Triumph of pragmatism for Pak

Ayaz Amir

If the Americans were our only problem, it would be no great matter. The new word for being kicked aro-und by the US is pragmatism. Which seems near kin to realism and even wisdom. We’ve our incompetence to contend with, a regular theme of our history. As if that wasn’t enough, look at this: Indian democracy triumphs and we feel humiliated. Pakistanis can be forgiven for thinking that the whole purpose of holding the Indian elections was to heap scorn on Pakistan. There was nothing unusual about Vajpayee conceding defeat when it became obvious that his party was trailing the Congress. This is what happens in every parliamentary democracy and this was not the first time it was happening in India. But for Pakistanis this normal exercise was thoroughly amazing. Conditioned to the marvels of military rule, the idea of a peaceful transfer of power after an election seemed so unbelievable.

As if this shock to Pakistani sensibilities wasn’t enough, another came when Sonia declined the prime ministership. It doesn’t happen this way in India and it certainly doesn’t in Pakistan. Consider the grace and dignity Gandhi has shown. Consider her measured words, no empty rhe-toric, no verbosity. Compare this with the desire for eternal power evident in Islamabad and it is tempting to conclude that the Pakistani political class and leadership are simply incapable of getting it right about the country’s affairs. Like all his military predecessors Musharraf thinks he is saving Pakistan. A bit of Sonian renunciation, or call it Sonian wisdom, should do him a world of good. But to act like Sonia Gandhi you probably have to be Sonia Gandhi. Vision is one thing in which no lessons can be given. But credit the Indian elections for doing another thing: exposing the BJP’s ugly face. Just when Indian democracy was being praised, the likes of Sushma Swaraj and Uma Bharti got busy to remind everyone of the hatred and bigotry the BJP and its godfather organisations, the RSS and the Sangh Parivar, have injected into Indian politics.

After Agra the Vajpayee government went into reverse mode. After the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001 it slipped quickly into confrontationist mode. Pakistan’s military rulers found themselves in a quandary. They had convinced themselves that the new relationship forged with the US in the wake of the Sep 11 attacks was Pakistan’s defence insurance against India. With the US and India both focused on “terrorism” Pakistan found itself under US pressure. Should Pakistan have changed direction on Kashmir? Yes, it should have but on its own volition, not under crude pressure. It is a tribute to Vajpayee’s diplomatic skill and the ineptitude of Pakistan’s military rulers that when Vajpayee waved his olive branch from Srinagar, the strong impression conveyed was of a favour granted Pakistan which Pakistan’s errant behaviour did not quite deserve.

Vajpayee and Musharraf met on the sidelines of the SAARC summit in Islamabad in January 2004. Pakistan was used to being pushed around by the US. From December 2001 onwards it got used to being pushed around by India. And who was doing the pushing? The worst elements in Indian political life who bayed for Sonia Gandhi’s blood. Pakistan has achieved a unique sort of liberation. Which in different times might have been dubbed a loss of shame but which in today’s climate will probably be counted as a triumph of pragmatism. Ayaz, a columnist for Dawn, writes for THT from Islamabad.