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Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri: Neither hawk nor dove

Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri’s book frames the predicament of the man standing in the middle.

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The foreign minister of Pakistan from 2002 to 2007, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, has regaled a grumpy anti-Indian Pakistan with his 850-page book titled Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Relations Including Details of the Kashmir Framework (OUP 2015). It is a document peace-loving Pakistanis tired of anti-India jingoism will derive strength from. He says he is not a hawk, but he wouldn’t be labelled a dove either, with its feathers much ruffled from kicks coming from all directions.

His father, Mahmud Ali Kasuri, was a lawyer like him — a Marxist who mixed radicalism with religion, and fell afoul of Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after the latter began using strong-arm methods to deal with opponents. Son Kasuri too couldn’t pull along with PM Nawaz Sharif after he tabled the 15th Constitutional Amendment enforcing sharia, which, in the eyes of many, would make him a caliph. In 2002, he was foreign minister in the cabinet of General Pervez Musharraf, who had overthrown and imprisoned Nawaz Sharif after performing the most shameful act of invading Kargil.


Given the default Pakistani hawkishness on Kashmir, Kasuri’s foreign policy thinking comes across as doveish, but he doesn’t want to appear as such because he thinks being a dove is unpragmatic and gets you nowhere. He would rather be a realist who does some “unsentimental weighing” of the odds facing policymaking, with an eye to culture and civilisation rather than nuclear stockpiles.

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He leans towards people-to-people contacts between India and Pakistan and was convinced that “Pakistan’s existing policy could not advance or safeguard the interests of Kashmiris and Pakistan in the foreseeable future”. He is also leery of “armed non-state actors… damaging the Kashmir cause and hurting Pakistan’s national interests”. He accepts what Pakistan has so far ignored when conducting its India policy, starting with General Ayub Khan, who triggered the 1965 war, and ending with the Kargil operation that sank an economy that had just revived after a decade of political instability: “One of the perennial challenges faced by Pakistan is the disconnect between its security objectives and economic realities.”

With Kasuri as foreign minister, Musharraf switched off the jihad in Kashmir and earned the hostility of many inside the jihadi microcosm of Pakistan, which included the interface between his army and the non-state actors. (Three attempts on his life came from “within”.) Kasuri seems to be the man behind him: “I strongly believe that it serves Pakistan’s national interest to normalise relations with India; animosity with India has cost Pakistan both economically and politically. I also personally know many Indians who believe that it serves India’s national interest to befriend Pakistan.”

Then Musharraf pronounced the formula to underpin India-Pakistan normalisation with a status quo. He dropped the demand for annexing Kashmir to Pakistan and settled for: One, initiating a dialogue; two, accepting the centrality of Kashmir; three, eliminating whatever is not acceptable to Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris; and four, arriving at a solution acceptable to all the three stakeholders. This set the framework for what was to emerge as “autonomy” for both Kashmirs, without changing the map and by “making the border irrelevant”. Kasuri thinks this framework represented his vision and remains the only way forward for Pakistan and India to this day.

If you are neither a hawk nor a dove, you are bound to get kicked from both sides of the ideological divide. This is how Kasuri describes his encounter with the most hawkish leader of the Kashmiris in Indian Kashmir: “Syed Ali Shah Geelani’s tone was aggressive as he criticised Pakistan’s policies on a number of counts, including the proposal to start a bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar. He described President Musharraf’s four-point agenda as vague and criticised the president’s statement on the UN Security Council resolution’s relevance to Kashmir. He was generally inflexible in his approach to resolving the Kashmir dispute. Fortunately, other Kashmiri leaders I met recognised the need for unity in the ranks of Kashmiris; they were more pragmatic and by and large unwilling to go along with Geelani’s rigid approach.”


Standing in the middle of rejectionists and capitulationists, he knows he is surrounded by inflexibilities that bring on wars. “I like middles,” said John Updike. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.” Is Kasuri ambiguous? If so, his ambiguity is blessed, compared to the “clarity” of the inflexible.

There is “Kashmir fatigue” in the world and Pakistanis are beginning to feel it. Writing in Dawn (“Does Kashmir really matter to most Pakistanis?”, September 3), Rustam Shah Mohmand, an important tribal leader and ex-civil servant, tallies the damage sustained by the Kashmir dispute in South Asia: “The cost of confrontation is unquantifiable — in terms of lost opportunities, absence of trade, lack of focus on poverty eradication, inadequate financial allocations for education, healthcare and sanitation.”

Kasuri was greatly encouraged in his thinking by the BJP PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Today, we have PM Narendra Modi, and we have cross-border shelling taking its toll on both sides as the two TV-kibitzing nations are mutually outraged in favour of war. In India, lawyer-commentator A.G. Noorani seems to agree with Kasuri: “Collapse of the short-lived Ufa peace process caused deep depression among people in Indian Kashmir. They know only too well that the key to their liberation from the oppressive stagnation there is an accord on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan which satisfies their aspirations as well.”

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

First published on: 11-09-2015 at 12:00:58 am
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