Atal Behari's Lahore Yatra: Limitations and Achievements

11 Mar, 1999    ·   175

A. K. Verma points out that "there is doubt that the Lahore yatra marks a new milestone in the India-Pakistan dialogue, compelling Indian policy makers, at the same time, to think clearly about their own strategic doctrines"

Vajpayee's bus visit to Lahore has been seen as a milestone in Indo-Pak relations.  To evaluate its true impact one must survey the evolution of Pakistan since its inception in 1947.



Pakistan today is very different from what its creators envisioned; a secular, democratic, integrated, welfare state.  Not having evolved according to their concept restricts its political options.  Indo-Pak relations remains a hostage to this phenomenon.



One could say Pakistan started on the wrong foot.  The two nation theory was not an ideology nor did it justify the emergence of a new nation state under any historical precedent.  Ever since its birth Pakistan has been groping for its identity, which is elusive. Islam was seized upon as an anchor, and became a tool of legitimacy and governance.  Political leaders used Islam to stay in power and could not take a statesman-like view about what is in the best interests of Pakistan .



Those who displayed a bolder attitude had to pay a very heavy price. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's journey to the gallows really started with the signing of the Simla Agreement.  Zia-ul-Haq's untimely death in an air crash was suspiciously close to his path breaking decisions regarding Siachen and other problems between India and Pakistan . With this background will  Nawaz Sharif muster the necessary courage to deviate from Pakistan 's traditional approach on Kashmir ?



Pakistan 's mode of governance has taken a very heavy toll of its polity.  The nation remains divided ethnically, culturally and regionally.  Ethnic and linguistic colonialism sowed the seeds which split Pakistan in 1971.  Successive military regimes in Pakistan including the period of political despotism of Z.A. Bhutto, were conspicuous for their lack of growth of political institutions which could find solutions to the problems plaguing Pakistan .  Power remains in the grip of an oligarchy dominated by civil and military officers.  Oligarchies by nature are non-reformists, conservatives and statusquoists.



The mindset of such people in the defense and security establishment is not ready for any compromise on Kashmir because it would be anti-two nation theory and anti-Islam. As political institutions remain weak the establishment will continue to call the shots.  ISI will continue to operate unbridled.  There will be no let up in the proxy war in Kashmir .  A new vision on Kashmir will not come about without a generational change.



And, yet, sensible leaders in Pakistan are acutely aware that the status quo  does not serve the best interests of the people of Pakistan — its HRD indices are among the lowest in the world. Both Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto belong to this category as did the late Zia-ul-Haq in the last years of his life.  Their vision and action will not, however, match as long as political institutions do not grow to maturity in Pakistan .



Let there be no doubt about the fact that Nawaz Sharif is today the most powerful Prime Minister Pakistan has had.  He may have triumphed over the President, Chief Justice and the Army Chief since becoming PM in 1997; but there remains the tantalizing question about where ultimate power resides in Pakistan .  Peaceful forces operating in anonymity so far as the outside world is concerned will continue to inhibit him.



While this bleak scenario rules out any substantive progress on the Kashmir question, the have exhibited admirable prudence in trying to rule out a nuclear war between the two countries, now that India and Pakistan are both nuclear weapon states. Implicit in the Lahore Declaration is  a desire to formalise a doctrine of mutual restraint. The MoU signed by the two Foreign Secretaries spells out the nuclear CBMs precisely. By undertaking to inform each other of unintentional, unauthorised or unexplained incidents each is seeking to reduce the risk of accidental war. Advance notification in regard to ballistic missiles carries the same message. No less significant is the commitment to engage in bilateral consultation on security concepts, nuclear doctrines, disarmament and nonproliferation issues. Achieving an identity of views in these important matters will contribute to increased receptiveness on both sides on other issues.



The joint statement of the is an acknowledgement of their anxiety to impart an impetus to growth of relations between two countries by a further liberalization of the visa and travel regime, co-operation in information technology and consultations on WTO related issues. The areas chosen are such that their political motivation cannot be misconstrued. Thus each PM reserves his country’s position on Kashmir but looks for ways and means to set in motion a cooperative spirit hoping that, in time, it will develop a momentum which will  be difficult to thwart.



Vajpayee’s visit served two other purposes. His declaration at Minar-e-Pakistan, which represents Pakistan 's statehood, that a strong and viable Pakistan was in India ’s interest, was a shrewd move to set the Pakistan establishment at ease over the irredentism of a BJP Government at Delhi . The other was to tell the world at large that the two nations were mature enough to take care of their nuclear concerns bilaterally. The no-test pledge signifies adherence to the spirit of CTBT without having to make a formal declaration on the Treaty.



Thus, there is doubt that the Lahore yatra marks a new milestone in the India-Pakistan dialogue, compelling Indian policy makers, at the same time, to think clearly about their own strategic doctrines. But the barriers of suspicion in Pakistan will not come down easily. A fundamental transformation in the nation’s psychology is needed for that achievement.