State of the Union: Talking some sense into the talks

Patronise the Khalistanis and every other insurgent who is willing to take up arms against the Indian state.

What does India want from Pakistan? While the answer to this question should be fairly linear, it has defied a succession of Indian governments over the past four decades because the reality is deeply convoluted. The genesis of the current state of affairs between the two nations lies in the Bangladesh war of 1971. A country that was created in the name of religion in 1947 split in the name of language in 1971, primarily because of its inability to handle its own contradictions. The Punjabi Muslim could not countenance being ruled by the Bengali Muslim. India unfortunately got drawn into an internal affair primarily because the political disagreement between the two halves of Pakistan soon turned into a full scale genocide with the overwhelmingly Punjabised Army of West Pakistan turning on their East Bengali brethren. The viciousness and brutality that followed shamed humanity, compelling India to intervene and the rest is history. Some would argue that given the moth-eaten geography of Pakistan, what happened was but inevitable.

However, the liberation of Bangladesh left an ineffaceable scar on the psyche of the Pakistani defence and security establishment. Former foreign minister of Pakistan Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, in his book Neither a Hawk nor a Dove, writes: “Like most professional institutions the Army has an operational code that most officers are taught and meant to subscribe to. The code can be summarised as follows: Avoid a war with India, without yielding to Indian pressure on vital issues; Support the Kashmir cause but not to the point where it leads to an open confrontation with India; Attempt at maintaining positive relations with the major Islamic States in order to broaden the base of economic and potential military support, and to avoid the appearance of tilting towards one or the other, thereby triggering sectarian conflicts within Pakistan itself; Maintain and expand the nuclear program, but without risking Pakistan’s relationship with the United States and other anti-proliferation states; Avoid a too dependent relationship with the US, the state that has let Pakistan down many times in the past but remain close enough to make Pakistan’s case in Washington and to balance India’s influence; Do whatever is possible to hold together Pakistan’s most important proto alliance-that with China.”

Quoting Stephen Cohen, an academic who has written prolifically on Pakistan, Mr Kasuri further states: “The excellent Army sees Pakistan as a threatened, peace loving and a status quo power pursuing a defensive strategy heavily dependent upon the support of friends and allies of uncertain reliability… Kashmir is not considered as an international issue as much as an extension of domestic politics and the remnants of a flawed Partition.” He rounds it up by saying, “Stephan Cohen reproduced the code in 1998 and significant changes have since then taken place. The code could nevertheless be regarded as an accurate reflection of the mindset of the Pakistani Army.” Mark the phrase “mindset of the Pakistani Army”. Lest it be forgotten that since the early 1950s Pakistan has been run by three As: Allah, America and the Army.

Here in lies the conundrum. If you start decoding the cryptogram, it simply deciphers as follows — Do not yield to Indian pressure to stop the myriad Punjab-based terrorist outfits like the Jamat-ul-Dawa, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammad from bleeding India with a thousand cuts. Patronise the Khalistanis and every other insurgent who is willing to take up arms against the Indian state. Do not stop supporting the All-Party Hurriyat Conference and every other separatist strain in Jammu and Kashmir. Miniaturise, tacticalise and expand the nuclear arsenal using India’s cold start doctrine as a bogey for that purpose, for this would keep India off balance. Last but not the least, consolidate the relationship with China for that is the bug bear that can keep India contained with its string of pearls and “one belt, one road” (OBOR) paradigms.

The key, therefore, to a substantive, result-oriented conversation lies in convincing the Pakistani defence establishment that India is not an existential threat to Pakistan. The desperation to get but a sliver of Indian territory that can then become the totem pole for the collective catharsis is the overriding yearning that drives the Pakistani security and strategic mindset. Along the way a lot of economic and commercial interests have also evolved that allow the Pakistani defence forces to appropriate a large share of the national budget by keeping the India threat in play. It is for this reason that Bangkok and even the visit of the foreign minister to Islamabad is a bad idea.

The spectacle of the Indian foreign minister, who till yesterday was playing verbal kabbadi over the airwaves with her Pakistani counterpart, addressing a press conference in Islamabad resplendent in a green sari, reminiscent of the colours of the Pakistani flag, announcing the resumption of the composite dialogue process was the most pathetic commentary on the lack of even a coherent strategy much less a policy that the BJP government has qua Pakistan. Similarly, the decision to hold national security adviser talks in a third country may just become a precursor to inject third party mediation into the Indo-Pakistani dynamic.

Ten years ago while returning from an Indo-Pakistan track two event in Muscat I asked one of the finest practitioners of diplomacy that the Indian Foreign Service has ever produced as to what is the best case scenario for India- Pakistan relations. He replied, “The situation as it stands today — no war, but no peace.” Those words have proven to be prophetic, for nothing has changed between the two countries. But are we going to bequeath this toxic hot mix to our children or is there a real way out to solve the problem called relations or the lack of them between India and Pakistan?

As a retired Pakistani general told me recently over a couple of rounds of good single malt one balmy evening, “A day will come when that disgrace would be redressed even if it takes a thousand years. We shall patiently prepare for it. For revenge is a dish that tastes the best when it is cold, to quote the Godfather.” If India feels that it is in its larger interest to make peace with Pakistan and as the bigger nation it must take the initiative, then it must put its best minds to crack the riddle as to how we can mollify the dreads of the Pakistani establishment, and what can be done about Pakistan’s deep craving for retribution since the Bangladesh war, for that is where the adventurism of Kargil and state-sponsored terrorism stems from.

The writer is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari

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( Source : deccan chronicle )
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