M D Nalapat
Besides the current Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, India has had three PMs who were very much in favour of reaching out to Pakistan. The first was Morarji Desai, the austere Gandhian from Gujarat who became the first non-Congress PM of India in 1977. Morarji began the day drinking a cup of his own urine (and, perhaps for unrelated reasons, remained spry and fit throughout his 99 years). He was a pacifist who, as Finance Minister under Jawaharlal Nehru, reduced budgets for India’s military during 1959-62, a factor which experts believe helped cause the defeat of the Indian army at the hands of the Chinese. As Prime Minister, he refused to intervene in the matter of the imprisonment and subsequent execution of Z A Bhutto by General Zia, publicly saying that this was an internal matter of Pakistan’s. He refused Israel permission to use Indian facilities for a pre-emptive strike on Pakistani nuclear installations, and withdrew all Indian intelligence networks from Pakistan, a factor that probably contributed to his getting the Nishaan-i-Pakistan. Indeed, during his brief period in office, the Indian external intelligence agency Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) was sharply reduced in size and scope.
The next PM who was very friendly to Pakistan was I K Gujral, the pipe-smoking Jhelum-born Punjabi intellectual who took over in 1997. He enunciated the Gujral Doctrine, which held that as South Asia’s largest country, India should make the most sacrifices for peace. As PM, Gujral ordered a halt to all offensive covert activities in Pakistan, a decision that even today impacts India’s capabilities in its western neighbour. It was during his time that visa procedures for citizens of Pakistan were first relaxed, and some people-to-people interaction took place after fifty years of freeze. After him, the BJP’s A B Vajpayee belied the rhetoric of his party by becoming very friendly to Pakistan, especially to Mian Nawaz Sharif, for whom he had a strong bond of affection. Vajpayee saw Sharif as a man of peace, and came to Lahore in a bus in 1999,creating the hope that peace was at hand. However, the absence of the then Army Chief Pervez Musharraf from the Vajpayee-Sharif Lahore Summit was an ominous sign, that was followed by the Kargil operation and the coup against Sharif. After Kargil, Vajpayee no longer felt confident enough to continue with the peace process, although he did go ahead with two unilateral cease-fires in Kashmir, that were used by the Jehadis to consolidate their position.
Even Vajpayee’s successor as PM, Manmohan Singh,seems to have made peace with Pakistan the main objective of his term in office. It was expected that the economist would focus on the economy, but Singh has largely left such matters to his Cabinet colleagues Pranab Mukherjee and P Chidambaram, concentrating instead on foreign affairs, especially peace with Pakistan. He has even gone so far as to support measures such as an open border between the two parts of Kashmir, a concept that is totally opposed by the security agencies in India. He is understood to be backing Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah’s proposal that Kashmiri youth who went to the Pakistan side for training in weapons be allowed to return back. Others warn that such a move could ensure the easy return to India of hundreds of youths with a burning hatred of India. The recent bomb blast at Pune, which was carried out by Indian citizens from Kashmir, has strengthened the hand of those who regard the Abdullah-Singh idea (of a return of Jehadis) as impractical. However, not least because US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is anxious to please the Pakistan military, the Obama administration has been putting a lot of pressure on Manmohan Singh to agree to several concessions on Kashmir that are opposed by the security agencies. Just as Kargil killed off the desire of the Indian public for accommodation with Pakistan, the Pune blast has made it politically very hazardous for Manmohan Singh to persist with his efforts at placating the Pakistan military with concessions on Kashmir.
However, there is very little public opposition to the idea of talks with Pakistan. The people of India are aware of the importance of contact as a means of clearing away misunderstandings, and back talks. However, they expect that these will be used by the Indian side (led by the attractive, tough Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao) to place firmly and frankly India’s concerns that Pakistan territory has become the staging area for Jehadi operations against India. However, the Indian side knows that Asif Ali Zardari and Yousuf Raza Gilani have no control over the Pakistan army, so there is no expectation that the talks will lead to any breakthrough in relations. Those in the know say that they are taking place because Manmohan Singh favours talks.
Of course, the Obama administration has for eight months been pressing India to resume a formal dialogue with Pakistan.The Foreign Minister of Pakistan, S M Qureshi, is not correct when he claims that India has been forced to have talks with Pakistan, for the reason that Delhi has shown ( for example, at Copenhagen and recently when the US seed company Monsanto was refused permission to produce genetically modified brinjal, despite pressure from the Obama team) that it can resist US pressure. The talks are taking place because of the decision of PM Manmohan Singh to ignore advice to the contrary and go ahead. However, it is unlikely that Singh will get any public support for unorthodox ideas such as open borders or allowing Jehadis to return to India. Such actions would become unpopular the instant there are fresh terror attacks, as seem likely. Since the Gujarat riots in 2002, Indian Muslims in locations other than Kashmir have been willing to take up arms against the state, so that now there are several terror modules operating across the country that are manned by Indian citizens. Several of them have received training by elements in other countries. For years, the Manmohan Singh government was in denial about this domestic component of the terror machine, refusing permission to the security agencies to enter into selected zones to question suspects. Only after the horrific Mumbai massacre of 2007 (when a flat-footed government became an international laughing stock by being held at bay by a handful of youngsters, were some of these self-imposed restraints removed. The Pune blast has led to a fresh reconsideration of the guidelines for operations, and it is expected that several dozen arrests will be made, not only to crack the Pune case, but to prevent fresh terror attacks.
Manmohan Singh, despite his conciliatory nature, seems to be awakening to the realisation that the objective of those involved in terror plots against India is not simply Kashmir but the reversal of India’s growth story. They seek to make India unsafe for investments, by scaring away even international sports teams, they way they have succeeded in Pakistan. They have been funding agitations against industrial and other projects, so that vast regions of the country remain backward. Thus far, the Manmohan Singh government has adopted an ostrich policy towards this growing threat, hoping that it will disappear. Instead, it is becoming worse. India has always seen a cycle of inaction that creates a crisis, which is then met with overwhelming resources and - where needed - force. The Pune blast has been a wake-up call for Manmohan Singh. Unless he takes much more active steps to stop terror networks in India from killing innocents, he risks seeing the end of the Indian economic miracle. Much more is at stake for India than relations with Pakistan.