Dealing with the Neighbour from Hell

The recent round of talks between the Indian and Pakistan bureaucratic establishments has come to another uneasy pause with the Foreign Secretary level talks in early July. As expected, nothing has come out of any of the hard interfaces – Home, Defence and External Affairs. This may be a good time to ask two questions: why are we holding these talks, and is the process working, is it delivering any results?

To address these questions, it is time to take a slightly longer look than is our wont, and see what has been happening and then assess the outcome of our efforts. The reality is that, since the current dialogue process began under PV Narasimha Rao, we have made significant concessions in order to achieve some stability in relations with Pakistan. We agreed to include Jammu & Kashmir as an issue in our dialogue; we unilaterally extended MFN treatment to Pakistani goods as required under the WTO rules; under the Gujral Doctrine, we stopped confronting Pakistan on the PR front; we held out a lifeline to Gen Musharraf when he was isolated; and, most recently, we agreed to resume the dialogue – without saying so – even though the Government was committed not to do so until there was forward movement from the Pakistani side on the 26/11 terror attack.

It must be clear beyond peradventure that Pakistan’s response has been to pocket all these concessions, and give nothing in return. In fact, their conduct has gone from bad to worse – support for terror in J&K [denied initially, then admitted by Musharraf], refusal to grant Indian goods MFN treatment, the Kandahar hijack, the attack on Parliament, and finally, the attack on Mumbai in November 2008.

Alongside all this, there has been wanton provocation from Pakistani officials such as the recent meeting with the Hurriyat leaders by the visiting Pakistani Foreign Secretary. Our response combined the worst of all elements – we made it clear that we did not like it, but showed that we were helpless in stopping it in our own country: in a word, impotence. Why, if we believe that such meetings cannot or should not be prevented, does our representative not meet the Baluch or the POK representatives in Pakistan?

So, back to the basic questions. Why are we doing all this? And what are we getting out of it, are we even moving towards the goal? To the first, the answer is that we began the process of engaging at a time when we were isolated and weak. The early 1990’s were probably the most dangerous times as far as J&K is concerned since the early 1960’s, after the Chinese had defeated us in the war. It was imperative for us to show that some process of a peaceful settlement was under way, because otherwise, there was the danger of UN involvement in the issue. But all that has changed now. India is in a much stronger position, and it is Pakistan that is isolated and in disarray. The kinds of pressure that we were up against are gone, hopefully never to return.

Is it working? The answer is a categorical “No”. We have been at it now for close to two decades, and that too was not the beginning. We should know each other’s positions well enough by now to be able to write each other’s briefing books. The simple truth is that the maximum we can give on J&K is well short of the minimum that Pakistan can accept. There has been much talk about the dialogue with Musharraf that allegedly was going to settle this issue. Only, it did not – and it will not be settled as long as the Army and the Mullah-Jihadi complex remain opposed. We may be quite sure that their positions will only harden in the years ahead. It is a bit like the Simla Agreement. There was some understanding, but it has been firmly repudiated by the Pakistani side, and is a dead letter.

On terror, the position is equally clear: the unstated Pakistani position is that they are going to stonewall, and keep denying any involvement, particularly by state agencies, in the 26/11 attack. The unspoken in-your-face challenge to India is to do what it can. Decades of inaction have convinced them that we may talk tough, but when it comes to action, there will be none.

The stark reality is that our hope of any change in Pakistani policies is completely unrealistic. We have imposed no cost on the country for its decades of hostility, for using every opportunity it can to inflict harm on India. From their perspective, enmity with India carries no cost. They have been caught repeatedly in the act, whether it was Kargil, or the Kandahar hijack. And each time, after some token steps, we have gone back to business as usual. Why would Pakistan change its policies in such an environment of indulgence and appeasement?

What is even more perplexing in our position on Pakistan is that we are appeasing a country that is heading towards comprehensive failure. It is a social, political and economic black hole, and there are no solutions in sight to its problems. This is the real issue we should be focussing on – what happens in the event that Pakistan does implode? Instead of simply repeating that we have to save that country from itself [which we cannot, in any case], we need to get real and see what the contours of a collapse will be, how they will affect us, and what we must do to protect our interests.

In the interim, since the dialogue process is not working, we need to examine a course correction. This Government is obviously not going to take any of the tough options necessary, so here are some easier ones, which require no hard decisions. To begin with, recognise publicly that the dialogue process is not delivering results. The failure of the recent round of talks between the Home, Defence, and External Affairs Ministries is as good a time as any. These should be suspended, and the sole interface should be the two Foreign Ministries. The level should also be lowered to nothing higher than the Foreign Secretaries. All discussion on issues like Siachen, to give one example, should cease. Above all, we need to end all talk of a Prime Ministerial visit – it defies logic that Government can even countenance such an idea in the face of the wanton provocations from the Pakistani side.

Second, we should walk away from all the economic arrangements that we are discussing, including the TAPI pipeline. The reality is that Pakistan needs the gas, but is in no position to pay. The transit fees they earn from us are what will be used to pay for their share of the transit through Afghanistan, and how they will pay for the actual gas imports – if at all they pay – is something nobody knows. There will be some unhappiness among some of the other participants, notably the IFI’s, but everyone will understand our anger over the continuing role of Pakistan in fomenting terror.

Let us also remember that Pakistan has always used control over transit for political purposes. They did so with the Afghans, right from the 1960’s, and they have repeatedly done so with the US and NATO. There should be no doubt that they will use this power against India too – if and when the pipeline comes into existence.

There are other forms of economic pressure that we can think about too. Pakistan’s economy is in a fragile state, and is unable to withstand pressure.

All of this may not be sufficient to bring about a change in Pakistan’s policies and conduct. In that case, we should be ready for other courses of action. But at least our policies will be rational. At the moment, we seem to be committed to a policy of open-ended appeasement, in a situation where it is clear that this is not delivering any results.

July 2012

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