Updated: Dec 13, 2022
The neighbour from Hell
Ambassador Prabhat P Shukla
The run-up to the summit between the Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers had seen a serious debate on the wisdom or otherwise of such high-level contact. The way events have unfolded, it is clear that the sceptics had it right. But this is too serious a matter for any “I told you so” kind of gloating. Instead, it is time to take stock and see where developments are heading. This essay is one contribution to such an effort.
First, we need to be clear about what we are dealing with. For quite long now, we have accepted it as fact that Mian Nawaz wants peace with us – this is an image he has fostered with care, and has distanced himself from the hostile actions that have emanated from Pakistan. This applies principally to the Kargil adventure, where India gave him a free pass, even though the evidence did not warrant any such generosity. In point of fact, it is questionable whether he is indeed the man of peace he is portrayed as being.
Ever since Mian sahib came to power in June this year, we have seen a number of negative developments on the political and diplomatic side, which are directly traceable to him. The first is the National Assembly resolution on Kashmir. This was piloted by the PML-N, and not only called for a settlement on the basis of the UN Resolutions, but declared that Pakistan would continue to extend political, moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiris. Nothing unusual for Pakistan, but this Prime Minister has repeatedly said that he wishes to pick up where he left off in 1999, when he was overthrown by Gen Musharraf. The 1999 Lahore Declaration that he signed did not mention the UN Resolutions – and that was one of the major breakthroughs of the Lahore meeting.
Secondly, it is Mian sahib’s Government that has finally put paid to all hopes that Pakistan will give MFN treatment to Indian exports. This, from a man who is sold to us as a business-minded leader – even the previous Government was more forthcoming on the issue. The issue has now been linked to the state of political relations between the two countries. In short, it is not on the agenda any longer. It is worth repeating that, in and of itself, this is not an issue that will affect our trade, piffling as it is. No, the issue is Pakistani refusal to honour its solemn international undertakings. Under WTO, it is obliged to extend MFN treatment to Indian exports – no conditions attach to this. But it is disregarding this obligation, secure in the knowledge that no Government till now has troubled itself on this account.
Third, at the UNGA session this year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif again raked up the Kashmir issue, and once again linked it to the UN Resolutions, forcing the Indian Prime Minister to take a firm stand on the issue and emphasising the centrality of the Simla Agreement. It is worth stressing that Musharraf had ended the practice of referring to the UN Resolutions, and this had been continued by President Zardari in his initial years in power. However, he had re-started making reference to the UN Resolutions, so Nawaz Sharif genuinely had the choice of not raking up the Resolutions, but elected to do so.
All of this is to be seen against the backdrop of the continuing freedom of operation given to Hafiz Saeed to incite hatred and violence towards India. The PML-N Government in Punjab continues to provide funding for his tanzeem, the Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Our Prime Minister did raise this issue in the New York meeting, according to press reports, but was fobbed off with the usual – and unconvincing – response that the JuD was a charitable organisation. For good measure, Nawaz also raised the issues of Baluchistan and water-sharing – comparatively newer issues that will keep relations from improving even if, by some miracle, there is some forward movement on Kashmir.
All of this suggests that we need to re-assess the attitude and role of Nawaz Sharif. It has been almost axiomatic that he seeks friendly relations with India. True, there is evidence for this in the statements he has made, but the public pronouncements of former President Zardari were also of a similar tenor. The problem is not in saying that he, or some other leader, wants friendly relations; the challenge is to match their deeds with their words. And as we have seen, on issues like Kashmir, or even MFN, let alone curbing terrorism, there is no difference between the different leaders.
This is also the right time to address another mistake the Indian side frequently makes. This is the suggestion that the civilian leaders want good relations but the Army and the ISI block them. Historically, this is certainly false. We know that Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was far more hawkish towards India than was Ayub. In the late 1980’s, and especially after the Kashmir troubles began in late 1989, Benazir was as hostile towards India as any military leader was. It is Mian Nawaz who has played Artful Dodger, and managed to insinuate that the Army in Pakistan was creating all the trouble – and we have eagerly seized upon this version. This is not meant to absolve the Pakistan Army – not at all; but the reality is that all segments of Pakistani society, the military and civil bureaucracy, the politicians and the tanzeems are committed in equal measure to two issues: Kashmir, and revenge for the humiliation of 1971.
The failure of the New York meeting has become apparent more quickly than one would have expected. It now turns out that even as the talks were taking place, armed intrusions by the special forces of the Pakistan Army were taking place across the Line of Control. This only provides confirmation, if any were needed, that talks are not the answer to the challenge we face from Pakistan. And certainly we do not need talks at the political level, until there is some reasonable ground for believing that there is a genuine change of policy on the part of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
More important, we need to determine what the Pakistani strategy is for the coming months and years. The stepped-up pattern of military action comes alongside growing and open incitement from the likes of Hafiz Saeed. There are well-documented intelligence reports suggesting that there will be more active encouragement inside Kashmir of terror groups sponsored by Pakistan in the future. The aim is to keep Indian forces occupied in Kashmir, giving the Pakistanis and their Taliban proxies a free hand in Afghanistan as the western forces begin their draw-down. What is more, there is no longer any attempt on the part of the Pakistani establishment at concealing their intent; the terrorist groups are openly proclaiming their plans, presumably secure in the knowledge that the Government in Delhi will do nothing about the threats brewing in Kashmir and in the neighbourhood.
What we need therefore, even at this late stage, is to come to a common understanding that talks alone will never deliver the goods. Surely, by now, we may conclude definitively, that all the justifications given in advance of the New York meeting that talks were the only way to find a solution were wrong.
What is more, the country was kept in the dark about the military activity on the LoC and indeed across the border, so as not to raise questions once again about the unwisdom of the meeting itself. It raises the legitimate query – what is the Government thinking? It is quite remarkable that there is no explanation whatsoever from the Government for all the blunders it has committed, from the Joint Anti-terror Mechanism to the Sharm el-Sheikh statement to its own broken promises to the Indian people that talks and terror cannot go together. We never hear anything from the Government as to why it is behaving the way it does, what results we may expect from these policies, and when.
It is not yet too late to face the facts, abandon the current appeasement, and recognise that some hard decisions have to be taken. The security situation in the neighbourhood is worsening from our standpoint, and we need to be prepared for all contingencies.