I was in Pakistan over the weekend on the invitation of my Cambridge college mate, former Pakistan foreign affairs minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri (2002-07), who has started the Regional Peace Institute in Islamabad, under whose aegis he has commenced a series of three “Pakistan-India bilaterals”, with part-funding from the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Bavaria. Our team was made up of academics, economists, social sector experts and media personalities rather than the usual suspects — politicians of the “has-been” or “never-will-be” hue, the sole exception (apart from me) being our former Congress foreign minister (2012-14), Salman Khurshid. Like Salman himself, most members were first-time visitors to Pakistan or new to track two exercises. They therefore brought fresh perspectives to bear on well-worn themes. The Pakistani team was, to some extent, similarly constituted, but significantly included two former directors-general of the notorious ISI, Generals Asad Durrani and Ehsan ul-Haq, two former ministers, a phalanx of former Pakistan envoys to India, leading media personalities and a few academics. Besides our exhausting day-long deliberations, opportunities were provided by our hosts and High Commissioner T.C.A. Raghavan for interaction with a broad spectrum of former top armed services personnel, distinguished Pakistani diplomats, ministers and politicians, both defeated and in office (including Sartaj Aziz), and other well-wishers. Since the whole visit lasted under 36 hours, here are a few fleeting impressions.
The attitude to the incoming Modi government may be summarised as a perplexed welcome. The Pakistanis are always better disposed to a non-Congress government for a number of complex reasons. First, the Muslim League-Congress rivalry in the run-up to Partition has left a deep and abiding anti-Congress streak in the Pakistani mindset. Second, while the BJP/Sangh Parivar’s Hindutva agenda sparks a certain element of concern and apprehension in Pakistan, subconsciously, the emergence of a Hindu India would finally validate the case for a Muslim Pakistan. The insistence on a secular state on our side of the border has left the Pakistan project incomplete and with little rationale. Third, the Morarji Desai government, in which Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the foreign minister, continues to be seen as the only Indian government that treated Pakistanis as equals and did not involve itself in Pakistan’s internal affairs, even as General Zia ul-Haq hanged Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The legacy of the Vajpayee government, in particular the great “emotional breakthrough” of his visiting the Shaheed Minar to signal his party’s definitive acceptance of Pakistan, quite overwhelms any recall of Vajpayee’s mobilising a million jawans along the Pakistan border for a whole year or the collapse of the Agra talks. As for Modi, he is seen as a “strong” leader who, unlike Congress prime ministers, is not beholden to even party opinion, leave alone …continued »