MJ Akbar is a veteran journalist and presently he is the spokesperson of the BJP. He has a different persona as a journalist, as a writer and as an expert as well. In Siyasat ki Baat with Zee News Editor, News Operations Vasindra Mishra, he comes out with his views on the internal conflict in Pakistan and Indo-Pak relations in a different era.
Vaisndra Mishra: Welcome to the show. Let's start with the fresh issue of the ongoing crisis in Pakistan. What do you think is the reason behind the latest crisis?
M J Akbar: We should understand that in Pakistan power is not centralised. The country is not ruled by one government; there are many forces working at the same time. As far as Indian policy or Afghan policy is concerned, Pakistan takes neither the initiative nor the final step as regards improving security scenario is concerned. In a democracy like ours, we have no power above the Prime Minister but this is not the case in Pakistan. In Pakistan, prime ministers work under the shadow of the Army. That influences each and every decision taken by the government. Further, the Pakistani Army cannot think about security and national interest without keeping in mind India and the Kashmir issue. Also, various stakeholders in Pakistan never provide enough psychological space to develop cordial relationship with India, because they have a sense of insecurity of being ignored in the political system as a consequence.
Vasindra Mishra: Though India and Pakistan gained independence at the same time, yet there is remarkable difference in the political set up in the two countries. Why is that Pakistan cannot have a strong democratic set up like India?
MJ Akbar: There have always been issues in Pakistan since it came into being. Why it came into existence in the first place is still a matter of debate. A nation was created on the basis of religion and not on the basis of people. So, the democracy of Pakistan has a tendency of moving towards theocracy. In theocracy, the democratic space shrinks - it never vanishes but it becomes very small. This space is shrinking with every passing decade.
Vasindra Mishra: As you have said, Pakistan is moving towards becoming a theocratic state. Developed countries be it the US, France or England, they address Pakistan with different adjectives when policies there are not made as per their convenience. So can we say that the situation today in Pakistan is somehow related to the forces, be it fundamentalists, separatists or terrorists. Who are trying to navigate Imran khan and the Maulavi to move ahead against the government as per their agenda?
MJ Akbar: Let me tell you, the Maulavi does not reside in Pakistan. He lives in Canada and often comes to Pakistan. Talking about the internal issues of Pakistan, it will take a lengthy and time-taking discussion. As far as the current controversy is concerned, Imran Khan is questioning the credibility of the election that took place in the country last year that made Nawaz Sharif the prime minister of the country. Imran Khan believes that he had not lost; in fact the election victory was snatched away from him. So, till the time he will have this pain of loss in his heart he will come on the street to protest.
Vasindra Mishra: What we can see from India is that Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf is being influenced by the Taliban and other fundamentalist forces. Also, Imran Khan has never uttered any word against the Taliban, against what it is doing in Swat Valley or what it did in Afghanistan. So don't you think, Imran Khan and the Maulavi, with the influence of these forces, are trying to take over the government of the country?
MJ Akbar: See, they will not be able to take over the government with the help of those forces. Those forces have the power of bullets with them but one cannot change the government or the Nizaam of Pakistan with the help of bullets. Only Army has the power to do that. We can't conclusively say what relation the Army of Pakistan and these forces share. The Army seems to be playing a dual role - they support such forces when their actions seem to be in favour of the Army, while they oppose the same forces when things are not in their favour. Modi ji has talked about the proxy war. The Army of Pakistan uses different forces for waging proxy war against India. People from these groups do not wear uniform, hence their link with the Army cannot be established. There is nothing new about this. Please remember that just six weeks after independence in 1947, Pakistan had decided to wage a war against India. Their first decision after independence was to work against India.
Vasindra Mishra: It is true that the role of Army is quite important in Pakistan. It controls the government there. The Army has been using fundamentalists as per their needs and the present scenario appears to be no different. Keeping this in mind do you think that the Indian government should have been soft towards Nawaz Sharif instead of taking a politically motivated decision?
MJ Akbar: No, not at all! Our government had to take a decision on this issue. For the last so many years only such arguments have saved them. But now, all this has become futile. How many more dead bodies do you want to see before believing that Pakistan has a dual character. Whenever we Indians have extended our hands for friendship, we have only heard sounds of artillery from their side in response. We should not tolerate it any more. When Prime Minister Modi visited Leh, he asked Pakistan to end the proxy war but all in vain. When Nawaz Sharif visited our country, he realised that the present Indian government cannot be taken for granted like before. I am amazed that after 26/11 attacks in 2008, Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart in Sharm el-Sheikh. It was India which bowed before Pakistan. At that time, the world was with us, the truth was with us, but India decided to give Pakistan an upper hand. At that time too, the Indian government thought an adverse reaction would not be good for the civilian government. They asked, what will happen to President Asif Ali Zardari? Enough is enough. See this is not the responsibility of the Indian government to take care of the well being of the likes of Zardari and Nawaz. Pakistan should approach India with good intentions.
Vasindra Mishra: But the scenario was same during the tenure of Atal ji as well. When he approached Pervez Musharraf for good bilateral relations, we got Kargil war as a gift. So, this is not just the story of Manmohan Singh's tenure but also that of Atal ji.
