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The Prime Minister Must Not Visit Pakistan

The neighbour from hell

To the insistent clamour that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must visit Pakistan in the near future, this is a rejoinder, and a plea not to be emotional in our approach to relations with Pakistan. An analysis of the argument in favour of a visit shows that there are really three arguments being advanced in favour of the visit.

The first is that the time is now for an outreach to the people of Pakistan, for it is up to India to strengthen the forces of moderation at a time when that country is wracked by extremist sentiment. The second argument, closely related to the first, is that the decision makers in Pakistan are becoming aware of the dangers their country faces, and are ready to move forward and improve relations with India. Some erudite commentators add a third argument is the form of a history lesson; Europe overcame its problems through economic cooperation, and that is how the two countries should overcome their problems. It worked there, it will work again here.

The idea of an outreach to the “moderates” inside Pakistan is not new. This is exactly what guided Indira Gandhi at Simla, and it was not long before she realised that she had misjudged badly. Within a few months, Bhutto was back to the earlier rhetoric, and denying that any understanding had been reached over Kashmir. Even then, he was also thrust aside, and the proxy war in Punjab started shortly after Gen Zia took over. All our efforts at strengthening the “moderates” were unavailing.

Prime Minister Gujral – may his soul rest in peace – took this further when he became first Foreign, then Prime, Minister. The Gujral Doctrine was specifically aimed at strengthening these “moderates”, and it did not do much for the relations, or for the “moderates”, who were again thrust aside as another military dictator took over.

This time round, the ground reality of Pakistan is even more adverse for such woolly-headed overtures. The military seem to be somewhat weaker, but that proposition has not been tested. After the removal of Gen Karamat, there was a sense in India again, that the army had been brought under control, an assessment that was buttressed by the further weakening of the army after the Kargil fiasco. But more important, even if the army is reluctant to take over formal power, it remains strong, and continues its role in upholding the terror infrastructure. The infiltration of terrorists into India also continues at higher levels than before. Further, the growing radicalisation of Pakistani society, and the growing power of the jihadi network, calls into serious question the notion that the “moderates” are now in a position to make a difference. The fact that the judges who sentenced some of the high-profile killers in recent months had to go into hiding, and sometimes leave the country, tells a very different story from the narrative of those who want the visit to take place.

Finally, even the so-called moderates are not the kind that are willing to let the Kashmir issue drop. No, the difference is that they want to talk and settle the Kashmir issue on their terms; their only difference is that they are willing to criticise the use of terrorism for this political end. But their end is the same as that of the hard-line elements. Nobody is even willing to countenance any kind of territorial settlement that would stand a chance of acceptance in India.

The second argument is that there is a change in Pakistani thinking and policies towards India. This boils down to two developments in recent months. The first is a statement made by the Pakistani Army Chief on Siachen. It is worth emphasising that he made these remarks while visiting – not Siachen, for the Pakistan Army is nowhere in Siachen, but west of Saltoro – where an avalanche had led to the death of some 130 soldiers. Pakistanis were asking why the soldiers were there and why they could not be pulled back to safer distances. Here are the actual words he spoke: “…we’d like to resolve this [Siachen], but there is a method of resolution and of course, we’ve talked about it, there have been a number of rounds of negotiations and hopefully we should be able to resolve it, and I think we should resolve it.”

Our response at the media level was inexplicable: not only did the General say nothing new, his own words indicated as much. He said clearly that there was a method, and it should be used to resolve the issue. This is precisely what we were doing, in the resumed dialogue. There has been a solution in the works for the more than two decades, and it has foundered each time on Pakistani insistence that it will not reflect the actual position held by the troops at present. This itself reflects and suggests bad faith on their part, especially bearing in mind that as early as 1989, then-Foreign Minister Yakub Ali Khan had agreed that, as a military man, he recognised that any withdrawal must indicate from where the withdrawal was to take place.

The other issue that has had excessive play has been that of Most Favoured Nation [MFN] treatment for Indian exports to Pakistan. Since the beginning of the year, there has been a clamour in India that this has been done by Pakistan. Of course, nothing of the sort has happened yet, and the promise is that it will happen at the end of the year. Meanwhile, a Pakistan parliamentary panel has recently recommended against such a move by Pakistan. True, the two countries have moved from a positive list to a negative list, but there is nothing in this that allows Indian goods entry into the country on terms equal to those for other trading partners. In any case, Pakistan is obliged, under WTO rules, to treat Indian exports on MFN terms, but has refused to do so for close to two decades. This actually shows the scant regard it has for its obligations under even international treaties. It is entirely characteristic of us that we find this a major step forward. Firstly, it has not happened; moreover, it is not a major step anyway.

