Thursday, August 11th, 2022 04:36:08

Making Indo-Pak Dialogue Meaningful Discuss Basics, Be Blunt!

Updated: February 26, 2011 10:08 am

In Thimpu, India and Pakistan decided to resume talks. Will the government continue with its policy drift by pursuing this meaningless dialogue with Pakistan? We do need to talk with Pakistan. But the talks should be concrete, blunt and private. Such talks can only be held between the Prime Ministers of both governments one to one. Only after such talks might the government decide whether there are real and early prospects of stabilising relations with Islamabad. What should the government discuss if such talks are ever held? The following should be the agenda.

                First, the government must assert that history, ethnicity and geography dictate that India and Pakistan must have a special relationship that transcends relationships with any third power by either country. If not, the relationship will be meaningless.

                Secondly, such a relationship might only be achieved if the Pakistan army alters its strategic thinking. It should not perceive India as the major security threat. Even several Pakistani newspaper columnists have pointed out that every Indo-Pak war was initiated by Pakistan. If in the light of this the Pakistan army were to change its perception there could evolve a joint defence strategy that might include sharing of nuclear power. Any Indo-Pakistan dialogue that does not include the Pakistan army would be meaningless.

                Thirdly, stability of the region compels normal and friendly relations between South Asia and China. The current Chinese actions preclude such normalcy. India cannot tolerate its neighbouring countries being exploited by China to create tension with India. It should be bluntly pointed out that Pakistan itself is the prime proxy of China to needle India. That is unacceptable. In other words for an appropriate relationship with India, Pakistan would have to drastically alter its relations with Beijing. Pakistan should be advised that in the not too distant future events could persuade Beijing to target Pakistan in the manner that it does India. China’s access to energy and need for natural resources may persuade it to endanger Pakistan’s hold over Baluchistan. On the other hand, if India and Pakistan evolve a special relationship the whole of South Asia could develop excellent trade and political relations with China on a common basis. If Pakistan and its army find this unacceptable continuing the dialogue would be meaningless.

                Fourthly, if Pakistan accepts these conditions, India should be willing to revise its approach to the Kashmir problem. India should consent to a solution in Kashmir that reflects the popular will of all segments of undivided Kashmir provided the entire region is incorporated in the envisaged Indo-Pakistan special relationship.

                If Pakistan is willing to seriously consider the above conditions India should pursue the dialogue with Pakistan. Otherwise it is futile to continue with the present talks. India in that event would have to formulate a foreign policy for the region based upon its singular role.

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SONIA GANDHI MAY SPRING SURPRISE!

At the risk of inviting extreme ridicule I stick my neck out and venture a prediction. I believe that there exists a fifty per cent chance that after Parliament’s budget session ends Sonia Gandhi will resign from the posts of Congress President and Chairperson of National Advisory Council. A simple recent event leads me to believe this.

                In a function to release a stamp in the honour of Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s late father Choudhary Ranbir Singh, who was a freedom fighter and member of the Constituent Assembly, Mrs Gandhi said that office holders should not cling to power and wealth but emulate the departed leader. She went on to remind the gathering that Choudhary Ranbir Singh voluntarily retired at the age of 64. She specified 64 as a suitable age of retirement.

                Mrs Gandhi celebrated her 64th birthday two months ago in December, 2010. She is now running her 65th year. It is hard to believe that when she spoke this fact was not at the back of her mind. It is harder to believe that she would not be aware of the incongruity of her advice if she did not follow it herself. Sure enough, opposition voices were quick to seize upon the seeming contradiction. A pro-BJP daily newspaper taunted her advice in the light of her own age.

                Well, I think that the opposition might just end up looking very foolish and Mrs Gandhi looking very much the self sacrificing martyr she has always strove to appear. Sound politics dictates that Mrs Gandhi’s resignation may be just the ticket to change the flagging fortunes of the Congress. There are four ways in which her resignation would benefit her party and her own personal fortunes.

                First, her resignation would immediately evaporate much of the criticism leveled against her personally. People would hail her self sacrifice and the critics would appear very churlish to continue criticising her.

                Secondly, her resignation would be a signal too strong for the aging members of the UPA cabinet to ignore. It is an open secret that Mrs Gandhi is not particularly happy with some senior stalwarts but does not know how to remove them. Her resignation on the grounds of advancing age would set the ball rolling for an orderly transition. It could also be a game changer that provides the Congress a chance to renew winning public approval.

                Thirdly, the path for Mr Rahul Gandhi and his young favourites to assume power would be cleared. Given the global mood for change, given the disenchantment with the present incumbents, the public would be more than ready to give a new, even inexperienced, team a chance.

                Fourthly, by renouncing office Mrs Gandhi will in no way diminish her political relevance. Her power would decline but her influence would vastly increase. Exercising power without responsibility is a trait that history has taught the Indian public to revere.

                Given these four factors I do believe that Mrs Gandhi could resign to take the steam out of the opposition and catch her opponents flat footed. The question is, will she? The cabinet reshuffle and the organisational revamp of the Congress party are slated to occur after the budget session ends. Readers must wait till then before they decide to toss bouquets or fling brickbats at this scribe.

By Rajinder Puri

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