The winds of change are blowing in Pakistan. For a change, they are blowing in the right direction.
Pakistan and the United States appear to have assumed a less-confrontational posture. And there is a noticeable absence of bickering in public.
Apart from the nagging domestic problems of insufficient electricity, a bad economy, and pervasive terrorism, Pakistan is also saddled with difficulties beyond its borders. There is an unstable Afghanistan to the west and a much bigger and adversarial India to the east.
With the expected departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2014, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a straw figure propped up by the United States, is bound to fall. He commands little support and respect in his country. The Taliban are sure to fill the vacuum by taking over Afghanistan. It would be a plus for Pakistan.
Pakistan has, despite America’s displeasure, maintained contacts with the Afghan Taliban. Contradictory as it is that a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism has been dealing with the Taliban, who are considered terrorists by the United States, Pakistan has pursued that policy to safeguard its own national interests.
Those interests demand that Pakistan has a prominent role in post-U.S. Afghanistan. It would be easy for Pakistan to assume that role while dealing with a Taliban government in Afghanistan. It is widely believed that Mullah Omar, the former head of the Taliban government in the 1990s and a man on the United States’ most-wanted list with a bounty of $10 million on his head, lives in the southern Pakistani city of Quetta.
What happens in Afghanistan determines how Pakistan relates to India. Pakistan competes with India for significant influence in Afghanistan.
During the Karzai presidency, India was permitted to open many consulates and trade missions in the country. India’s presence across its eastern as well as western borders is threatening to Pakistan. Periodic bombings of Indian installations in Afghanistan underscore those tensions.
If India and Pakistan were at peace, there would be little need for India and Pakistan to compete in Afghanistan. But they are not at peace. They have, since their independence in 1947, fought two inconclusive wars over the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
The border between Indian-controlled and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir — called the Line of Control, or in United Nations jargon, LoC — remains a flash point between the two nuclear-armed neighbors. Cross-border skirmishes and fatalities are common.
People in India and Pakistan want peace. There is more that unites the people in those countries than what separates them. Even though Pakistan has a legitimate historic, legal, and moral claim on Kashmir, much has happened in the intervening 66 years to blur those lines and smudge the validity of original claims.
It is not unlike Palestine or the Falkland Islands. The realities have to be taken into consideration for any durable solution.
On a few occasions, it has been said, India and Pakistan came close to resolving the festering dispute. However, the vested interests in both countries — armies and right-wing ultranationalists and religious extremists — put roadblocks in the way.
In 1999, secret negotiations between Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Indian counterpart, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, had reached a point where a settlement was in sight. As a confidence-building measure, Mr. Vajpayee traveled by bus to the Pakistani city of Lahore to an enthusiastic welcome.
But unknown to Mr. Sharif, elements of the Pakistan army had occupied illegally some strategic mountain positions on the Indian side of the LoC in the winter of 1998. In the ensuing armed conflict that lasted from May through July, 1999, the friendship bus effectively was hijacked and allowed to crash in the mountains of Kashmir.
Soon thereafter, the architect of that misadventure, Pakistani army chief Gen. Pervez Musharraf, staged a coup against the democratically elected Mr. Sharif and ruled the country for 10 years. Mr. Musharraf, upon his return to Pakistan after a 10-year self-exile in the west, was arrested and has been accused of complicity in the murder of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He may also be tried for treason for staging the coup against Mr. Sharif in 1999.
Mr. Sharif, as the incoming prime minister, wants to jump-start the peace process with India. He and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are scheduled to meet during the U.N. General Assembly meeting this month.
If they succeed, it will change the climate in southeast Asia for the better.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org