Sunday, 24 May 2020

Why Talk With Pakistan?

Updated: April 2, 2011 12:43 pm

On March 2nd Home Minister Chidambaram conveyed to Islamabad New Delhi’s consent to a Pakistan commission questioning main accused in the 26/11 terror attack, Ajmal Kasab. It was a longstanding demand by Pakistan. India also requested permission to question the 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. This too was a longstanding demand that had been endorsed by the US as early as 2008. Islamabad has flatly refused to concede to India’s demand. It has cited the absence of appropriate law under which Lakhvi, held in custody by Pakistan authorities, might be questioned by India. It is a patently thin excuse. New Delhi is expected to iterate the demand during the home secretaries’ meeting scheduled to be held in New Delhi on March 28-29.

                Why should the home secretaries meet at all? What is the point of persisting with this futile charade of a peace process with Pakistan that simply does not exist? It is conventional wisdom to state that a dialogue should always be encouraged because talking is never harmful. Talking in this case is harmful. It allows Islamabad to keep alive a false posture of reasonableness that it wants to display to the West. And it should be amply clear by now that those who direct Islamabad’s policy are not interested in any peace process with India.

                Whatever the intentions of Pakistan’s civilian government, control is exercised by the Pakistan army. India has wasted much time and effort in trying to reach accommodation with Pakistan. Arguably India can be faulted for an inadequate response in the past. But now time is running out. Prolonging the phony peace process with Pakistan is only helping the Pakistan army to perpetuate its hold on the affairs of the country. On February 3 this scribe suggested that if Islamabad’s intransigence persists New Delhi should contemplate its hard option.

                He wrote: “The key to curbing and eliminating terrorism rests with the Pakistan army. The time has come for Pakistan’s civilian government to confront General Kayani. The time has come for General Kayani to confront the hardcore elements within the military that sympathize with terror outfits even if that entails disaffection within the army. That is something that must be risked if General Kayani is sincere. One believes that even today if General Kayani puts his mind to it he can take on the terrorists. But that would call for a basic reappraisal of strategic goals. Is he up to it? Is the Pakistan government up to it? If not, India would be left with no option but to take the hard option.” So, is General Kayani capable of taking on the terrorists?

                That does not seem to be the case if distinguished author and analyst Ahmed Rashid who specializes on Pakistan and Afghanistan is to be believed. Referring to General Kayani in the wake of the murders of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salman Taseer by pro-Blasphemy law fanatics, Ahmed Rashid wrote: “For its part, the army has so far failed to express regret about either Bhatti’s murder or Taseer’s. The army Chief General Kayani declined to publicly condemn Taseer’s death or even to issue a public condolence to his family. He told western ambassadors in January following the assassination that there were too many soldiers in the ranks who sympathize with the killer…Any public statement, he hinted could endanger the army’s unity.”

                It is clear from the above that General Kayani would rather risk the unity of Pakistan than the unity of its army. Well informed and sober newspaper columnists in the Pakistani media are predicting the inevitable disintegration of their nation unless the fundamentalists can be curbed. Only Pakistan’s army can do that. The army is either unable or unwilling to attempt that. That is why this scribe urged New Delhi to seriously consider India’s hard option. The hard option would be to encourage the disintegration of Pakistan. It would be to minimize contact with Pakistan and wait for it to implode. Balkanized Pakistan might more effectively curb terrorism. The sub-nationalisms of Baluchistan and of the Pashtuns in NWFP would be a stronger bulwark against terrorism than the hollow commitment to an artificially created nation as displayed by its army chief.

By Rajinder Puri

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