On both sides of the India-Pakistan border, columns were written after the aborted National Security Advisers’ meeting. Most retired Indian diplomats and analysts argued that flip-flops on Pakistan betrayed the absence of coherence and strategy. Journalist-apologists of the government dismissed these as laments of those without post-retirement sinecures – a familiar approach, commonly used by twitter “trolls”, to attack the person rather than his argument.
In Pakistan, retired diplomats reflected known proclivities ranging from India-baiting by Munir Akram to balanced analysis by former high commissioner to India, Ashraf J Qazi, or rare brutal self-examination by Husain Haqqani, victimized by the Pakistan military when posted as the Pakistan ambassador to the US. Haqqani reminded Pakistan that the last resolution by the UN Security Council on Kashmir was in 1957 and that today it would be impossible to get any support for a fresh resolution for plebiscite in Kashmir. His sage advice is that Pakistan should stop living in the past, trapped in a Kashmir-is-ours narrative, while India too must not rub Pakistan’s “nose in the ground”.
The Modi government has undertaken two cycles of PM-level India-Pakistan engagement culminating in bickering and last-minute cancellation of scheduled meetings, i.e. Foreign Secretary-level meeting in August last year and now those of the NSAs a year later. The government’s defenders aver that this is actually calculated relaying of new red-lines. This claim needs examination.
The first red-line is strict bilateralism, implying Pakistan would not provocatively consult Hurriyat before high-level talks. The second one is that India-Pakistan parleys will first focus on terror. Once India is satisfied of Pakistani cooperation, the old composite dialogue, or any new variant, may be revived. Pakistan’s de facto foreign minister Sartaj Aziz told Indian television that as a politician, if he met Indian Prime Minister on the sidelines of his talks with NSA Ajit Doval, he could not be constrained to only discuss terror without enquiring about “modalities” to resume dispute resolution.
Sartaj Aziz’s argument carries weight as such specificity can be prescribed if the meeting was of Additional Secretaries heading the Anti-Terror Mechanism, as the writer did in 2006-07. It could also be if the Home Secretaries of the two countries met. Once talks are ramped up to the political level, the discussions perforce will be wider. In the Ufa statement, the words that “all issues connected to terrorism” will be discussed left a loophole for Pakistan to introduce Kashmir, as according to them it is the root cause of terror.
The two other operative parts of the Ufa joint statement relate to confidence-building measures for maintaining peace at the Line of Control/International Border and the release of fishermen. Regarding the first, progress depends on Pakistan army’s cooperation, which uses ceasefire violations to convey unhappiness over its own government’s India policy or to facilitate infiltration or simply defy perceived Indian dominance. The recurring fishermen issue is a factor of unresolved maritime boundary due to the non-settlement of the Sir Creek issue.
The tripod on which the Pakistan polity rests is the army, political parties and radical Islamic groupings – political or jehadi. A decade of Pakistan playing the US counter-terrorism game in the Af-Pak area has complicated relationships amongst the three. Some former jehadi protégés have turned enemies of the Pakistan state while others have diversified their own lateral links to Afghan/Al-Qaeda groups. The Death of Taliban leader Mullah Omar will exacerbate the jostling for space amongst the entire jehadi fraternity, further complicated by the ISIS seeking adherents.
What then should be the Indian strategy to deal with this complex and evolving situation?BJP/RSS spokesmen on television hint at a Doval doctrine of retribution. One even claimed that the Indian NSA has warned Pakistan that it would lose Baluchistan if there is another 26/11. Such rash statements are providing Pakistan ammunition to prove Indian meddling, which globally none has so far taken seriously. It also neutralizes Indian moral advantage built over decades, alleging Pakistan’s complicity in abetting terror in India.
Contrariwise following can be the contours of India’s Pakistan policy. Firstly, India must not push Pakistan’s elected government, however ineffective in controlling their army, into the army-jehadi corner. It is in India’s long-term interest to have any elected government be less and not more dependent on that combine.
Secondly, Pakistan’s Punjab is losing mental space to the trans-Indus jehadi/Wahhabi hybrid of Islam which is alien to centuries of diverse and inclusive Islamic precept and practice. De-radicalization in Pakistan would need the Punjabi heartland to rediscover its historic roots, which it shares with Indian Punjab. Bangladesh, under PM Sheikh Hasina, is combating radicalization by rooting itself in the composite Bengali culture and not by espousing an anti-India Islamic construct. For this, it is necessary to revive incrementally cultural, travel and youth links between the two Punjabs -through which ran ancient arteries linking Central and South Asia.
Maharaja Ranjit Singh – first indigenous ruler since Rajput rule (647-1192) to govern Punjab (1799-1839) – wove a Muslim majority area with a significant Hindu and Sikh population into a Punjabi citadel of composite culture against Pashtun interference from trans-Indus regions. Sikh troops hunted down Syed Ahmad, self-proclaimed Amir ul-Momineen, a title that Taliban leader Mullah Omar assumed, in 1831 at the Battle of Balakot.
Thirdly, the Composite Dialogue, conceived in 1997 in Male by Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and IK Gujral, is flawed as confidence-building measures (CBMs) and disputes are tackled simultaneously. Pakistan holds back progress on CBMs to force progress on Kashmir, Siachen, etc. This is absurd as CBMs are meant to create the environment for dispute resolution and must precede the latter. Special representatives must be appointed to deal with disputes, out of public view, via a back channel. Meanwhile, the Foreign Secretaries/Ministers can quickly finalize CBMs that are mature for delivery. Terror issues can be handed over to the intelligence chiefs of the two nations.
September-end, the two PMs will be in New York. They have an opportunity to break the logjam. PM Nawaz Sharif must refrain from playing to the international gallery. PM Modi needs to retrieve his Pakistan policy from the intelligence-security lobby for a safer South Asia.
(The author, a career diplomat is a former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India)