MJ Akbar: What Atal ji did to build a good relationship with Pakistan, no one has done anything similar till now. So when Pakistan responded with Kargil, why did we fail to learn from that?
Vasindra Mishra: We have seen a trend wherein when we talk about diplomacy and Indo-Pak relations, the party in opposition, be it the Congress or the BJP, in India and the ruling party as well as the party in opposition in Pakistan, become anti-Pakistan or vice versa, respectively. But when the same party comes to power, they start talking about harmony, good relationship etc. So, is it that the main political forces of both the countries adopt such a stand just for the sake of politics. Do they only try to show that they are trying to bring peace between the two nations?
MJ Akbar: Let's not focus on what has happened. The present Modi government never takes its decision based on the policies of the Opposition. The government makes its policy based on what is truth and also on what is the motive of the responder. The government also considers if the dialogue will lead to any outcome. Peace can only be achieved in a peaceful environment.
Vasindra Mishra: In the 67 years of independent India's history, which Indian government’s tenure do you think has been the best in establishing good relations with Pakistan? Whose efforts would be considered as best in projecting peace, love and friendship across the border?
MJ Akbar: Let me tell you, India has never been in favour of war. On the other hand, Pakistan’s love of war with India has been its state policy. If Pakistan had not initiated war in 1947, a mutually acceptable agreement would have been in place as independence to Kashmir was never in consideration because there was no such provision in the independence act as well. Three wars have been initiated by Pakistan and the results speak for themselves. These wars have hurt Pakistan more than anybody else.
Coming to your question, the best phase historically has been when General Zia and Morarji Desai were in power. But since the Desai government didn’t last long, we could not have cordial relations for long. Here too there was an element of dishonesty. General Zia back-stabbed Morarji Desai, by instigating disturbance in Punjab.
The second phase that I consider saw good ties between the two countries was that of Musharraf and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Here again, Pakistan moved a step backwards. During the Agra Summit, when everything had been finalised and cordial relations between the two countries were just a signature away, Pervez Musharraf took a step backwards. The reason being that they can’t stop terrorism; in fact they did not have the capacity to say no to terrorism. This is because terrorism is in the blood of Pakistan. For Musharraf, to abandon terrorism may have resulted in him losing his position as the country's head. Pakistan wants India to accept terrorism as one of its policies! They are wrong to think on those lines. Neither the Modi government nor the people of India will ever accept terrorism.
Vasindra Mishra: Coming back to Manmohan Singh, he never acted in a tough manner with Pakistan in spite of various incidences of terror and knowing fully well that Pakistan is promoting terrorism. Could the reason behind all this is be America? Whenever there is an issue between the two countries or there is a dialogue between the two nations, America has a role to play be it direct or indirect. So, do you think the softness that Manmohan Singh showed or the cordial relations that Modi pitched for is somewhat because of America?
MJ Akbar: Argument is a part of life. What hurts is that even after the 2008 attack, UPA did not change its policy towards Pakistan - the policy that had the whole party behind it, be it Sonia Gandhi or Rahul. We cannot blame Manmohan alone for this. So, what happened after the Mumbai attacks had a great impact on our position. But you have asked about the role of America. The US is a super power. It knows that both India and Pakistan have nuclear deterrence. It understands that when tensions between the two countries increase, the same may one day result in devastating effects. I believe this will not happen, rather I hope it won’t. But when you formulate a policy you take into consideration these things naturally. As far as Narendra Modi ji's decision to call Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in is concerned, the decision to invite the Pakistani PM was taken very much before the occasion. So, the question of consulting America for this invitation does not arise at all.
Modi's decision to call Nawaz for swearing-in was entirely his choice. Now, he only believes that the security of the country should be his foremost responsibility. Talks with Pakistan will still take place but only in a positive environment, in a peaceful environment. Pakistan went ahead with meeting Kashmiri separatists just to check the tolerance level of India, to check if Modi reacts in the same way as Manmohan Singh did. This was wrong on their part.
Vasindra Mishra: Modi, during his election campaign, always said that he will never let our nation bow down before anyone. So, was this decision a way to fulfill his promise?
MJ Akbar: Let me make it very clear, Modi ji does what he says. While taking decisions, he does not always think about politics.
Vasindra Mishra: Critics of Modi ji say that establishing cordial relations with Pakistan are a calculative measure. When he was the chief minister of Gujarat, Modi was blamed for his partial behaviour towards a particular community. So, is this an attempt to establish cordial relations with Pakistan aimed at improving that image? He knows that relations with Pakistan are unlikely to improve.
MJ Akbar: These are all misconceptions. You have said it in a guarded language but I will say it more frankly. There is no link between having good relations with Pakistan and making Muslims in India happy. You still do not consider an Indian Muslim as Hindustani. Do you ever say we should have cordial relations with Nepal to make Hindus of India happy? So, I ask people to change their thinking. Indian Muslims are Hindustani. What they want is all basic rights like enjoyed by every Indian. The right to education, employment, right to move ahead etc. Please do not connect Muslims of India with those of Pakistan. To show that Modi is against a community is disturbing. It is time for Hindus and Muslims to decide whether they want to fight against each other or fight together against poverty. They both have just one motive and that is "development for all".