could precipitate a constitutional crisis, something that Gillani would want to avoid so early in his term.

The new mood in Islamabad is also related to American involvement in Pakistani affairs as became evident in the response to the visit of two senior American State Department officials to Pakistan. The popular perception is that Pakistani territory is being used to fight America's, which was leading to loss of Pakistani lives and the rise of militancy in the country. The visit of the American officials took place just as the new government was being sworn-in and was seen as interference in Pakistan's internal affairs, as a move to provide support to President Musharraf.

The US Deputy Secretary of State, John D Negroponte received a cool reception in Islamabad and was forced to listen to some plain speaking when he met political leaders and groups of leading lawyers in Islamabad. Newspaper articles commented on the ill-advised timing of the visit, calling it 'crude diplomacy'. The political parties have indicated that they would consider moves to hold talks with the militants, something that Washington is totally opposed to. President Musharraf's deal with the Taliban groups in the north-west tribal areas last year resulted in the militants gaining ground as the Pak army curtailed their operations against the militants.

Nawaz Sharif, who will remain an influential figure in the federal government as the leader of the second largest political party, told a group of visiting US Congressmen that Pakistan could not become a killing field for the sake of American security. It is a portent of things to come – while it will be too much to say that Washington will lose its influence in Islamabad, the Americans will have to tread much more carefully and adroitly in their relations with Pak leaders.

President Musharraf has said that he is willing to work with the new government, but there is a great deal of anger against the retired general. The democratic forces have gained ground in the political arena with an elected government. President Musharraf has lost his influence. The Pakistani military has moved out of the public arena. Army chief. Gen Kiyani started the process of withdrawing army officers from civilian jobs and the exercise is more or less complete. True, several senior officers by virtue of their positions in the PMO thus far, are residents of houses in the PMO estate. They too may have to go back to their cantonment quarters sooner than later.

President Musharraf's position weakened from the moment he was forced to shed his uniform under Washington pressure. His power flowed from his position as army chief; now as mere president he will be subject to the vagaries of power shifts. The last ditch American effort to save their staunchest ally in Pakistan has not been fruitful and it is only a question of time before Musharraf becomes a political nonentity.

Both the Pakistan People's Party and Pakistan Muslim League (N) have made various statements over the last couple of months indicating a desire for better relations with India. But once in government, views expressed by political parties have a tendency to acquire different nuances. PPP chairman Asif Ali Zardari emphasised the need for progress on the Kashmir issue during a warm and effusive meeting with People's Democratic Party president Mahbooba Mufti while she was on a visit to Islamabad to attend a conference on regional stability. He added that the new government wanted 'action' on the Kashmir issue and not just confidence building measures.

This is a formulation on the Kashmir issue that is closer to the Pakistan establishment's position. On an earlier occasion, Zardari (in an interview) had said that India and Pakistan could 'agree to disagree' on Kashmir while normalising relations and facilitating closer trade ties. These comments had led to angry statements from Kashmiri leaders in Srinagar. In his first speech in the National Assembly Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani said that the wishes and aspirations of the Kashmiri people would be taken into account while finding a resolution to the Kashmir issue. "Sacrifices of the Kashmiri would not go to waste", he added. Though Gillani reiterated the traditional Pakistani position on Kashmir, it was a significant that none of the major political parties had made Kashmir or ties with India an issue in their campaigns.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh not only sent a letter of congratulations to Gillani on his assumption of office, but followed it up with a telephone conversation shortly after he took the oath of office. "There is a strong public sentiment in both our countries in favour of accelerating the peace process and establishing a cooperative framework for our bilateral relations," Manmohan Singh told him. The dialogue between India and Pakistan has been on hold since last year. The resumption of the composite dialogue will be one of the first tasks on the bilateral agenda once the Gillani government settles down.

- Asian Tribune -

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