By Amulya Ganguli*
There will be a wide measure of agreement with former external affairs minister Yashwant Singh’s comment that the India-Pakistan talks are a dialogue of the deaf. If these nevertheless continue, albeit sporadically and accompanied by unfriendly exchanges outside the conference hall, the reason, according to him, is that successive Indian prime ministers have been seeking the Nobel peace prize by resolving the longstanding disputes between the two countries.
Indeed, there have been prime ministers who went so far as to give up the “deep assets” which the Indian intelligence agencies had built up inside Pakistan. Although this act of self-sacrifice has long been known, it was made public recently by defence minister Manohar Parrikar, who refused to name the responsible person or persons, but pointed out that it takes 20/30 years to build up these “assets”.
As the latest contretemps over the meeting between the National Security Advisers of the two countries show, any hope of discussions in a calm atmosphere is futile if only because of Pakistan’s insistence on raising the Kashmir issue and India’s assertion in favour of confining the talks only to terrorism.
There was a time when the US quietly asked India to make some concessions on Kashmir with an interlocutor, Robin Raphael, even questioning the terms of the state’s accession to India. But, post-9/11, Washington has been more appreciative of India’s argument that yielding ground on Kashmir will only help the jehadis expand the areas under their control.
But, even after America has more or less washed its hands off the India-Pakistan affair, or perhaps because of it, Pakistan has seemingly become more paranoid. The Pakistan army now probably believes that it will have to aggressively pursue its agenda of grabbing Kashmir on its own since external help is no longer available.
Hence, its ire when it found that Kashmir had not been mentioned in the Ufa statement issued by prime ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif. If the latter has the advantage of outsourcing his policy initiatives to the Pakistan army, as the talks between him, Sartaj Aziz and the army chief, Raheel Sharif prior to the Delhi talks showed, the Modi government has to make up its mind on its own on the next course of action with an increasingly intransigent and belligerent neighbour.
The Pakistan army’s obduracy comes from the realization that unless it can make perceptible gains vis-à-vis Kashmir, its hold on the country’s government and polity will gradually begin to weaken. After all, it cannot continue to arm and train terrorists and send them across the border for an indefinite period, especially when some of them are being caught alive by the Indian forces.
Moreover, any more Mumbai-style operations by the so-called “non-state actors” will earn Pakistan more infamy. As Husain Haqqani recalls in his book, Magnificent Delusions, when the Pakistani NSA of the time, Mahmud Durrani, told the American deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte, that the courts will determine the legality of giving access to the LeT operatives involved in 26/11, the US official said: “We know about Pakistan’s courts. They order the hanging of elected prime ministers when the army asks them and don’t look at legal niceties”
Since the Pakistan army’s obsession with Kashmir is not going to subside any time soon, India can be said to be reaching the end of the road where a dialogue with its neighbour is concerned. The most that India can offer with regard to Kashmir is what Manmohan Singh said about making the borders irrelevant between the two halves of the state. But, such a placatory initiative is not safe for India when jehadis are being armed and trained in the Pakistani half.
Considering that Modi expressed the view before last year’s general election that talks cannot be held against the backdrop of gunfire, he can be said to have gone the extra mile in search of keeping the channels of communication open.
If Nawaz Sharif had not been a puppet in the Pakistan army’s hands, it might have been possible to sustain the negotiations even if no change in the existing territorial realities is feasible. All that can be done are allowing greater trade and travelling facilities across the line of control.
Since such moves to ease mutual tension will not be to the Pakistan army’s liking, the two countries are seemingly at a dead end. At this juncture, a prolonged period when the Ufa-type initiatives are abjured may be advisable if only to avoid the bitterness which an attempt to restart the dialogue entails.
There can be back-channel negotiations, but formal talks have to be kept in abeyance till a meeting ground has been reached with the Pakistan army’s concurrence. Otherwise, there will be a repetition of the present stalemate over Pakistan’s provocative invitation to the Kashmiri separatists.
For a hardliner, Modi has shown considerable resilience, especially when there are elements in his party and the Sangh parivar who had opposed the “moderate” Atal Behari Vajpayee’s 1999 road trip to Lahore, saying that he should have gone in a tank and not a bus.
Modi has been more accommodative presumably because he wants to include Pakistan in his successful diplomatic forays. But, he is dealing with a neighbour who has openly announced its intention to bleed India to death with a thousand cuts.
*Amulya Ganguli is a political commentator. He can be contacted at [email protected]