Tuesday 8 September 1998

India-Pakistan Talks - Keep your Fingers Crossed

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Judging by their quick adoption of the military line on India-
Pakistan relations, it appears that politicians in Islamabad are
once more letting slip an opportunity to make their country a full
democracy. This will entail the curbing of the powers of the
unelected President and Chief of Army Staff, and closing the
shop of the Council for Defense and National Security, a thinly-
disguised cover for military preponderance in Pakistan’s decision-
making machinery.

Once the euphoria generated by his landslide fades, Prime
Minister Nawaz Sharif will find it difficult to implement an
agenda designed to restore power to the elected representatives
of the people. This will open the door to his second dismissal a
couple of years hence.

The significance of this for India is that concessions are
possible only to a Pakistan that is fully democratic. As in the case
of Bangladesh, where India could make major adjustments to
Dhaka’s point of view only after the India-baiting regime of
Khaleda Zia was defeated, Pakistan cannot expect similar
treatment unless it gives concrete evidence that the generals no
longer dictate policy. Otherwise, as took place after Tashkent
and Shimla, concessions made to Islamabad will be used by the
authoritarian forces for their consolidation against democratic

Nepal is an example where a tough line by India helped the
collapse of the authoritarian order. It was only after his much-
reviled blockade that Rajiv Gandhi witnessed the transformation
of Nepal into a genuine democracy. Similarly, the generals and
the feudals in Pakistan - with their dream of a chain of terrorist
states owing allegiance to the ISI - need to be made aware that
until their country becomes a full democracy, it cannot be treated
as one. This is where Siachen comes in.

There has been a lot of comment about the "uselessness" of
defending Siachen. The US ambassador to India, Frank Wisner,
has spoken movingly about the need to avoid losing precious
lives in maintaining an outpost in the region. However, if
Siachen is so "useless", why are Islamabad and Washington so
keen on an Indian withdrawal?

Perhaps it is because of two reasons: (1) Siachen gives the
Indian army the ability to interdict supplies along the Karakoram
Highway, and (2) the post gives an observation platform to
watch over the activities taking place on the road, such as
supplies from the ISI to rebels in Xinjiang. While Pakistan will
want to snuff out the first, the US would be bashful about
revealing the extent to which the ISI is useful in its strategic
games. Thus the coming together of both countries to preach to
India about the "insignificance" of Siachen.

Unfortunately, New Delhi has to take a more hard-headed
view of realities. So long as Pakistan continues to arm and
support insurgents in India, the conditions for an Indian
withdrawal from Siachen will not be met. Such concessions can
be given only to a friendly Pakistan, not one that continues to
follow the dictates of its generals in relations with India. To take
the Bangladesh example, now that she is out of power, Khaleda
Zia has admitted to helping insurgents in the Northeast of this

Oddly, the "anti-terrorist" chancelleries of the west have
failed to respond to this admission of guilt, even while they send
messages of support to representatives of "Khalistan".
The letter by US Vice President AI Gore to a known ISI-
financed lobbyist, in which he talks of "Khalistan", has been
sought to be dismissed in this country as one more example of
the sloppiness of the US bureaucracy, However, this is of a piece
with statements that the CIA has "not yet" uncovered hard
evidence of Pakistan-China missile supplies.

Rather than rush to accept conspiracy theories about
insurgencies in India, it would be more sensible to accept the
premise that AI Gore’s office has about as much knowledge
about the internal situation in India as a gorilla in the New York
zoo has.

The third hypothesis is that the letter was, in a sense, paid
for by hefty contributions by ISI fronts in the US. Certain
politicians such as Dan Burton are known to be getting hefty
sums from such groups, so it may not be a surprise if some major
contributor to the Democratic party was behind the Gore reply.
However, contrary to the belief in Pakistan, the US has very
limited capabilities to influence a government in Delhi to make
concessions that would enrage public opinion and lead to
impeachment of those making them. Thus the efforts of
Washington to repay the ISI for its services against Iran, Russia
and China by making New Delhi make strategic concessions will
come to naught.

Indeed, thanks to the ISI, a pattern is becoming clear even to
the Chinese in the activities of fundamentalists in Chechnya,
Kashmir, Shiraz and Xinjiang. Despite efforts to disrupt India-
China ties by revving up activities of Tibetans on foreign
payrolls, it is unlikely that the process of normalisation will slow
down. Hopefully, New Delhi will wake up to what is going on
in the "Buddhist" retreat of Dharamshala and ensure that those
who are being instigated to violence are told to pipe down or get

Unlike transient ties, a mature relationship comes about
when both sides acknowledge current realities and adjust to
them. While the opinion of launching a war to wrest back POK
from Islamabad may not be realistic, neither is the expectation
that US or other pressures can make India agree to the Pakistan
agenda on Kashmir. In case Islamabad is willing to "agree to
disagree" on Kashmir, the way can be opened for measures that
will benefit it substantially, such as enhanced exports to India
and full participation in the CIS-Iran—India economic linkage.

New Delhi, while refusing to make strategic concessions to
an Army-dominated Pakistan, should announce unilateral
concessions on trade, culture and other fields, to signal to the
Pakistani people that the desire is for reconciliation. The final
objective must be a friendly western border, hopefully with a
united Pakistan, or with the successor states in case Islamabad
continues to bleed itself to collapse by its ISI wars.
The minimum condition for even a Siachen agreement is
proof of complete cessation of the ISI's war against India. The
condition for peace is that both sides accept the present borders
and unitedly defend them.

The bluntness of Dewie Gowda on Kashmir is preferable to
the prevarications of the Rao period, the flipflops that convinced
Pakistan that a democratic government in India would, in effect,
blow itself up by surrendering the unity and integrity of India.
To say that suicide by India is the price of friendship, as the
generals in Pakistan argue, is a tad unreasonable.

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