Khurshid Kasuri’s book is a long morality play rather than lived historyhttps://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/books/khurshid-mahmud-kasuri-book-review-neither-a-hawk-nor-a-dove-an-insiders-account/

Khurshid Kasuri’s book is a long morality play rather than lived history

Long awaited by an audience which hoped it would cast new light on the secret diplomacy aimed at sealing a deal that would end the Kashmir conflict, it adds little to the public record.

In 2005, then president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, shakes hands with then prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi. (Source: Getty Images)
In 2005, then president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, shakes hands with then prime minister of India, Manmohan Singh, in New Delhi. (Source: Getty Images)

Title: Neither A Hawk Nor A Dove: An Insider’s Account
Author: Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 452
Price: Rs 999

Khurshid Kasuri’s achievement is no mean one: it takes a very special kind of talent to write a 452-page insider account of India-Pakistan engagement at its most fraught, and yet produce a text that is breathtaking in its banality. Long awaited by an audience which hoped it would cast new light on the secret diplomacy aimed at sealing a deal that would end the Kashmir conflict, it adds little to the public record, and offers little insight into the decision-making process which guided Pakistan.

Following the near-war sparked off by the terrorist attack on Parliament House in December 2001, General Pervez Musharraf’s regime engaged in a dramatic course-reversal, little understood or appreciated in India. Even though he did not act against jihadists in Pakistan, cross-border infiltration declined, for 10 years running. He also reined in jihadist operations targeting Indian cities outside Kashmir. The decline in violence was to enable the core narrative in Kasuri’s book — talks between secret envoys appointed by PM Manmohan Singh and Musharraf, who arrived at an agreed framework to end the conflict.

Ever since 2006, the contours of the plan have been well known: an end to terrorism; the transformation of the Line of Control into a de facto international border, with free movement across it; large degrees of autonomy on both sides of Kashmir; some kind of joint institution, involving both states and central governments, to address issues of mutual concern: trade, tourism and culture.

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The significant question of why this process began, however, is one Kasuri does not answer. In his account, the peace process was driven by a forward-looking, pro-peace constituency in the Pakistan army. This elides the question of exactly what led Musharraf, who spearheaded the Kargil war, to change course after the 2001 crisis.

In 2002, Musharraf should have come away confident that his nuclear weapons would deter India from going to war — as he did in 1999, when Kargil was followed by a three-year escalation of cross-border terrorism inside Kashmir.

Explanations for this volte face range from the Pakistani army’s top leadership’s realisation that a military crisis had disproportionately heavy costs for the army, to Musharraf’s conviction that the country’s economy could not flourish until jihadists were reined in — a thesis persuasively advocated by the scholar George Perkovich.

Kasuri’s account, though, says nothing on the discussions which must have preceded the negotiations, and continued through their course. It says nothing of consequence, either, on why General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani decided to roll back Musharraf’s policy when he took office in 2007 — and thus closed the chapter on the Kashmir deal.

The book, similarly, disappoints in its discussion of the near-deals reached on the Siachen Glacier and Sir Creek disputes during this period. Kasuri reiterates the well-known fact that India and Pakistan had agreed on a Siachen framework, but that New Delhi pulled back after then defence minister AK Anthony voiced his concerns. It gives us no sense, though, of why the Pakistan army was keen on settling the issue prior to a final agreement on Kashmir — and why it chose not to pursue a separate agreement on Sir Creek, after the Siachen deal fell through.

Kasuri’s discussion of terrorism, too, falls short of what might be expected from an eyewitness to history. The factors which pushed Musharraf’s pirouette with jihadists — holding back attacks on India, but at once promoting the Taliban in Afghanistan and allowing organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba to operate unhindered — are not touched on.

His decision to promote Indian jihadist organisations in place of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, well documented in scholarly literature, is not even mentioned. There is no explanation, too, of why Kayani reached for the jihadi option soon after Musharraf’s fall, setting in place the events that climaxed on 26/11.

There’s at least some reason to suspect Kasuri knows much that he has chosen not to reveal. In his book, Musharraf claimed India had agreed to joint management of Kashmir by India and Pakistan — a formulation then foreign secretary Shyam Saran, among others, has disputed. Kasuri merely quotes Musharraf on this, a strange decision for a memoir by someone who witnessed events.

Precisely what course the negotiations would have taken had Musharraf stayed in power are, of course, a matter of speculation. However, the terrain Kasuri’s book maps is crucial, for the future. Explaining the strategic calculus and concerns of the Pakistan army and examining the flow of its diverse internal currents might have provided some real insight into how a future peace process could be initiated.

Kasuri’s account, in the final analysis, is a morality play, not a historical account: good peace-builders represented by himself battle bad, unnamed hawks in both countries. Hundreds of thousands of words later, we are no closer to insight.