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'Pakistanis are disappointed with Dr Singh'

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
July 23, 2009 09:11 IST
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Maleeha Lodhi, the former Pakistani Ambassador to the US, has said that both Pakistani government and its people are disappointed that even though Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Congress party returned to power with an enhanced mandate, India has refused to resume the composite dialogue with Pakistan, and instead continues to focus on the terrorism issue.

Lodhi, who will shortly join the Woodrow Wilson Centre for International Scholars in Washington, DC as a visiting fellow, speaking at the US Institute for Peace -- which is partly funded by the US Congress -- also found fault with President Barack Obama, his administration and US lawmakers for continuing to hold that Pakistan should change its security threat perception paradigm from India to the internal terrorism that the country faces.

According to her, the Pakistani military has to go by the massive number of Indian troops arrayed on the eastern border and thus cannot simply deploy its own troops to the western border to take on the Taliban and Al Qaeda as Washington has been insisting.

While acknowledging that the recent meeting between Dr Singh and Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, had 'helped to break the ice', and hopefully 'lead to an improved political environment and atmosphere' between New Delhi and Islamabad, Lodhi, however argued, "But it has disappointed people who wanted to see the resumption of the composite dialogue process."

She pointed out that agreeing to a diplomatic reengagement as India had said it would, was a far cry from returning to the composite dialogue process and noted, "We have had agreements in the past also where the two countries -- twice in 2005 -- had joint communiques in which they said they would not allow the acts of terrorists or violence to derail the peace process."

"And, yet, we have seen that happen twice, three times, and there really is not any substitute to dialogue. Ultimately we have to deal with these issues. We expected that with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's enhanced electoral mandate he would be in a stronger position to take the necessary steps forward."

She conceded, "We have to address the issue of terrorism -- there is no question about it. But, we cannot pretend that the Pakistan-India relationship is predicated on this issue."

"This is a relationship, which has a long history -- sadly a very unfortunate history -- but there are so many strands of what we need to address in this relationship, which we thought that the composite dialogue provided a goof framework, which tried to reconcile the priorities of the two countries which are different."

Lodhi asserted, "Therefore, we need to not reinvent the wheel, but to resume that dialogue at the earliest point."

Meanwhile, in making her argument that the Pakistani military's security threat perception vis-a-vis India continued to be justified, the diminutive erstwhile envoy said, "The three reasons for Pakistan's threat perception vis-a-vis India are very clear."

"One, the history of conflict -- three wars and several near wars. The second, obviously, unresolved disputes including over Kashmir and specially in the context of the continuing turmoil in Kashmir -- we have seen in the last two months."

Lodhi recalled, "We saw last year, even bigger protests (in Kashmir) than the ones we have seen, and all of this shakes the stability in the region and it can't be wished way."

"And thirdly, the reason for Pakistan's threat perception lies in India's military posture --with over 70 per cent of India's land, air and sea forces arrayed and deployed against Pakistan," she added. "And, these assets can be very quickly mobilised as they were in the crisis of 2001-2002. Plus, the destabilizing impact of the controversial military doctrines like the Cold Start Doctrine that India is working on."

Lodhi claimed, "Only two months ago, military exercises took place on Pakistan's border testing the Cold Start Doctrine and if this continues to take place, it will drive a certain threat perception in Pakistan."

"If there has to be a serious effort to try to change Pakistan's security paradigm, it can only start with changing the conditions that drove that security paradigm in the first place," she argued.

"It's very hard to get militaries to change because they respond to capabilities and they respond to capabilities that have been arrayed in a certain form. If military assets are positioned in a certain way, it's very unrealistic to try to persuade that country that you need to reposition yours because actually there is a bigger threat out there."

Lodhi emphasized that "Pakistan's ability to move decisively on the western frontier will depend on the extend to which conditions on the eastern frontier are addressed meaningfully and not by wishful thinking or by trying to sort of say, 'Well, if you don't do this, then we'll send in other ways in which to change this perception.'"

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC