Monday, August 18, 2008

India fears vacuum left by Musharraf

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

Indian troops during the 1999 Kargil conflict
India blamed Gen Musharraf for the 1999 Kargil conflict

The resignation of Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, may have come as a relief to most people in his country.

But in Pakistan's giant neighbour, India, there are some who are less pleased and even anxious at his imminent departure.

Delhi has traditionally been restrained in its comments on Pakistan's internal politics, concerned that it may be seen as meddling.

So its first reaction after Monday's announcement was entirely predictable.

"We have no comments to make on the resignation of President Musharraf of Pakistan", the Indian Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Navtej Sarna, said in a statement. "This is an internal matter of Pakistan", he added.

"Radical extremists"

But even as speculation on General Musharraf's future mounted during the past few weeks, one high-ranking official voiced what many in India fear - that his exit leaves a political vacuum in Pakistan.

In a recent interview, the Indian National Security Advisor, MK Narayanan, said Delhi was "deeply concerned about this vacuum because it leaves the radical extremist outfits with freedom to do what they like - not merely on the Pakistan-Afghan border but clearly on our side of the border too".

"Like nature abhors a vacuum, we abhor the political vacuum that exists in Pakistan. It greatly worries us," he said.

Nuclear neighbours

India has had a mixed relationship with Pervez Musharraf.

The removal of Musharraf would result in the military playing a more autonomous role on issues of relations with India
G Parthasarathy

Retired Indian diplomat

Many in the Indian establishment view him with deep suspicion, especially after the two countries fought a bitter conflict in 1999, in the Kargil region of Indian-administered Kashmir.

As the Pakistan army chief, he was largely viewed as the prime motivator of the conflict, which saw armed insurgents backed by the Pakistan army invade territory under Indian control, provoking a near all-out war between two nuclear-powered neighbours.

And his blunt comments on relations with India - which sometimes bordered on the belligerent - have often left foreign-office mandarins fuming.

But over the years Delhi has also learnt to deal with the former general.

There is a sense in the world's largest democracy that there is more to be gained with a military dictatorship that is all powerful and controls all organs of the Pakistani state, than with a relatively weak civilian administration that may be at odds with the country's powerful intelligence and military.

"The removal of Musharraf would result in the military playing a more autonomous role on issues of relations with India, including policies on [Kashmir], support for the Taleban and control over nuclear weapons," says a retired Indian diplomat, G Parthasarathy, in The Times of India newspaper.

Political uncertainty

This is a difficult period in relations between the two rivals.
The damaged entrance to India's embassy in Kabul
A bomb attack on India's embassy in Kabul last month killed 41 people

A series of recent terror attacks on Indian targets and growing violence in Indian-administered Kashmir has soured the mood after a steady if unspectacular peace process that has been ongoing since 2004.

It culminated in last month's attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, which Delhi publicly blamed on Pakistan's intelligence service - something that was immediately contested by Islamabad.

And last week, India was incensed after Pakistan spoke out against the killing of unarmed protesters in Indian-administered Kashmir by the security forces.

"We have never interfered in Pakistan's internal matters. Pakistan should do the same," warned Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

With relations once again on the downside, the political uncertainty in Pakistan is deeply frustrating for India.

Privately senior Indian officials say they are unsure of whom to talk to in Islamabad and who is in control.

"Is it Prime Minister Geelani, Nawaz Sharif, Asif Ali Zardari or [army chief] General Kayani?" asked one official, who wished to remain unnamed. "We don't know", he told the BBC.

It is this kind of unpredictability that is very unsettling especially at a time when India is faced with growing insecurity in Kashmir and elsewhere.

More than anyone else, India will be hoping for political stability in Pakistan.

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