Cover story: Political tangos

Source: Published in Politics on Monday, October 26, 2015

Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove by former foreign minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, is a valuable addition to literature on Pakistan’s foreign policy. It joins many other books, writings and interviews of former foreign ministers, advisers and ambassadors as well as non-Pakistani analysts. In company or by itself, this book reflects the exceptional capacity of Pakistan’s political and diplomatic leadership to lucidly articulate and advocate Pakistan’s worldview.

Born in unrivalled insecurity, located in a geopolitical hot zone, beset by gross internal failures, Pakistan’s foreign policymakers have had to steer through stormy complexities. These conditions are often unappreciated, at home and overseas, and this book helps redress this injustice.

Kasuri served as foreign minister from November 2002 to November 2007. All periods of history are marked by shifting currents of stability or tension or conflicts between states, but his tenure of five years was more extraordinary than the ‘normal’ abnormal — he assumed office barely 14 months after 9/11. The US and its allies had already invaded Afghanistan, and they were preparing to intrude into Iraq. Just 11 months earlier, a remarkably crude attack on the Indian parliament building had led to the deployment of about a million troops of India and Pakistan at the border. The Agra summit had failed in July 2001.

Both on regional and global levels, palpable uncertainty prevailed. Internally, though Gen Pervez Musharraf was firmly in command and had received Western and international blessings for commitment to the ‘war on terror’, unease about a military ruler persisted.

The author is an individual passionately committed to constitutional and democratic principles. He has the proud legacy of being the son of Mahmud Ali Kasuri, one of Pakistan’s most outspoken jurists (and an under-acknowledged co-author of the 1973 Constitution) who preferred to resign from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s cabinet as law minister rather than accept authoritarian trends. In office, the author also dealt with his own internal dilemmas: this aspect came to a head much later and he describes this honestly. But those five years were tumultuous times in which to be foreign minister and Kasuri rose to the challenge.

At around 850 pages, the book itself seems like a daunting read, yet the text flows fairly fluently and readably. Kasuri has facilitated a reasonably well-paced appraisal by readers. The text is divided into nine chapters and numerous subsections, all aiding in quick identification and navigation. Sixteen pages bear reproductions of photographs in black and white as well as colour, depicting memorable moments. Though the book is well-produced, the text should have been subject to ruthless editing which could have reduced the pages by at least one-third. Several passages are similar to ceremonial, official statements. Others are repetitive and needlessly reiterative of already stated views. Frequent references occur to a self-centric perspective. Far too many errors appear in proofreading, spellings, and syntax for a book from a leading publisher.The book is also an autobiography. The author wryly muses that his paternal and maternal lineages were so contrastingly diverse that “the twain never met”.

In the chapter ‘Early years’, there are interesting sketches of 30 prominent public figures who were regular visitors to their Fane Road home to meet his father. More than once, the author pays tributes to his wife, Nasreen, the enterprising leader of Pakistan’s largest private education network — Beaconhouse — reinforcing the personal dimension of the narrative.

Kasuri invested notably high levels of energy, enthusiasm and expression in his work. The text alternates between an official tone and casual reflection. In both, progressive views and humane values remain common. There are periodic and lively departures from already publicly-known versions of foreign relations to share previously unknown or little-known episodes. A large number of famous and infamous figures are encountered. Extensive research supports quotations and claims.

On core issues like Kashmir, there is a level-headed analysis, not one shaped by faith-based bias or unreasonable animus against India. A similar sense of balance, with an irrefutable loyalty to Pakistan’s valid interests, comes through when the author deals with the Pakistan-US equation (cited as “the odd couple”), the bilateral bonds with Afghanistan and Iran and the phenomenally stable relationship with China. Passages are also devoted to other important relationships, such as with Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, UK, Bangladesh, Japan, and multilateral networks such as the European Union and the Commonwealth. Public diplomacy, media and civil society’s roles are also emphasised. The competence of our foreign service officers is warmly acknowledged — with a complimentary quote from an Indian foreign minister.

The chapter titled ‘Interrupted symphony: contours of backchannel settlement on Kashmir’, provides the historical context before proceeding to identify the elements on which the nominees of Mr Musharraf and prime ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and then Manmohan Singh attempted to reach a consensus. These elements included the need to mutually agree on the exact contemporary definition of Kashmir’s territory. A second element is acceptance of the validity of elections to be held on either side of the Line of Control (LoC). The third is authentic autonomy for, respectively, Muzaffar­abad in Azad Kashmir and Srinagar in India-held Kashmir. And fourth, to move toward a calibrated demilitarisation on both sides while constructing a joint mechanism for cooperation in trade, travel and tourism: for possible later expansion to other spheres, e.g. security and defence.

