September 17, 2007Foreign AffairsSecurity

Benazir’s music

…to Indian ears

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

She must have had the time to read the entire Harry Potter series during her years in exile. For she knows, at least, that the way to get past a otherwise ferocious watchdog is to lull it to sleep by playing music.

The harp Benazir Butto chose was CNN-IBN. Indian viewers who caught her interview with Karan Thapar would find her words music to their ears: Kashmir is a core issue yes, but moving forward on peace is important; winding up jihadi groups is in Pakistan’s interests, and India might even be given access to their leaders; and why, if Dawood Ibrahim was indeed in Karachi, she would look into’ India’s request to hand him over, etc. Carefully hedged though her positions were, she was unmistakeably talking in a language that India wanted to hear. And as Thapar pointed out, it was very distinct from Nawaz Sharif’s declaration that all of Musharraf’s deals were invalid.

Bhutto, of course, is nothing if not a shrewd opportunist. She is likely to become prime minister in an act of political engineering orchestrated by, among others, the United States. Her party might well be the most popular, and elections might well be held in coming months, but they will lack legitimacy—both in the eyes of the Pakistani people, as well as in the international community. In such circumstances, it is vital for Bhutto to appear to be enlightened, moderate and above all peaceable towards India.

Her position is also consistent with public opinion in Pakistan. As a recent survey suggests, while Pakistani people still care a lot about Kashmir they care for their own political future a lot more. It remains to be seen whether her own stance on Kashmir and India, like that of the Pakistani people, will revert to age-old defaults if the political crisis gives way to relative stability.

While the Indian people might even believe in her change of heart, the security establishment is unlikely to be entirely persuaded. For it was during her first term that the ISI stoked terrorism in Jammu & Kashmir; and it was during her second term that the Taleban became a political force in Afghanistan. Clearly, she believed that terrorism and militancy was in Pakistan’s interests then. Her change of heart may even be real and driven by realism—for sponsoring terrorism is against Pakistan’s interests now—but is still not credible. Her actions after assuming power will be the real test of her U-turn.



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