New Delhi: There is a touching belief among a narrow section of Indians that direct interlocution with the Pakistan army would bring peace between the two neighbours and an honourable resolution to the Kashmir issue. Their argument is that elected Pakistan governments are weak and unstable even when they possess majorities and despite the obviousness of their electoral legitimacy. The army, on the other hand, is strong except in the immediate aftermath of a war lost to India and has greater continuous positive traction with public opinion.

If this fond belief were ever close to reality, Pakistan and India would have made peace and removed the Kashmir dispute out of the way during the military regimes of Ayub and Yahya Khan, Zia-ul-Haq and Parvez Musharraf. Zia was a gracious host to visiting Indians and especially to those of Punjabi extraction but the extremism in Punjab and Kashmir can be traced to his Islamist policies. Those policies also overwhelmed the smallest residues of secularism in the Pakistan army inspired by the example of Kemal Ataturk’s Turkish military. Musharraf, for his part, clouded relations with India as much as Zia and followed the warmongering path of his far predecessors, Ayub and Yahya. There is no panacea for India in direct dealings with the Pakistan army as well, which is further overruled till an elected government holds office there. Nor should much opportunities of a breakthrough be read in future NSA-level talks between India and Pakistan just because Pakistan may be appointing a retired lieutenant-general to succeed Sartaj Aziz in that post.

Pakistan army hostility towards India runs independent of the nature of the diplomatic contacts between them. Whether or not the army is directly involved in talks, it has the final say on all matters concerning India. Several historical narratives drive its animosity against India. The first is the creation of Pakistan in antagonism to India without a satisfactory identity of its own. In consequence, the Pakistan army has taken refuge in janissary and other extra-South Asian Islamic military narratives, and fallen between too many stools in the process.

Secondly, the outcomes of conflicts between India and Pakistan have been mixed. Jawaharlal Nehru was a hopeless leader during the 1947-48 Pakistani invasion of Kashmir, and the resultant division of the state and the reference to the UN have kept alive Pakistani hopes of snatching the portion with India someday. This hope is rudely impaired by the crushing defeat in 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh from East Pakistan. Taken together, the Pakistan army alternates between hope and despair in its antagonism towards India. From this follows all its bravado, bluster and impatience with policies of proxy war and nuclear adventurism directed against India. Parvez Musharraf’s Kargil adventure flowed from this confused and impatient mindset and contained an inadvertent prayer for Indian capitulation. India has come a long way from Nehru’s pusillanimity.

But Musharraf’s term as Pakistan’s military President also exposed a critical fault-line in the Pakistan army. It should answer lastly to why the Pakistan army can never accept peace with India. When Musharraf came for the Agra Summit, his talks with the then Prime Minister, A. B. Vajpayee, were closely coordinated with Pakistan’s corps commanders. He made no bones about it. Insofar as taking decisions on India was concerned, he was not a free man, despite being the President and army chief. If he was not a “free man”, it is unlikely that his corps commanders were, who were probably bound to the hard line and extreme views of their subordinates, and so on down the hierarchies. The situation couldn’t have changed since, and may have only become worse. In plain words, the Pakistan army leadership is probably not in a position to convince the rest of the force about the significance and advantages of peace with India.

Parvez Musharraf escaped attempts on his life planned from within the military. The army headquarters in Rawalpindi and military bases across Pakistan have come under attack from terrorists aided by conspirators in active service. The genie of Islamism that Zia let loose in the darkness of the Afghan jihad has likely infected the military to such a degree that its leadership is helpless to switch off the support given to extremists and terrorists against India. It reminds you of Adolf Hitler’s iron grip on the Wehrmacht after the manipulation and discrediting of the aristocratic officer corps. His Nazism and Zia’s Islamism are similar for their millenarian impacts on their armies.

Talking to the Pakistan army amounts to appeasement. It failed in 1938 and it will fail now.