Out of power Musharraf too, has enjoyed considerable sympathy and support among policy-makers and opinion-makers in India. Hopes from him were highlighted in his invitation in October 2009 to the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit
Ever since Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) fuhrer Altaf Hussain called upon "patriotic generals" to come to the aid of flood-hit Pakistan , there has been much talk of the return of military rule to the country and the premature death of its allegedly precarious democracy. The declaration of disgraced and dethroned dictator Pervez Musharraf's intent to stage a comeback as the savior of his people has added to the spate of speculations.
Many expressions of concern over these developments have been forthcoming, as have been statements of support for the struggling democracy. There has been a notable exception, however. Deafening has been the silence on the subject from the establishment of the "largest" or "greatest" democracy next door.
This could have been seen an instance of New Delhi practicing exemplary non-interference in its neighbor's internal affairs. The benefit of doubt could have been given to official India but for a paradoxical fact: its apparent preference for the opposite of a political system it swears by in Pakistan .
Proof of this was forthcoming before the last general election in Pakistan that ushered in the country's latest experiment in longed-for democracy. In December 2008, India 's then National Security Adviser M. K. Narayanan, took public sides against the most probable winner among the contenders for the top political post in a democratic Islamabad .
Narayanan told a television channel that Benazir's "track record is not necessarily something that would make us believe that she will follow to the letter and the spirit what she has said," obviously about mending ties with India . He also expressed doubt whether she would have a "free hand in doing all the things that she wishes to do." Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made his point by not pulling up his foot-in-the-mouth adviser, as some fondly hoped he would.
Narayanan had never made a secret of his wish for the indifferent prolongation of the Musharraf regime, which did not turn into a democracy just because he doffed his uniform towards the end of his days in power. Narayanan, obviously, spoke for dominant sections in India 's dispensation in August 2008 when he came out in the open against moves in Pakistan to impeach the then president. In a comment presumably calculated to provoke majority opinion in Pakistan , he said that the impeachment might leave a "big vacuum" that will give freedom to radical extremist elements to do "what they like in this country."
Out of power Musharraf too, has enjoyed considerable sympathy and support among policy-makers and opinion-makers in India . Hopes from him were highlighted in his invitation in October 2009 to the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, an annual event with more than semi-official status as the meanest of Indian mandarins and media persons know. Projected from this forum as the almost lost hope for India-Pakistan peace, he appealed to India 's elite against "demonization" of Pakistan 's infamous Inter Services Intelligences (ISI) if their desired objective was to be met.
Notions about what a military regime in Pakistan meant for India-Pakistan relations have outlasted Narayanan as the NSA. Go through the papers on the subject by India's security experts, always suspected to speak for the South Block (which houses India's Ministry of External Affairs), and every now and then you will read about settlements on Kashmir and other issues, to which the two countries came agonizingly close to before a cruel Providence removed Musharraf from the political scene.
Wistful nostalgia about Musharraf has spelt extreme wariness about relations with Pakistan under his elected, civilian successors.
Nirupama Subramanian, an Islamabad-based correspondent of The Hindu newspaper for years, told a public meeting in March 2010 about what all this translated into. Her coverage of Pakistan convinced her that "a consolidation of civilian rule in Pakistan was a minimum precondition for the restoration of normal ties between the now nuclear and historically hostile neighbors." She noted: "When newly elected President Asif Ali Zardari extended a hand of friendship to New Delhi , apparent to all observers was the cry for help from a newly formed coalition, struggling to stave off crises from within and without." India 's political rulers, however, did not accept the proffered hand.
As Subramanian noted, "The Indian establishment seemed to think that a military government in Pakistan offered the advantages of a 'single-window' system.”
Musharraf, of course, was not the first military dictator of Pakistan to enter into the good books of the Indian establishment. Similarly high hopes in relation to India-Pakistan relations were entertained and expressed about General Zia ul-Haq (September 1978- August 1988). And he was considered good for cricketing ties as well between the two countries! His "cricket diplomacy" -- consisting of his visit to India to watch a match (where, for the record, Ravi Shastri played one of his slowest ever innings) -- was reported to have defused a border situation in 1987.
India's security experts and commentators were not unduly concerned about popular support in Pakistan for Zia -- and consequently for his policy toward India .
It was the new Islamabad-New Delhi equation, achieved in the Zia era, that set the stage for a strange award-giving ceremony in 1990. The year saw the conferment of Pakistan 's highest honor, Nishan-e-Pakistan, on Morarji Desai, a right-wing politician and the prime minister of the first non-Congress, Janata government in the late 70s.
Zia's successor Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who conferred the award on the unlikely candidate, was no military dictator but owed his post to entirely to his military connections, including, of course to his illustrious predecessor. Ishaq Khan also conducted himself in a military ruler's manner by sacking the elected governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.
It is not as if New Delhi has had nothing but best of relations with every Col Blimp of Pakistan who makes it to the presidential mansion. India and Pakistan went to war with each other in 1965 during General Ayub Khan's days and the Bangladesh war of 1971 brought the rule of General Yahya Khan's brief rule to an abrupt end.
But, to go by the security think-tanks that supply the South Block much of its strategic wisdom, these were mere aberrations, rare exceptions to the rule that generals offer India its best Pakistani option.
J. Sri Raman is a freelance journalist and a peace activist, based in Chennai, India. He writes regularly for US web journal Truthout. He also contributes to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Chicago, US and the Japanese newspaper Chugoku Shimbun, Hiroshima.
He likes to think of himself as an India-Pakistan journalist. He contributes a fortnightly column to the Daily Times, Lahore, Pakistan. He also writes for the Tribune, Chandigarh, The Hindu, Chennai and The Hindustan Times, Delhi, India. He is also author of the book Flashpoint published by Common Courage Press, USA.
He is the convener of the Journalists Against Nuclear Weapons and the Movement Against Nuclear Weapons, Chennai. He is a member of the National Coordination Committee of India’s Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace.