Thursday, August 06, 2009

Move on Pakistan was imprudent and untimely

There is no need to beat about the bush. The India-Pakistan joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh was both imprudent and untimely. It was based on assumptions that are simply not valid and the Prime Minister’s call to the nation to take a leap of faith with him on the matter of dealing with Pakistan is simply not borne out by the facts on the ground, as yet.

Just how untimely was evident from the fact that two days before the statement, the Pakistan Punjab province government withdrew its appeal at the Lahore High Court against the release of Lashkar-e-Tayyeba leader Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. It said that it had detained Saeed at the instance of the federal government in the first place, but Islamabad had failed to back up the provincial government’s case with appropriate evidence and so it had no alternative. The federal government is, of course, headed by Yousaf Raza Gilani, one of the parties to the joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh two days later.


The imprudence comes in relation to Balochistan. Pakistan suffers from a chronic neurosis in relation to being “equal” to India. What New Delhi does, Islamabad must repeat. Nawaz Sharif termed the Chagai nuclear tests of 1998 in terms of making the score even. It has its more amusing side. In 1993, I was a participant in an international seminar organised by the Indian Navy in New Delhi. Lo and behold, in 1994, I was invited to participate in a similar function, but bigger and more lavish, in Islamabad, courtesy the Pakistan Navy. By some quirk of fate, I happened to be the only Indian participant, and naturally had to face a barrage from Pakistani participants wanting to do all kinds of nasty things to India.
More seriously, Pakistan’s pillorying at the bar of international opinion over its support and succour to terrorist groups has been galling its elite. For some time now it has sought to build up an entirely fictitious case of Indian involvement in terrorist strikes in Pakistan. If you read certain sections of the Pakistani press, you will come away with the impression that not only is India involved in converting Islamabad’s backyard, Afghanistan, into an Indian protectorate, but that the events in Swat, Waziristan, Balochistan, and even the attacks in Lahore are the work of India’s sinister spy agency, the R&AW.
Everything that has been said in defence of the Baloch reference only serves to confirm the belief that it was based on some extraordinarily na├»ve assumptions. The PM himself has said that it was based on the belief that India has nothing to hide. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has made the peculiar claim that Balochistan’s was a “unilateral” reference by Pakistan. That is really the point: how can there be a unilateral reference in a “joint” statement?
But its net effect has been to add fuel to the fire of Pakistani paranoia. In many Pakistani minds, India has now come at the same level as them as a state sponsor of terrorism. Pakistani leaders darkly hint that they have the goods on India; one entirely false report was planted in Pakistan’s respected daily Dawn.


But, as US envoy Richard Holbrooke testified on Thursday, Islamabad has not provided a shred of evidence to back its case. In April, he told the Islamabad-based Geo News Channel — whose principal anchor Hamid Mir claimed in an article in an Indian newspaper that Pakistan has captured three Indian equivalents of Ajmal Kasabs in Balochistan — that “if the Indians were supporting those miscreants that would be extraordinarily bad [and] really dangerous. But they’re not. There is no evidence at all that the Indians are supporting the miscreants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or North West Frontier Province or Waziristan. None.”
He also debunked the Pakistani belief that India was running a major consulate in Kandahar from where it conducted covert operations against Pakistan. Holbrooke pointed out that there were just about six or eight persons in the facility.
The argument that Pakistan displayed its goodwill by providing for the first time a dossier detailing the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba’s involvement in the Mumbai attack is a tenuous one. India has been giving Islamabad dossiers for the past two decades and little has come out of them. What makes the situation different was that Ajmal Amir Kasab is in Indian custody, and that New Delhi has been smart enough to get the US Federal Bureau of Investigation into the picture. The dossier was no favour to us, it was just about the barest minimum of cooperation that could be expected.
But this is just the first step. New Delhi needed to have waited for a second step — the arrest and charging of Hafiz Saeed, the mastermind of the attack.
There is much truth in Ramchandra Guha’s assertion that inexperience had much to do with the problem. Unlike Nehru, Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee, who specialised in foreign affairs, Singh is, as everyone knows, an economist. His instincts are good, he wants peace with Pakistan. But you cannot pose the issue in the “when did you stop beating your wife” kind of a format where anyone questioning the current approach of the government is seen as some kind of a dangerous warmonger.
We all want peace with Pakistan, but we also think that the Sharm el-Sheikh maneuver was injudicious and can actually worsen the situation. The Balochistan reference may harden opinions in Pakistan against India, and that in turn could push the Indian attitudes towards a harder line on Pakistan.


Another factor, besides inexperience, is the proximity of the analyst to the subject. The PM has been personally driving Indian policy towards Islamabad in the past four years. His problem is that he is too close to the subject to realise that it has changed since he last dealt with it in a substantive manner in 2007. That was the era of Pervez Musharraf who as Army chief and head of government could make promises, or break them, and you knew who was responsible. Today nothing can be said with any certainty. As it is, the situation in Pakistan combines the features of a sectarian conflict overlayed by a civil war and a class war.
The biggest infirmity in the government’s case on Shram el Sheikh is that it is dealing with men of straw. India has neither the ability nor the responsibility of converting them into real men by creating an illusion that we are both victims of terrorism of a common origin.
Neither is that a desirable policy line. While Islamabad does need help to pull out of its free fall, Indian help is always extremely problematic when it comes to Pakistan.
Dr Singh as Prime Minister is the man responsible for making our Pakistan policy. He has decided to take a massive gamble and has very clearly laid out his own political capital in this enterprise, not Sonia’s. It would be perverse to wish that he fails, but it would be foolish not to outline the risks involved to the investors, which means the Indian people.
The article appeared in Mail Today August 1, 2009

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