Pulling the trigger is not the only option
Ashok K Mehta
If one were to believe television debates orchestrated by some misguided anchors on both sides of the Line of Control, India and Pakistan came pretty close to war following the 10-day long localised firing of small arms and mortars mainly in the International Border sector. A new reason for Pakistan starting the firing was that India beat Pakistan in the Asiad hockey final!
The TV content was mind-boggling: Cold Start-Limited War escalating to nuking each other off the map. Sipping whiskey from tea cups, smoking the war pipe and liberally abusing one another with anchors spraying chilli powder, otherwise sane security experts went berserk proving their nationalistic credentials. Hilarious SMSs were exchanged about anchors and channels, one even suggesting that like the WWF, these contests were also fixed. The incalculable environmental damage inflicted by the senseless exchange of tirade helped none, especially inhabitants living astride the IB and the LoC. Never before has firing across borders created unprecedented bad blood. Pakistan and India have gone their own predictable ways – United Nations and New York and Simla and Lahore Agreements respectively – with apparently no meeting ground, culminating in the ISI-sponsored Kashmir ‘million man march’ in London last week. It is internationalisation versus bilateralism.
For a third time, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a lockdown with his army, has frittered away his huge political capital, incapacitating his peace-with-India agenda. This red rag to a bull for the Pakistan Army forced Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif to do a cut-and-paste job of a Gen Kayani speech on ‘Kashmir the jugular vein’, to the Kakul Military Academy earlier this month. All this and more is deja vu. Except that the Modi Government is claiming that it has changed the rules of engagement: No talks under the shadow of terrorism and maintenance of peace and stability on the LoC. Convictions of the masterminds of the 26/11 attack have apparently been removed. India says Foreign Secretary level talks were only about modality of reviving the dialogue and so there was no need for Pakistan’s High Commissioner Abdul Basit to meet the Hurriyat.
Never to be left out of the battle, Gen Pervez Musharraf was simultaneously enunciating his peace doctrine after being caught red-handed suggesting that the Kashmiris were ready for an uprising and needed some incitement for the Intifada. He said bilateralism worked in his time, but then ceased, compelling the Government to take the route of internationalisation. He attributed the political turbulence in Pakistan to an internal crisis of misgovernance driving the military to play its role without bypassing the Government.
While the composite dialogue has been blocked since 2008, back-channel (shut after the new Government) and Track II have thrived. Just as hot-headed nationalists were inflicting unacceptable punishment on each other through inflammatory verbiage, the India-Pakistan Dubai dialogue sponsored by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung was attempting to dowse the fires through gaming: How to avoid the worst case and create the best case scenarios. Avoiding the worst case is continuation of the post-2008 narrative – preventing the next big terrorist attack linked to Pakistan. In this, Islamabad is required to take demonstrable action to de-link the state from non-state actors, rein in the so-called ‘good terrorists’ and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. In other words, taking the finger off the trigger.
The next step requires both sides to restore the Cease Fire Agreement of 2003 and ideally establish a joint India-Pakistan mechanism for peace and traquillity on the LoC. Hot lines down to battalion levels and other CBMs that were in place till the late 1960s, are to be revived. These will ensure no meltdown of cease fire.But resumption of dialogue is vital for any of this to happen. Equally vital is to open new lines and channels of conversation between intelligence, military and strategic decision-makers.
In the wake of the post-2014 drawdown of foreign forces from Afghanistan and the need for regional cooperation to help the new Government in Kabul to stabilise, Islamabad and New Delhi should talk to each other about their misgivings. Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s new National Security Advisor, Hanif Atmar, spoke about the failure of the region to respond to the asymmetric threats from old and new terrorist networks, emphasising that Afghanistan had a two-year window in which to meet the challenges. He urged for a regional strategy and extension of the time horizon of the 2016 US deadline of zero boots on the ground – precisely what Prime Minister Modi had sought in his meeting with President Obama. Afghanistan should be made the ninth item of the resumed dialogue but elevated in priority.
Sir Creek, a low-hanging fruit, could be plucked next week. Kashmir should return to the front-burner as it is the key to reassuring Pakistan that India has not intention of sidetracking it. For Islamabad to rein in the likes of Hafiz Saeed and other spoilers to prevent the next big terror strike, New Delhi should offer incentivised trade concessions to include the sale of gas and electricity. This trade-off was suggested this month by former US Ambassador to India, Robert D Blackwill, famous for preventing Operation Parakram from escalating into a war on two occasions: The terrorist attack on Parliament in December 2001, and the terrorist strike on an Army camp in Jammu in June 2002. His recipe for maintaining the stalemate does not address the imagined insecurity of the Pakistan Army.