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Talks with Pak will only end in frustration

By A K Verma
November 03, 2009 21:02 IST
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The dialogue process is just too inadequate to meet the challenges from Pakistan, writes former R&AW chief A K Verma.

A continuous pressure emanates from a segment of Indian elite for maintaining a dialogue process with Pakistan, directly or indirectly, for a solution of Indo Pak problems.

No doubt dialogue is always advisable between any two contending parties and in the case of India and Pakistan has led to many confidence building measures like the Indus Water Treaty, cross border travel facilities and certain agreements in the nuclear field. But such dialogues over several decades carried on directly or indirectly by government representatives or by what are known as think tanks in the two countries have not been able to make any headway on the core issues, one, to whom Kashmir belongs and, two now, the total elimination of terror.

In the government to government dialogues there were spikes which built up a mood of hope and expectations but these ultimately got crushed by the hard rock of reality which is the perceived bedrock of Pakistan.

The dialogue between think tanks and other similar groups belonging to the media, academia and other well wishers have rarely reached anywhere on account of a variety of reasons. The access of such luminaries to wide segments of society, polity and the common man, in the rural and urban sectors, has remained extremely limited. Often their judgments are crony based, self serving or even addressed to the interests of those who fund them.

A host of powerful groups that control the destiny of the State or constitute public opinion in Pakistan remain well beyond their reach. Apart from the military establishment of serving officers, such clusters should include extremists, radicals, terror spinners, students, hard core religious orthodox and bigoted clergy and the ordinary folks in city slums and rural hinterland who all seek to have an opinion of their own on Kashmir, India, religious nationalism and puritanism, and their desired options, which fail to be given due prominence.

Successful dialogues between government to government in which some measure of progress was achieved in the core issues number only three in the bilateral history of the two countries. The first was at Simla where Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan in 1972, assured then Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi about recognising Indian claims on Kashmir.

To be fair to Bhutto, on returning to Pakistan, he started preparing the people of Pakistan through his speeches to expect a change in the Pakistan's position on Kashmir. Public reactions indicated confusion, consternation and finally complete opposition to whatever Bhutto had in mind.

Bhutto had to discredit himself with Indira Gandhi. He also stood discredited with the people of Pakistan. Some believe that his journey to the gallows commenced in fact from this point.

The second attempt was by Zia-ul Huq, then president of Pakistan, in 1988. The general had come to believe that confrontation with India was costing heavy to the people of Pakistan in terms of absence of development and economic progress and that a compromise should be sought with India on key issues. He got his corps commanders from whom real power emanates in Pakistan to support his thinking.

A new dialogue commenced between the two countries through high level representatives, away from public glare and unknown to the normal channels of communications. The dialogue resulted in some spectacular meeting of minds on Siachen, general reduction in the level of armed forces of the two countries, contours of an outline of a possible solution of the Kashmir question etc.

At Indian insistence Pakistan forwarded to India the proposed new delineation of actual contours along the Sal Toro ranges in Siachen, on a GHQ survey of Pakistan map.

As steps were being taken to translate these ideas from the top secret back channel to the official domain, the corps commanders in Pakistan probably realised what an enormous shift in the balance of power between the two countries would come about on the concessions being made and how the military establishment in Pakistan will turn out to be the ultimate loser in the process.

It is difficult to say what steps the corps commanders took to stall the process which already had developed a momentum of its own but the whole world knows that Zia died in a mysterious air crash in August that year. The cause of the crash has never been disclosed.

Surprisingly, the existence of this dialogue has been totally denied by subsequent Pakistani governments. There is now not a scrap of paper in the government archives in Pakistan to provide proof that such a dialogue did take place. The only solid evidence is the GHQ Survey of Pakistan map received from Pakistan.

One of the visible manifestations of the good that the dialogue created was the suo motto release of four Indian Sikh soldiers who had defected to Pakistan earlier that year, misguided by Khalistani propaganda.

The coordinates of the area where the release was to take place and the date of the release were determined by the Pakistani representative and communicated to his Indian contact who passed on the information to the BSF which picked up the four defectors from the identified spot.

The recapture of these soldiers was just a bonus handed over by the Pakistani side to establish their bonafides. Khalistan was not discussed at all during the dialogue.

This episode is reflective of the hard and solemn reality of Pakistan. Power resides absolutely in the hands of the military establishment there. No price, no sacrifice, is considered too great by them to preserve their interests.

If a subjective, speculative and cynical conclusion can be drawn, it will be that the dialogue process got two top powerful personalities in Pakistan to lose their lives.

The third episode is equally telling, demonstrating that the combined powers of the head of State and head of the military establishment fall way short of challenges thrown up by public prejudices and religious propensities.

President General Pervez Musharraf discovered this when he ordered surrender of unlicensed weapons and registration of madrasas in Pakistan soon after seizing power. The underlying clash was between the military might and Islamic might. The former threw in the towel and beat a hasty retreat.

So, when Musharraf promised to the US and India that he would not allow the territory of Pakistan to be used for cross border operations, the discerning knew that it would be a hollow promise as it indeed proved to be

The military and the extremist establishments were just not willing to abide by his diplomatic undertakings, underlying once again the acute limits of the dialogue process and the capability of any power centre in Pakistan to take unconventional decisions.

The Kerry Lugar enactment of the United States Congress, just signed into a law by the US president, imposing conditonalities on US civilian aid to Pakistan of $1.5 billion yearly for five years, provided an occasion to the world to glimpse again Pakistani reluctance to mend its ways.

