'Pak media showed great maturity in latest border crisis'

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India and Pakistan saw a big border flare-up recently over ceasefire violations in Jammu and Kashmir and death of soldiers on both sides. The leaderships of the two countries locked horns over the crisis. Meanwhile, Pakistan's domestic politics also saw some unsettling events. OneIndia News speaks to Ambassador Karamatullah Ghori, a former career diplomat from Pakistan on these issues.

Ambassador Ghori, 71, is also a prolific writer, columnist and poet. He joined Pakistan Foreign Service in 1966 and served in many countries. He also has four collections of Urdu poetry. He has four children and currently lives in Toronto, Canada.

 Karamatullah Ghori

OneIndia: Do you think the Qadri phenomenon in Pakistan has a potential to give the nation's troubled politics a new direction? Or is it just the same old record being played out under a new guise?

Amb. Ghori: Tahir-ul-Qadri has done something unprecedented in Pakistani politics. It's for the first time that a man with a powerful religious platform has galvanised the civil society. Up until now, religion-based parties, despite loyal bands of followers haven't had much luck in raising the political consciousness of the civil society to a level where people would respond to their call and get into stride to make their voices heard from an organised platform.

Those not familiar with Pakistan's unique political characteristics may find it hard to believe that a man, like Qadri, who had been absent from the country for seven years, could return to the scene with such a bang and take the political landscape by storm. Qadri managed to do it because of two reasons: Pakistan is a very religious society and a missionary, such as Qadri is, can sway the people's emotions and sentiments with his brilliant oratorical skills. That's how he rallied the people behind his call.

Secondly, Qadri's organisational skills also contributed a lot in lining up the logistics for a successful 'Long March', from Lahore to Islamabad-a distance of 300 Kms. And then keeping a congregation of 50,000 people-men, women, children and even babies-firmly anchored on Islamabad's main thoroughfare for four days.

In short, Qadri has manifested the novel idea of the people's power bending an uncaring and feudalistic cabal of rulers to their will. It's a new phenomenon in Pakistan's political calculus.

OneIndia: Is the Pakistani Army pushing Qadri this time to assert its influence because an overt intervention could earn reactions for the country, for the first time, has seen a democratically elected government completing its full tenure?

Amb. Ghori: I don't think the army feels any need or compulsion to assert itself in the context of the Pakistani politics. In the Pakistani perspective, the most well-known ‘secret' is that the army has a permanent staying power in respect to the country's political fortunes. It has ruled the country, overtly, for nearly half of its total existence-thus far-and when it's not up- front, its leverage to influence things from the shadows has remained undiminished. So, the army doesn't need an overseas Pakistani to come to its aid and help re-assert its power to bend things its way.

Moreover, the military brass doesn't feel threatened by the squabbling politicos or the democratic process itself. The army has a pedestal in the hearts of the people of Pakistan-with the exception of the intelligentsia and the chattering-class. It may be a love-hate relationship. However, the greater the mess from the politicians the higher the military goes in the esteem of the people who look upon it as the country's ‘saviour.'

By the same stroke, impending elections in Pakistan are no reason for the generals to lose any sleep. It'll, at best, be a hung parliament to emerge at the end of the democratic exercise and the brass would still be able to pull strings from behind the scene. The army, in fact, welcomes the prospect of a democratic regime completing its full tenure in office-a first in the Pakistani context-and passing the baton to another elected government, coalition, for certain, or whatever.

It will still be a feather in the army's cap that despite massive abuse of its democratic mandate by the ruling elite, the army didn't feel the urge to interject itself into the process.

OneIndia: Do you think elections in Pakistan this year will improve things and ensure that the civilian government reclaims some ground against the judiciary and the army? Does Pakistan badly need a change in the top leadership?

Amb. Ghori: A change in the political leadership of the country is badly and urgently needed. The democratic dispensation of the past 5 years has been marked by massive corruption and abuse of power at an unprecedented scale, even by Pakistan's less-than-enviable standards.

However, it's no guarantee that the upcoming elections would make a radical change unless the process of elections, itself, is thoroughly purged of elements of corruption. That was a principal demand of Qadri in his Long March. The demand has been conceded by the government under the Islamabad accord, though it remains highly improbable that its terms would be implemented.

The question of the army and / or judiciary conceding ground to political forces is irrelevant. The army will stay where it's-on its high pedestal; so will the judiciary which has increasingly been seen by the people of Pakistan as an anti-dote to political corruption.

