ISLAMABAD: Diplomatic observers see the prospects of easing of tension in Pakistan’s relations with India and Afghanistan in post Zia period.

The caretaker president, Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, is required to focus on four key areas in the conduct of foreign relations.

They are the Afghan issue, the nuclear issue, India and relations with the United States, not necessarily in that order.

Ironically Gen. Zia’s trusted lieutenants in the implementation of the Afghan policy also perished in the August 17 air crash. They were Gen. Akhtar Abdul Rehman, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff committee, and Lt.Gen Mian Afzaal, chief of the general staff.

Reports here suggest that Peshawar based Afghan rebel groups were quite concerned about Pakistan’s commitment to their struggle after the death of Gen. Zia.

They met the North West Frontier Province caretaker chief minister, Lt. Gen (Retd) Fazle Haq, on August 29. They had also sought assurances of continued assistance from the United States Secretary of State Mr. George Shultz, when he was in Islamabad for Gen Zia’s funeral.

The acting President, Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan, in his first press conference, pledged to continue Gen Zia’s “peace offensive” with India.

Indo Pak relations had touched a new law during the last months of Gen Zia’s rule especially over the question of Pakistan’s support to Sikh extremists in Punjab.

Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan expressed himself in favour of noninterference in India’s internal affairs. Whether these words will be put into practice will be known in the coming weeks,

As compared to the acting President’s reassuring stance, Pakistan’s new chief of the army staff, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, made some uncharitable references to the Soviet Union and India.

In his first address to the top army brass in Rawalpindi on August 25, Gen Beg termed the death of Gen Zia and his close associates ‘as a conspiracy and referred to the “threatening statements made by a spokesman of the Soviet Union and the Indian Prime Minister, Mr. Rajib Gandhi, appearing in the press on August 13 and 15 respectively.”

No major initiative to put the process of normalization of Indo Pak relations back on the rails could be expected between now and November 14.

The Prime Minister, Mr. Rajiv Gandhi, is due to visit Islamabad in December to attend the SAARC summit. By that time a new government is expected to be in place in Pakistan. The summit would provide an opportunity to both the sides to do some serious business and settle the future course of bilateral relations.

Pakistan’s nuclear programme is another area where there would be pressure on the acting President of Pakistan to alter the hardline pursued by late Gen. Zia.

Pakistan’s nuclear programme evokes the same kind of reaction in Moscow, Washington or New Delhi.

The United States new ambassador to Pakistan, Mr. Robert Oakley, said immediately after presenting his credentials to the acting president that “there will have to be a very careful dialogue (on the nuclear issue between the two countries and greater mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s attitude and policies.”

Mr. Oakley pointed out that elections were taking place both in the US and in Pakistan and the nuclear issue was one on which there would have to be a dialogue between the two governments that are elected.

Article extracted from this publication >> September 16, 1988