The law, among other things, seeks to ensure two red lines for the Pakistan establishment; one, the military should remain under civilian control, and two, the territories of Pakistan should not be allowed to be used for terror against neighbours.

The reactions of the military and the public in general, including the elite, indicated that they had felt revolted by such conditions. In other words, the ruling structure and public opinion in Pakistan, by and large, spell out the message that they are unwilling to modify their ways, even if this US aid brings a great deal of succour to their faltering economy.

Apparently, starvation is preferred to withdrawal of a policy of terrorism against neighbours. What hope can, therefore, be entertained for any dialogue process to reach any meaningful end?

Such a mindset is not a product of recent history. At least a millennium has gone by producing factors, contributing to the psychology of this frame of mind. There are Pakistanis who believe Pakistan started incubating when the first Muslim stepped on the shores of the Indian subcontinent. Muslim encroachments and pillaging expeditions into India and subsequent establishment of Muslim ruling dynasties in India sparked off dreams that the whole of India should rightfully be ruled by Muslims.

Nobody in his right senses could agree to such an absurd proposition but such formulations have been voiced again recently by leaders of terrorist organisations in Pakistan like the Lashkar-e-Tayiba. For them creation of Pakistan is just an intermediate milestone in the march of history.

Events in Pakistan since its constitution when its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah had envisaged Pakistan as a secular State, to present times when radical Islam seems to be in strategic control of the country, holds out many lessons for our own country.

National frontiers cannot hold back spread of ideologies. Radical Islam has already crossed the borders into India. It is a phenomenon that, starting from a little spot in the deserts of Arabia, has spread across continents, ravaging and destroying empires, countries, religions and people.

As Pakistan sinks deeper into the clutches of Talibanised and jihadi Islam, its threat to India as a nation with a composite culture and multi-ethnic society is assuming monumental dimensions.

Today, Islamic radicalism using terror as a tool constitutes the most serious danger India faces, larger than the Naxal threat which has been publicly described by the government as the top-most threat to India.

Compulsions of politics prevent Islamic terrorism from being identified in its true colours. How can dialogue be a success with a party that sponsors jihadi extremism against India?

Pakistani cannot withdraw from its involvement with terrorism as it has converted it into a multinational enterprise, with theatres of operations spread through all those areas in the world where Islamic interests have been under pressure. The target is not just establishing an Islamic Caliphate in Delhi but also all around the world.

With the rate of growth of their populations in mind, the Islamic radicals have said that time is on their side and, sooner or later, Europe will become Euro-Arabistan, England Londonistan and so on.

Al Qaeda has invited the US to convert to Islam or run the risk of decimation. All incidents of Islamic terrorism in any part of the world have been found to have links with Pakistan in one way or other.

As new potential terrorists are discovered and apprehended in US and Europe, Pakistani links surface again and again. Therefore to imagine that terrorism against India will be given up will remain an unrealistic hope.

The same applies to the Kashmir issue also. Besides, the Pakistani leadership is also on record for stating that a solution of the Kashmir question will not end their confrontation with India.

Pakistani enmity for India is abiding. It is reflected glaringly in its educational, military and nuclear doctrines. Not only the madrasas but also the government approved text books in schools and colleges demonise India, indoctrinating the young minds with hatred for India.

One can ask the NGOs and think tanks that pitch in time and again for resumption and continuance of the dialogue process how many of them have asked for revision of text books to replace the animosity and hatred they teach, with a call for a friendly, compassionate and neighbourly fellow feeling.

Never has sympathy stirred the hearts of Pakistanis when attacks by Pakistani terrorists have killed innocents, women and children in India. Enmity with India makes Pakistan focus its military and nuclear doctrine entirely against India. Increasing Islamisation of the rank and file of Pakistani military and nuclear establishment makes reconciliation with India almost impossible.

There are good reasons to believe that some in Pakistan are itching to unleash the nuclear arsenal on India. It will simply be unwise to think that the logic of deterrence that operated during the Cold War can be the guiding lights for the irrational minds that govern Pakistan.

Several other issues harden the Pakistani posture with anti India feelings. Regarding India as hegemonistic lands Pakistan in a perpetual conflictual stance. Search for parity with India in strength and influence amounts to a vain effort to prove geography wrong.

Plans of a modus vivendi remain unattainable because of the unquenched thirst for revenge in the Pakistani armed forces which suffered successive defeats in wars with India.

The causes of defeat remain incomprehensible to the military mind which then turns to the delusional solace that devotion to religion will turn the tables against the adversary.

Since wars have failed to produce the desired results and have even led to the division of the country, a strategy of subversion, sabotage, terrorism and proxy war has been substituted, that despite mounting international and bilateral pressure Pakistan is refusing to give up.

Growing Islamic radicalisation in Pakistan makes a change of policy there infinitely more difficult. Use of terror has created its own rules of the game. The initiatives have now passed beyond the hands of the State and the controller himself is being threatened.

The short objective of the proxy war and terrorism against India was to initiate another two nation theory movement in India. Unless Pakistan moves away from the two nation theory it will be just futile to expect any change in Pakistani policies and practices. Till then Pakistani assurances should be rejected as too often in the past Pakistan has betrayed the trust reposed in its words, written or otherwise.

The dialogue process is just too inadequate to meet the challenges from Pakistan. First, they have to be fought at the ideological level and then at the field level. What the response at the field level should be needs to be thought out in advance and appropriate measures kept ready, to be launched at a moment's notice on any new transgression.A majority of citizens of the country are likely to respect a bold and blunt policy.

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A K Verma