So much for the signs of change in Pakistan; the other two matters are easily disposed of too. The idea of reaching out to the so-called moderates inside Pakistan is not new. Foreign Minister [later Prime Minister] Gujral, whose sad passing away we have just marked, had just this idea behind the Gujral Doctrine. He did occasionally say that the Doctrine did not apply to Pakistan, but in his actions, he was always mindful of the possible constituency in favour of better ties with India within Pakistan. Since then, we have maintained a steady posture of nurturing this constituency, through the Vajpayee and the Singh Governments. Under the latter, we even signed some incomprehensible joint statements on setting up a joint terror mechanism, and allowing a gratuitous reference to Baluchistan – all to no avail. If there is a “moderate” group in Pakistan, it is unable to affect policy. From the days of the Gujral Doctrine, right through to the present, we have had terrorist attacks to contend with without cease: from the Kandahar hijacking through the attack on Parliament, attacks in various cities [Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai], and finally, the carnage in 2008. And on all of these, the Pakistanis have stonewalled any move to bring the terrorists to book. All told, one would be well advised to question whether there is any relevance to this thesis today, given that the extremist elements are much stronger than before, as we saw in the killing of Governor Taseer and Minister Bhatti – their killers were regarded as heroes even among educated middle-class sections of Pakistani society. We are also witnessing the growing terror attacks on the minorities in Pakistan, including Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and even Shias.

The proponents of the outreach to the “moderates”, therefore, owe it to Indian society to explain why they still persist in this failed enterprise, and when the rest of us will see any results of the Sisyphean undertaking. They owe it to the skeptics, who have historical evidence on their side, to tell us when their efforts will bear fruit, and what the milestones are that will tell us we are on the right track.

Finally, we have to address the European parallel. It is true, of course, that economic cooperation has transformed relations on the Continent, making war unthinkable. But there was a pre-history to this. The Nazi regime was defeated, Germany dismembered, and the leaders brought to rough justice first. A new Government arose in place of the Nazi regime, which disavowed, and negated on the ground, Nazism and all its works. Equally important, it renounced its claim to Alsace-Lorraine, the territorial dispute with France. It was only after all this that the economic cooperation was launched successfully.

There were earlier efforts at sweet-talking and making territorial concessions to the Nazi regime, in the 1930’s, but they came to naught. This policy of appeasement has been properly consigned to the litter of failed strategies, and has served as a warning to all future Governments that this is a very unwise policy course. This is the true lesson of European history. Those who forget it, would do well to remember how the West reacted to the election of Kurt Waldheim as President of Austria in the mid-1980’s: there was a whiff of suspicion – never conclusively proved – that he had a Nazi past, and that was enough for him to be boycotted by many western countries, and he was declared an undesirable alien in the US.

This author had made some of these points in a rare letter to the editor of the Indian Express, in response to an article urging the Prime Minister to visit Pakistan, but the paper chose not to publish it – though it did carry much more abusive letters against the suggestion. Obviously, the idea is to paint the objectors as extremist and unthinking opponents of better ties with Pakistan.

The reality is that Pakistan is growing increasingly isolated as US disenchantment with their duplicitous ways grows. The fear in that country is that India and America might find it in their interest to coordinate policies on Pakistan, especially as the ISAF moves to pull out from Afghanistan. It would be rich irony if, after decades of asking the Americans to take a hard look at the reality of Pakistan, we were to hold out a lifeline to that country now. It would also be a betrayal of the assurances given to the people of India that the terrorist masterminds of the Mumbai attack would be brought to justice, and there would be no normal contacts.

Instead, we are advised by the Pakistan Foreign Minister not to be emotional and to move on beyond one issue. It occurred to no one, then or later, to point out that it was Pakistan that was being emotional about Kashmir, and was fixated on an issue that has been left behind by history, despite every terrorist trick in the trade adopted by Pakistan.

The ultimate irony is that, despite all the efforts by successive Governments – NDA not excepted – to reassure Pakistan that India does not mean any harm, few in the former believe our protestations. Here is a sample from an article in Nation, the Pakistani newspaper:

“The Indian leaders have on many occasions predicted and wished for Pakistan’s collapse. We keep hearing across the border voices demanding the re-inclusion of Pakistan into India. It is no secret that India has not only engineered trouble in Pakistan, but also instigated USA to hurt us whenever possible. Right after the Osama incident, the Indian leaders also aired their desire to take unilateral actions into Pakistan. India’s intentions are not a secret.” [Nation 23 Oct 2011].

Indian leaders have consistently maintained that we have a vested interest in a strong, stable Pakistan, and have repeated this sentiment in season and out. But it obviously does not make any impression on some of important media outlets in Pakistan.

It must be clear to all unbiased and uncommitted observers that there is nothing for the Prime Minister to do in Pakistan, and nothing to go for.

December 2012,

New Delhi.

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