New Delhi’s refusal to grant a visa to former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to tour India made little sense. Of all the Pakistani leaders Musharraf came closest to striking a peace deal with India on Kashmir. The reason advanced for canceling the visa was unconvincing. Musharraf’s visit to different locations in India it was feared would allow pro-Pakistan militants to exploit the visit to their advantage. Musharraf naturally was bitter about the cancellation. Musharraf’s views regarding a Kashmir solution are well known. He sought joint management, autonomy on both sides of the border and soft borders. It is unlikely he would have changed his stand. Even if he had said something objectionable there were ways of effectively countering it. Denying entry into India was not the right response. That this might become New Delhi’s nasty habit became clear by the denial to enter without explanation administered to computer scientist J. Alex Halderman after he had landed to attend a seminar to prove the vulnerability of India ‘s Electric Voting Machines.
What might have been the real reason for the government to deny Musharraf a visa? The only rational explanation seemed to be that New Delhi did not want to displease the present political dispensation in Pakistan which is wary of Musharraf’s attempted comeback in domestic politics. Obviously if Musharraf were to succeed his slot would be the presidency presently occupied by President Zardari. Why should New Delhi prefer Zardari to Musharraf? Last weekend one possible answer came out loud and clear.
The Trans-Afghanistan Gas Pipeline agreement was signed by the three Presidents of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan along with Petroleum and Energy Minister Murli Deora representing India. This agreement could be a game changer. Addressing the Steering Committee meeting Deora said: “India strongly believes in regional cooperation and this pipeline will be a testament to regional cooperation and solidarity…It is our firm belief that the solutions to the problems of our region have to come from us and not from outsiders…Our goal is not merely the construction of the pipeline but also continuous and uninterrupted flow of Turkmen natural gas over the coming decades.” When Musharraf sought entry into India, behind the curtain talks to finalize the draft agreement must have been proceeding. Perhaps India did not want to jeopardize progress on that by upsetting President Zardari. Long term global geo-strategic concerns could have prevailed over immediate regional problems.
The project has strong US support because it allows Central Asian republics to export energy to world markets by passing Russian and Iranian routes. Former US Ambassador to Turkmenistan Ann Jacobsen had said: “It is quite possible that American companies will join it.” The pipeline will have its route through Kandahar, Quetta, Pakistan ‘s Tribal Belt and Multan to reach Fazilka in Rajasthan for delivery of gas to India. It was on 24 April 2008 that Pakistan, India and Afghanistan signed a framework agreement to buy natural gas from Turkmenistan. Last Sunday the agreement was formalized.
This agreement should be viewed in the background of the virtually aborted Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline venture. The Iran gas pipeline’s route lay through Baluchistan in Pakistan to India. In April 2008, Iran wanted the People’s Republic of China ‘s participation in the project. In 2009, India withdrew from the project citing pricing and security issues. It might be noted that India had signed the civilian nuclear deal with America in 2008. For the Iran-Pakistan-China gas pipeline to emerge the route would most likely have to enter through Baluchistan and pass northward across Punjab into the non-Pashtun areas of the North-West Frontier Province through the Federally Administered Northern Areas, and then into Chinese-held areas of Kashmir. Whether Pakistan would host two pipelines through its territory remains to be seen. In any event, the Iran project appears to have been delayed.
India entering the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline project has far reaching political implications. Despite the projected pipeline passing through Baluchistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas India has given consent. Both these regions are presently destabilized. India by signing the deal has therefore expressed confidence that problems in both areas will be sorted out and stability and peace will reign. It is in this context that Murli Deora’s remark from his prepared script read out in the recent summit, “Our goal is not merely the construction of the pipeline but also continuous and uninterrupted flow of Turkmen natural gas over the coming decades,” must be viewed. The implied message is clear. There is hope expressed about the achievement of peace in the Af-Pak region. Is the hope realistic?
Recent developments suggest that there could be some light at the end of the Pakistani tunnel. Credible sources have informed this scribe that General Kayani might well be having second thoughts about pursuing Pakistan ‘s present policy to achieve strategic depth in Afghanistan. General Kayani is reputed to be very professional in his approach. He belongs to the relatively small Janjua community of Punjab. The Janjuas are thought to be Muslim Rajputs. Since pre-Independence days under the British their presence in the army in Punjab has been disproportionately large. Former Pakistan Army Chief General Tikka was also a Janjua. Since his tenure a majority of the officers promoted above the rank of colonel, according to some estimates 60 per cent, are Janjuas. They have had their full share of the heavy losses suffered by the Pakistan army in the Af-Pak insurgency. That is why it is thought that General Kayani may be reviewing his options.
In a recent article written in the Wall Street Journal, Musharraf urged that the Taliban should be recognized. In other words a consensus between the Taliban and President Hamid Karzai should be attempted. Is Pakistan at last beginning to empathize with the strong Pashtun sentiments on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border? It might be noted that Wikileaks revealed that General Kayani had recommended Afsandyar Wali Khan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s grandson who heads the ruling party in NWFP, to become Pakistan ‘s President. Also, General Musharraf seeks re-election to the Pakistan assembly from NWFP with support from Afsandyar’s party. It is reasonable to assume that Kayani who was appointed by Musharraf would be having good rapport with his former boss.
If all these trends do suggest a possible resolution of the situation in the Af-Pak region, it becomes all the more imperative that this peace process for the entire region comprising India, Pakistan and Afghanistan be strengthened by resolving the Kashmir dispute at the same time. General Musharraf’s earlier exertions to that end may not therefore be wasted. It is for India to pick up the thread and carry the process further. For great historic game changing political ventures there can be a role for everyone. President Zardari, General Musharraf and Pakistan’s Army Chief General Kayani will all have to cooperate. General Musharraf should know that individual power and prestige are not confined to constitutional posts.
By Rajinder Puri