Hazards of poorly planned engagement
Diplomatic engagement with a neighbour having territorial ambitions and an abiding desire to alter the balance of power has to be carefully planned and executed. Apart from realistically assessing the balance of military and economic power, one has also to carefully assess the neighbour’s internal political equations, and whether the political and military leadership have the inclination and the will to live at peace, without and resort to terrorism, as an instrument of state policy. Sadly, there are vociferous sections in India that believe that dialogue with Pakistan is an end in itself, without really studying what the alternative options are. Moreover, has continuing dialogue produced better results than no dialogue at all?
Pakistan lost its eastern half and 13,000 square kilometres of its territory in the west, one half of its Navy, one-fourth of its Air Force and Army, with India holding 90,368 prisoners of war, at the end of the 1971 Bangladesh conflict. In subsequent negotiations in Simla with her counterpart Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, India’s most hard-headed Prime Minister, was persuaded by some of her key officials that Bhutto would be devastated politically, if he went back empty handed from Simla. While returning the 90,368 POWs was inevitable, what was surprising was a decision to withdraw from 13,000 square kilometres of territory captured by our Forces, following a mere verbal assurance from Bhutto that he would, in due course, settle the Kashmir issue, on the basis of the territorial status quo.
Bhutto had no intention of abiding by his verbal commitment. Within a decade, Pakistan sought to upset the territorial status quo, by promoting a communal divide in Punjab. This was followed by arming and training disaffected Kashmiri youths to promote an armed insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir. Pakistan also sought to exploit “fault lines” in India’s body politic. It executed terrorist strikes, like the Mumbai bomb blasts in 1993, where 250 Indian nationals perished. The perpetrator of these bomb blasts, Dawood Ibrahim, resides comfortably in Karachi and even ventures abroad on a Pakistani passport. All these developments took place amidst continuing ‘dialogue’ with Pakistan.
The continuing dialogue was called off by Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in 1994, when she found that efforts to coerce India on Jammu & Kashmir had not worked. Moreover, unlike in earlier years, Kashmiri youths were becoming increasingly wary of crossing the Line of Control, to be armed and trained for jihad. What followed was the induction of Pakistani nationals from ISI-backed terrorist outfits like the Jaish-e-Mohammed, Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. It is important to note that this shift in Pakistani strategies from support for a ‘freedom struggle’ of Kashmiris to a Jihad by Pakistani terrorists occurred not because of any ‘composite dialogue’, but because of ground realities. Moreover, it was during this period that, thanks to imaginative political initiatives and effective policing, Pakistan-backed militancy in Punjab ended. Terrorists from Babbar Khalsa and the International Sikh Youth Federation, however, still reside in Lahore and elsewhere in Pakistan.
Former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral initiated discussions in 1997 with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif, later described as the Composite Dialogue Process, in which dialogue on terrorism was not given significant priority. Terrorism was merely put on the same pedestal as drug smuggling! The first round of this dialogue was held in 1998, after the nuclear tests. Determined to ensure that India was seen as sincere in its quest for peace, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Lahore, only to find that rather than promoting peace, the resumption of the dialogue was accompanied by Pakistani intrusions across the LoC, leading to the Kargil conflict, amidst Pakistani threats of nuclear escalation. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s visit to Agra was followed by the attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001. Structured dialogue had only led to an escalation of terrorism and violence.
The military stand off after the Parliament attack and the post-9/11 American invasion of Afghanistan forced General Musharraf to think afresh. He proposed a cease fire across the LoC and assured that ‘territory under Pakistan’s control’ will not be used for terrorism against India. While Gen Musharraf abided by his commitments, the UPA Government was, however, horribly wrong in presuming a weak democratic Government led by President Asif Ali Zardari, a well-meaning Sindhi Shia, would be able to rein in the jihadi propensities of General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, a hardcore Islamist. New Delhi also underestimated the significance of the deadly ISI-sponsored attack on our Embassy in Kabul on 7th July, 2008. What inevitably followed was the terror strike of 26/11 in Mumbai. It was the public outcry, that followed the disastrous summit diplomacy in Sharm el-Sheikh, which forced the UPA Government to tread warily thereafter.
Given what followed the 2008 terrorist attack on our Embassy in Kabul, New Delhi should not underestimate the significance of the recent attack on our Consulate in Herat, on the eve of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s visit to New Delhi. The recent demonstrations led by Imran Khan and Tahir ul-Qadri enjoy behind-the-scenes backing of the Pakistani military establishment. The Army has indicated that it will assist Sharif. But, in return, it has demanded that Sharif “must share more space with the Army”. To expect that in these circumstances, Mr Sharif can deliver on India’s concerns on terrorism, or promote trade and energy cooperation significantly, will be wishful thinking. The tough stance that India has taken on the links of the Pakistan establishment with the Hurriyat conveys that it is not going to be business as usual with Pakistan, especially if it continues with ceasefire violations, while abetting terrorism in India and threatening our diplomatic missions and nationals in Afghanistan.
In her meticulously researched book The Pakistan Army’s Ways of War, American academic Christine Fair notes that in order to deal with Pakistani Army policies which undermine US interests and seek to destabilise India, the US should consider means to “contain the threats that emanate from Pakistan, if not Pakistan itself”. This is the first time a reputed American academic has spoken of the need to “contain” Pakistan. This cannot be done by merely chanting the mantra of “uninterrupted and uninterruptable dialogue” with Pakistan”. While calibrated engagement with whosoever rules Pakistan is necessary, it has to be complemented with measures to tighten internal security, enhance our military capabilities and raise the costs for Pakistan, if it pursues its present efforts to “weaken India from within”.