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Kayani’s call

Delhi must explore the political opening that Pakistan’s army chief appears to be offering

Delhi must explore the political opening that Pakistan’s army chief appears to be offering

The usually taciturn chief of the Pakistan army,General Ashfaq Kayani,said a few interesting things on Wednesday that demand close scrutiny in Delhi. Coming soon after President Asif Ali Zardari’s “private” visit to India and a positive luncheon meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,Kayani’s remarks raise hopes for the peace process in the subcontinent. For one,Kayani said Pakistan must find a “good balance” between the imperatives of defence and the logic of economic development. On the face of it,Kayani is uttering a truism. But in the political context of Pakistan,where the army has long cornered more than its rightful share of national resources,this new emphasis is a welcome departure. By underlining the importance of generating prosperity at home,Kayani has confirmed that the army is backing Zardari’s policy of deepening economic engagement with India.

Of equal import is Kayani’s seemingly banal sentiment in favour of “peaceful coexistence” with India. After he took charge of the Pakistan army at the end of 2007,Kayani had pulled back from the assumptions that drove the peace process in the final years of the tenure of his predecessor,General Pervez Musharraf. Kayani had announced that his security concerns are “India-centric” and Delhi saw a rapid slide in bilateral relations during 2008,following the attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul in July and the terror outrage in Mumbai in November. His new emphasis on peaceful existence with India,sceptics in Delhi will say,is a single remark that hardly amounts to a change in the Pakistan army’s mindset. Realists in Delhi,however,would point to Pakistan’s deteriorating internal and external environment which could be compelling Rawalpindi to reassess its India policy. Even if the unfolding shift in Pakistan is tactical,it is important for Delhi to explore the ambit of emerging possibilities with Pakistan.

Finally,Kayani’s call for a demilitarisation of the Siachen glacier is a welcome opportunity for Delhi to test the Pakistan army’s flexibility. Delhi and Islamabad had come close to an agreement on demilitarisation of the glacier at least on three occasions in the past — 1989,1992 and 2005. India has nothing to lose and everything to gain by making a fresh and sincere bid to de-escalate the costly confrontation. Delhi must be hard-headed in recognising the obstacles to a genuine breakthrough in relations with Pakistan,but it will be unwise for the UPA government to forego the political opening offered by Kayani.