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Saturday, 5 September 1998

Talks with Pakistan - India should Mix Firmness with Conciliation


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


The landslide victory of Nawaz Sharif and the statesmanlike
support given to him by Benazir Bhutto to enact legislation that
would return power to elected representatives rather than to
Army appointees generated optimism that Pakistan would join
the ranks of the full democracies. However, it appears that the
Pakistan Prime Minister is unable to assert his primacy over non-
elected power centres. Very quickly, he has moved away from
a focus on trade and people-to-people contact and back towards
the Pakistan Army hard line that India should agree to a
plebiscite in Kashmir before Islamabad can agree to enhance ties.
This is akin to an individual saying that he can be friends with
another, provided the latter hands over his sister to him.

Asking for the handover of a sister is not indicative of a
friendly mindset. In like fashion, the efforts to push India into a
path that has the potential — if conceded — of opening the
Pandora’s Box of states' integration show that, despite his
victory, Sharif is very much the junior partner in government. If
indeed he is a partner at all. Clearly, Pakistan will continue to
foment insurgencies in India. Equally clearly, it cannot be given
any strategic concession until it halts this.

While hoping for a change in the power equations in
Islamabad, so that the elected representatives of the people set
rather than merely carry out policy, New Delhi needs to avoid
the Pollyanna syndrome of cheerful optimism about the good
intentions of others. Instead, it needs to craft policies that take
account of the factual situation in Pakistan.

The first step would be to substantially increase contacts
with the different segments of Pakistani society: businesspeople,
religious groups, NGOs and others. Such individuals should be
encouraged to visit India and interact with groups here, to make
them realise the advantages of a secular structure in which all
religions and regions are treated equally. In this connection,
Gujral’s visa liberalisation is welcome.

Second, New Delhi needs to openly articulate its concern for
human rights. There have been massacres in Karachi of MQM
supporters. There has been under-representation of Sindh in the
Pakistan Army. Within the civil service, Baluchis and Shias have
been given short shrift. These and other issues need to be taken
up by New Delhi, in view of the need to build constituencies
among such groups in the event of a fissioning of Pakistan into
Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Pashtunistan. Sadly, as the lack
of attention shown to building up an Indian diplomatic presence
in north Afghanistan has shown, New Delhi responds to a
situation only after it has evolved into a chronic sore. In line with
a policy of promoting democratic values, India needs to monitor
and express its concern over the plight of Shias, Ahmadiyas, non-
Punjabi Sunnis, Christians, Hindus and other disadvantaged
groups in Pakistan. At the same time, it needs to be understood
that when President Leghari and others point to alleged atrocities
in India. Pakistan has a right to express concern about
developments in India, just as India has a similar right towards
Pakistan.

Third, this country needs to reverse the neglect that has gone
on since 1984 of Indian defence capability. The core of this
country’s defence has to be its missile systems, whether located
on land, air or sea platforms. Rather than throw money away in
purchasing outdated equipment — as was done with the Bofors
gun and now may take place with a new aircraft carrier — this
country needs to improve its missile capability and the familiarity
of its armed forces to the computer as a force-multiplier.
Fortunately, the Deve Gowda government appears to have
moved away from the past policy of throttling strategic
development in India. However, much work needs to be done to
undo the neglect of the past twelve years.

Equally important, this country needs to clearly articulate its
core interests, and specify that these are non-negotiable. No
Indian government would survive mass hanging for treason
were it to concede Pakistan's agenda on Kashmir. Yet, except for
Prime Minister Deve Gowda, there appears to be a coyness
among other VIPs to make explicit the reality, that India will not
agree to a re-opening of the accession of Kashmir, no matter
what the pillow talk may have been during the time of the
Mountbattens’ sojourn in the Viceregal Palace. Unfortunately,
the halting of operations in 1948 before Kashmir was freed of the
invaders, the giveaways at Tashkent and Shimla, and the one-
sided agreement on river waters, have not yet convinced India's
Pollyannas of the futility of strategic concessions (such as on
Siachen) to an Islamabad still in the grip of the military. Such
concessions can be made only after South Asia forms a common
market, visas get abolished and each currency becomes freely
usable in all the other SAARC countries.

New Delhi needs to operate a two track policy: firmness on
strategic issues, conciliation on trade and people-to-people links.
If this country can benefit from Pakistani imports, such items
should be allowed. If representatives of segments of the Pakistani
people wish to visit India, they should be encouraged. What
needs to be discouraged — through the avoidance of strategic
concessions — is the shadowy coterie of feudals, druglords and
armymen that is slowly pushing Pakistan to its next division. So
long as Nawaz Sharif lacks the will to confront this, he will be
unable to prevent this slide. Only democracy can preserve
Pakistan.

While for Pakistan its obsession with India is central to its
policies, for New Delhi the gyrations of its western neighbour are
becoming less important with time. Intra-regional cooperation
within SAARC; diplomacy with China, Russia, France, Germany
and Japan; keeping open the option of future strategic cooperation
with the US; links with ASEAN states such as Singapore,
Indonesia, Malaysia and Korea; and cultivation of the Gulf, CIS
states and Iran all rank much higher than adjustments with a
country that is diminishing in clout daily. Recently it was said
that "60 per cent of the MEA's attention" was devoted to
Pakistan. Six per cent would be a more desirable figure.



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