About five years before the backchannel process during Kasuri’s tenure resulted in this new framework, a previous foreign minister, Sartaj Aziz (1998-1999) had supported the concept called the Chenab Formula. This sought to convert a communal perspective into a geographical perspective. The author quotes at some length from Aziz’s book Between Dreams and Realities: Some Milestones in Pakistan’s History (OUP, 2009) and expresses doubts on whether the earlier approach could have worked — just as members of present ruling parties in both countries doubt whether the Framework Formula is practical. He laments the rash decision by Mr Musharraf to suspend the then chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in March 2007 — this abruptly derailed plans for the Indian prime minister’s visit to Islamabad for the possible signing of the framework agreement.

References are made to earlier backchannel talks between Pakistan’s former foreign secretary Niaz A. Naik and Indian journalist and politician R.K. Mishra after Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore in February 1999. While the author notes the very useful, publicly reported Track-II work on preparing options for a Kashmir settlement rendered by the Kashmir Study Group and convened by Kashmiri-American businessman Farooq Kathwari, there is no reference to the Track-II India-Pakistan Neemrana Initiative (IPNI). This is the longest-running process of its kind between the two countries. Launched in end 1991 (this reviewer has been a member of the IPNI group since 1992), IPNI is now in its 24th year. Certain elements that eventually became part of the backchannel on Kashmir were initially debated and agreed upon 10 years earlier in 1995-96.

An entire chapter is pertinently devoted to: ‘The Pakistan Army and India’. Kasuri deals with the proposition oft-stated by some that the army is the main obstacle to peaceful relations with India. He cites objective facts that show the opposite to be true. The most durable, The Indus Waters Treaty — which has survived 55 years, two wars and several other conflicts (Rann of Kutch, Siachin, Kargil, LoC clashes, border stand-offs, etc) — was signed by then field marshal Ayub Khan. Even Gen Ziaul Haq conducted cricket diplomacy, and Mr Musharraf overcame the Kargil and the Agra setbacks to give a new impetus for a possible Kashmir settlement.

Former US ambassador Anne Patterson in a WikiLeaks-revealed cable informed the State Department that the army top brass in 2009 continued supporting the peace process with India even after Mr Musharraf left the national stage. To quote the author: “My experience in dealing with the military leadership, specifically on the Kashmir issue, suggests that the Pakistan Army is neither opposed to, nor is it a roadblock to better relations with India”.

Several vignettes convey remarkable moments. India’s national security adviser J. N. Dixit tells the author that Mr Musharraf should retain his military uniform (to enable conclusive talks with India). Before the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan — despite the difficulties that have marked Pak-Afghan relations — there was an Afghan interest in joining a confederation with Pakistan. Indian foreign minister Natwar Singh, in an aside to a European leader, said: “If India and Pakistan can have nuclear weapons, why shouldn’t Iran too?” President Hamid Karzai is shocked when, during a tense meeting with Mr Musharraf in Islamabad, top-secret Afghan documents — revealing Afghanistan’s connivance with India to allow RAW operatives to visit points close to the Pak-Afghan border — are shown to him.

The author’s friendly persuasion of former US vice president Dick Cheney leads to Mr Musharraf becoming the first leader from South Asia invited to a weekend meeting at Camp David with the then US president George W. Bush, instead of at the conventional venue, the White House. President Mohammad Khatami of Iran alarmed Mr Musharraf and the author when he shared the information that the Inter­national Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection of Iran’s nuclear facilities indicated only one potential source of proliferation: Dr A.Q. Khan of Pakistan. And, in their solo, historic meeting in Istanbul, Aug 31, 2005, the Israeli deputy prime minister opened his dialogue by asking Kasuri: “Why are you more Palestinian than the Palestinians?”

Kasuri expresses deep appreciation for Mr Musharraf, both for the former general’s leadership and for his non-interference in the foreign ministry: they worked cohesively. In five years of intense pressure on Pakistan, the country’s case was represented widely and well.

Pakistan’s international relationships deserve sustained in-depth study. Further exploration is always needed of the factors which shaped relations in the past and which do so now in the 21st century. Written with unusual candour, Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove should be read by all specialists, and by all those who hold Pakistan dear.

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Written by Javed Jabbar

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