Tuesday, August 16th, 2022 16:15:26

Misreading Pakistan

Updated: April 30, 2011 3:28 pm

The recently revealed WikiLeaks documents mentioned, among others, how the then national security advisor MK Narayanan had indicated once to his American interlocutors, and that too, in the presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that persons living in south of Vindyas were better placed to frame India’s policy towards Pakistan. I think there are some merits in this argument. Invariably we have seen that leaders hailing from North India, particularly those who were born in what is today Pakistan, are often more emotional than rational while dealing with Pakistan. No wonder why we see the Indian Prime Minister, whose family shifted, rather was forced to shift, to the eastern side of the Wagah border following Partition of the country in 1947, finding virtues in the India-related statements of Pakistani leaders all the time and literally closing his eyes to the India-related activities of these very Pakistani leaders.

                One has no problem with Board of Cricket Control’s latest decision to send the Indian team to Pakistan next year as a follow-up of the so-called Mohali diplomacy. Obviously, the decision has been taken at the behest of the Manmohan Singh government. I personally think that the only way to add some semblance of stability in India-Pakistan relations is to facilitate greater people-to-people interactions. But the problem with Pakistani leadership or elites is that their definition of public diplomacy is only limited to playing cricket. It does not extend to open and legal exchanges of films, theaters, music, trade, academic and cultural activities. The scene here has been only one-way syndrome—Pakistani artists and intellectuals are always welcome in India but not the other way around.

                And I think the Pakistanis are comfortable with cricket because it is the only sport where they can give a real challenge to India. For Pakistanis, cricket fieled has always been a battlefield and in this field they, until recently, were successful more often than not. In other popular activities, Pakistanis know that they are way behind and will never champion exchanges.

                Be that as it may, the Indian government, thanks to the Prime Minister, seems to have taken a firm decision that come what may, India would negotiate with Pakistan on the bilateral irritants. Last month, the home secretaries of the two countries met, but one did not notice any significant breakthrough. Next month, the foreign countries are going to meet. One need not be an astrologer to predict that it, as in the past, will turn out to be a routine affair. We will be seeing a joint statement of platitudes that reads “talks were extensive, free, frank and meaningful”. In effect, the two sides will agree to disagree.

                I have invariably argued that any negotiations with Pakistan’s political leaders and civilian bureaucracy do not have any meaning. Because, they do not have any say in policy towards India. The ultimate decision-maker in Pakistan as far as India is concerned happens to be the Army Chief, who is advised by the notorious ISI, an important component of the Pakistani Army. Therefore, if any breakthrough in the India-Pakistani impasse is to be made, New Delhi should insist that the Pakistani delegation must have representatives from the Pakistani Army. It is only when there is a changed outlook of the Pakistani Army vis-à-vis India that things will move on the desired direction on the bilateral front.

                Otherwise, the civilian leaders of the two countries will sign agreements that do not have any sanctity. Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif signed the “historic” Lahore declarations, but Kargil was invaded subsequently. Soon after assuming power, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said that in every Pakistani there is something of India and in every Indian there is something of Pakistan. But there followed the 26-11 (2008) attacks on Mumbai, which, going by the recent confessions of two masterminds Tahawwur Rana and David Headley in a Chicago court, were effected by the dreaded Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) activists, but at the behest of the ISI. This is the latest proof, if there was really any need of further proof, of the nexus between the LeT and ISI.

                In fact, last week, Admiral Robert Willard, chief of the US forces in the Pacific, told American lawmakers that America had evidence that the LeT, which now had branches even in Europe, the US and Canada, was aided by the ISI. At a Senate hearing, Admiral Willard said: “The discussion regarding the government of Pakistan’s relationship to LeT is a very sensitive one.” His comments come at a time when US is sharply focussing on the group, particularly since the arrest of David Headley in 2009. According to Headley’s statement to US authorities, he had joined LeT to fight in Kashmir but ended up scouting targets for the Mumbai attackers.

                And here I find a remarkable coincidence. The Americans know very well that the Pakistani establishment is literally cheating them—the Americans are virtually being looted of cash and weapons by the Pakistanis, who, instead, are strengthening the LeT, the Taliban and al-Qaeda – for being the so-called partners in the “War against Terror”. And yet the US government goes on justifying its benevolence to Pakistan. Likewise, the Pakistani Army and the ISI do everything possible in aiding and abetting the terror acts on Indian soil from time to time; but the Indian government—whether of Vajpayee or of Manmohan Singh—leaves no stone unturned to placate the Pakistani leadership under the debatable theory that “a stable and secure Pakistan is in India’s interests”. No wonder, why India and the United States have come so close in recent years! Their views on Pakistan are remarkably similar.

                See how the Americans are advising India. They want India to make unilateral concessions in Kashmir on the matters relating to trade, tourism, and civil society interaction with Pakistani-occupied Kashmir. They say that New Delhi should pursue the recommendations of the team of Kashmir interlocutors it appointed following last year’s unrest in the state so as to enlarge the autonomy there and address human rights concerns of the separatists. The Americans would also like India to reduce the level of its presence in Afghanistan so as to satisfy the Pakistani apprehensions. They say that for the sake of transparency India should provide Pakistan details on its economic engagement with Afghanistan. For the Americans, Pakistani fears of overwhelming Indian influence in Afghanistan are genuine.

                I will not be surprised if the Indian government follows seriously the American advice in the days ahead. After all, the official establishments in both New Delhi and Washington seem to believe that the strongest case for moving Indian-Pakistani dialogue forward is to improve prospects for Pakistan’s future. Otherwise, so runs the argument, Islamist extremists will strengthen their grip in Pakistan. But the reality is that there is already an increasing nexus between these extremists and the Army, the supreme decision-maker of Pakistan. And this nexus is getting stronger with each passing day because of the American generosity and Indian utopia. This may appear strange but is true.

By Prakash Nanda

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