September 01, 2014

Dialogue not an end in itself

Hazards of a poorly planned engagement with Pakistan

G Parthasarathy

A diplomatic engagement with a neighbour having territorial ambitions has to be carefully calibrated and executed. Apart from realistically assessing the balance of military and economic power, one has also to carefully assess the neighbour's internal political imperatives and the readiness of its leadership to live at peace, without resort to terrorism. Sadly, there are vociferous sections in India which believe that dialogue with Pakistan is an end in itself, without carefully considering what the available options are. Moreover, has continuing dialogue produced better results than no dialogue at all?

Imran Khan supporters at a rally in Islamabad. The demonstrations led by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri enjoy the backing of the military establishment
Imran Khan supporters at a rally in Islamabad. The demonstrations led by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri enjoy the backing of the military establishment

Pakistan lost its eastern half, 13,000 sq km of its territory in the west, one half of its navy, one-fourth of its air force and army, with India holding 90,368 prisoners of war, in the 1971 Bangladesh conflict. In negotiations in Simla with Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, India's most hard-headed Prime Minister was persuaded by some of her key officials that Bhutto would be devastated politically if he went back empty handed from Simla. While returning the 90,368 PoWs was inevitable, what was surprising was the decision to withdraw from 13,000 sq km of Pakistan territory captured by us on the basis of a mere verbal assurance from Bhutto that he would, in due course, settle the Kashmir issue on the basis of the territorial status quo.

Bhutto had no intention of abiding by his verbal commitment. Just over a decade later, Pakistan commenced promoting a communal divide in Punjab. This was followed by the arming and training of disaffected Kashmiri youth to promote an armed insurgency in J&K. Pakistan also sought to exploit "fault lines" in India's body politic. The Mumbai bomb blasts in 1993, where 250 Indians perished, were planned and executed by the ISI. The perpetrator of these blasts, Dawood Ibrahim, resides comfortably in Karachi. He even ventures abroad on a Pakistani passport. ISI-sponsored terrorism grew rapidly alongside continuing "dialogue" with Pakistan.

The bilateral dialogue was called off by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1994 when she found that efforts to coerce India on J&K had not worked. Unlike in the past, Kashmiri youths were becoming increasingly wary of crossing the LoC. What followed was the induction of Pakistani nationals from the ISI-backed terrorist outfits like Jaish e Mohammed, Harkat ul Mujahideen and Lashkar e Taiba. This shift in Pakistani strategies from support for a "freedom struggle" of Kashmiris to a jihad by terrorists occurred, not because of any "composite dialogue," but because of ground realities. Moreover, it was during this period that, thanks to imaginative political initiatives and effective policing, Pakistan-backed militancy in Punjab ended. Terrorists from Babbar Khalsa and the ISYF, however, still live across our borders.

Prime Minister Inder Gujral initiated discussions with Nawaz Sharif on a "Composite Dialogue Process," in which the centrality of terrorism was not emphasised. Terrorism was merely put on the same pedestal as drug smuggling! The first round of this dialogue was held in 1998, after the nuclear tests. Determined to ensure that India was seen as sincere in its quest for peace, Mr. Vajpayee visited Lahore, only to find that rather than promoting peace, the resumption of the dialogue was accompanied by Pakistani intrusions, leading to the Kargil conflict, amidst dire Pakistani threats of nuclear escalation. President Musharraf's subsequent visit to Agra was followed by the attack on India's Parliament in December 2001. Structured dialogue alone was clearly no recipe for peace and good neighbourly relations.

The military standoff after the Parliament attack and the post 9/11 American invasion of Afghanistan, forced General Musharraf to think afresh. He proposed a ceasefire across the LoC and promised that "territory under Pakistan's control" would not be used for terrorism against India. While Musharraf abided by his commitments, where the UPA government went horribly wrong was in presuming that a weak democratic government led by Mr. Asif Ali Zardari, a well-meaning Sindhi Shia, would be able to rein in the jihadi propensities of Gen Ashfaq Kayani, a hard line Islamist. New Delhi underestimated the significance of the deadly ISI-sponsored attack on our Embassy in Kabul in August 2008. What inevitably followed was the terror strike of 26/11 in Mumbai. The public outcry that followed the disastrous summit diplomacy in Sharm-el Sheikh forced the UPA government to tread warily thereafter.

Given what followed the 2008 terrorist attack on our Embassy in Kabul, New Delhi should not underestimate the significance of the attack on our consulate in Herat, just on the eve of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's visit to Delhi. The recent demonstrations led by Imran Khan and Tahir-ul-Qadri clearly enjoy the behind-the-scenes backing of the Pakistani military establishment. The army has indicated that it will assist Nawaz Sharif. But in return for this support it has demanded that Sharif "must share more space with the army". To expect that in these circumstances, Nawaz Sharif can deliver India's concerns on terrorism, or promote trade and energy cooperation significantly will be wishful thinking. The tough stance that India has taken on the links of the Pakistan establishment with Hurriyat at least conveys that it is not going to be "business as usual" with Pakistan, especially if it continues with ceasefire violations, while abetting terrorism in India and threatening our diplomatic missions and nationals in Afghanistan.

In her meticulously researched book "The Pakistan Army's Ways of War" American academic Christine Faire notes that in order to deal with Pakistani army policies which undermine US interests and seek to destabilise India, the US should consider means to "contain the threats that emanate from Pakistan, if not Pakistan itself". This is the first time a reputed American academic has spoken of the need to "contain" Pakistan. Clearly, this cannot be done by merely chanting the mantra of "uninterrupted and uninterruptable dialogue" with Pakistan. While a measured engagement with whoever rules Pakistan is necessary, it has to be complemented with measures to tighten internal security, enhance our military capabilities and raise the costs for Pakistan, if it pursues its present efforts to "weaken India from within". 

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