OneIndia: What are the chances of Pakistan seeing another military regime taking over? At this moment, too many power centres are fighting it out in the country.

Amb. Ghori: There's zero possibility of another military coup in Pakistan at this stage. There are strong reasons for that.

One, the army has no appetite to burn its fingers in pulling anybody's chestnut out of the fire. Politicians have made a mess of things-a huge mess-and the army, despite its discipline, wouldn't be able to cleanse an Augean Stables that Pakistan is at the moment. So why should it covet to own a piece of cheese with a million holes in it?

Two, a robustly independent and pro-active judiciary that has virtually proclaimed a ‘crusade' against corruption is the biggest hurdle and impediment in the way of any Bonaparte entertaining fancy ideas of catapulting himself to power through extra-constitutional means. The Pakistani Supreme Court has let it be known, loud and clear, that it will not let anyone get away with such a gambit.

OneIndia: Your views on the latest border flare-up between Pakistan and India. Why will Pakistan want to open a fresh front in its east when it is already having a turbulent front with Afghanistan?

Amb. Ghori: The border flare-up wasn't of Pakistan's doing alone. It was accidental for which both sides shared responsibility. Indeed it makes no sense at all for Pakistan to even think of opening another front, anywhere, with its heavy involvement in Afghanistan, or on the border with Afghanistan.

To Pakistan's credit, it didn't give in to the temptation of jingoism in this episode. There were no frayed nerves on the Pakistan side, neither at the government level, nor in the media where comments and analyses were balanced and without any injection of venom against India, in marked contrast to reactions in similar situations in the past. The news media in Pakistan showed remarkable maturity and finesse in this mini-crisis.

Even the Pakistani Army kept its cool, even in the face of innuendos and veiled warnings from the Indian military chief and chief of the air force to think of deploying ‘other means.' The Pakistani Army holding its horses was a clear indication of a deliberated option to not allow this situation to get out of hands.

OneIndia: War is no solution and will benefit neither of the sides. It could, instead, ruin all prospects for peace in the volatile south Asia. Do we stress our political and military rivalries more than the softer approaches to take forward peace? Do you think Pakistan has a bigger responsibility to carry out in this regard?

Amb. Ghori: No, war is not a solution, now or ever. It will be worst of choices for either country to give any serious consideration to what would without doubt mean a nihilistic option.

Seeking peace and harmony in South Asia-in our India-Pakistan context-is a shared responsibility of both countries. It takes two to tango, as Ronald Reagan said; and a good tango dancer would tell you that both partners should be in lock-step with each other in order to perform to satisfaction of everyone. To my mind, India has the bigger chunk of responsibility and obligation on its shoulders because it's the bigger and more powerful of the two. There's near-consensus in Pakistan at this juncture in time that peace with India is the best of the options available. India ought to seize this moment and show the heart for greater openness and accommodation.

It's of critical importance for both countries to shun a highly unproductive-if not counter-productive-tendency to look back, constantly, to what transpired in the past. This is puerile and pedantic and retards progress. We have to have the heart to bury the hatchet and look forward in the interest of our younger and coming generations. We must save our future generations from the scourge of looking down the barrel of a gun as the only means of settling our disputes. The 21st century demands a radical shift away from an enervating psychosis of war and perpetual conflict.

OneIndia: Do you think ministers like Rehman Malik and Hina Rabbani Khar have done a good job as far as Indo-Pak relations are concerned?

Amb. Ghori: Hina RabbaniKher has done a creditable job as Foreign Minister despite her being callow or a novice in the world of diplomacy. Her soft approach to India-Pakistan equation is good and reassuring.

Rehman Malik, in sharp contrast, is a huge failure, both in his job as Pakistan's Interior Minister or in the task of narrowing the gulf between India and Pakistan.

OneIndia: Is Bilawal Bhutto a leader the common Pakistani people look upto for ushering in a new dawn in the country?

Amb. Ghori: Bilawal Bhutto has no future in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan have had enough of dynastic politics or with the shenanigans of their corrupt and discredited feudal lords. So President Asif Ali Zardari, with all his guile and political acumen of a street-smart thug, has no chance of success in foisting his play-boy
‘prince' on the people of Pakistan. The last five years have made the people of Pakistan wiser; it has made visible dents in their erstwhile tendency to hail villains as heroes. Political corruption has left the people with zero tolerance to give a second chance to their robber-barons.

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