Dear Readers, my apologies for the long absence. It so happens that my vacation to India coincided with a month long illness in July. However, I return armed with plenty of observations on India and will start with India’s joint statement with Pakistan at Sharm-el-Sheikh.
On July 16, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his counterpart Gilani in an effort to restart the stalled peace process. Much has been said about the joint statement that was issued, which was criticised both for “delinking” action on terror from dialogue, and for iincluding references to Balochistan.
In the face of substantial criticism the Prime Minister stepped into parliament to give his interpretation of the statement. Yet, his explainations have been largely ignorant of reality.
The Delinking of Action on Terror
The Congress has defended the delinking of anti-terror actions from dialogue by presenting its own interpretation of the statement. According to the Congress the statement implies that Pakistan must act on terror regardless of the status of the stalled peace process. If that were the case one must ask then why the statement does not say just that? Why is it open to interpretation?
One possibility is that it was “bad drafting“. If that is the case heads should roll – starting with Foreign Secretary Menon himself. But the more likely, and more worrying, possibility is that the ambiguous wording was intentional. This would be consistent with Manmohan Singh’s assertion that he would go “more than half way” to find peace with Pakistan. Yet, it is dangerous to go anywhere when Pakistan has not even budged an inch.
The Inclusion of Balochistan
The second about face in the joint statement was the inclusion of Balochistan, something that has never been a factor in any past discussions with Pakistan. So why now? Mr. Singh’s naive explaination is that India has “nothing to hide.” But that is, as Kanwal Sibal stated, a moral argument, not a diplomatic one. Following that logic we should also have included Kashmir, FATA, and Afghanistan?
By including Balochistan Mr. Singh has shown an absolute ignorance of diplomacy and bargaining. And the results are already there for us to suffer. Within days of the statement Pakistani officials were accusing India of fomenting terror in Balochistan. In the words of Pakistani officials, Mr. Singh has allowed Pakistan to “externalize an internal problem.”
Pakistan has been immensely successful in doing so in the past, and nowhere more so than in making Kashmir an international problem. As mentioned by the Daily Times, “after the Simla agreement in 1973, Kashmir had almost disappeared from the India-Pakistan discourse. But it made a comeback in the early 90s after India agreed to discuss Kashmir, interpreting it as discussing issues related to militancy and cross-border terrorism.” Now India has allowed Pakistan to do the same with Balochistan.
War, Peace, and Something in Between
Mr. Singh’s ambiguity in the choice of words and in including Balochistan may have been part of his bigger peace strategy. It certainly has strengthened Mr. Gilani’s position at home. Also, as some Pakistani news outlets have pointed out, delinking action on terror from dialogue with India may actually make it easier for Pakistan to act on terror – since it would not be seen as acting under pressure from India.
Nevertheless, by indicating to Pakistan that India is willing and desirous of peace, India has weakened its hand in future peace negotiations. Here, a few lessons on international negotiation are necessary.
First, by indicating that India is willing to reshape its foreign policy and go “more than half the way,” Mr. Singh has indicated that India is desperate for peace. And by doing this unilaterally, he has shown that India is willing to talk even on Pakistan’s terms. The words of that joint statement may be interpreted either way, but Mr. Singh’s actions in Egypt make one thing clear – that India will be willing to talk even after Pakistan foments terror in India. In other words, India wants peace at any price.
The reason for this is that, in Mr. Singh’s view, short of war dialogue is the only way forward for the two countries. This is a fair point. Yet, for this to work both sides must want peace and Pakistan does not. Instead, it has chosen to support a proxy war against India for the past several decades. In view of that, India should not seek dialogue with Pakistan. Rather, it should make Pakistan seek dialogue with India. This would be fitting, given it is Pakistan that must prove its good intentions. But by making utopian public statements that dialogue is the only way forward for India, India takes off the table options that Pakistan continues to retain and exercise.
If You Want Peace, Prepare for War
At the root of Mr. Singh’s peace initiative is the belief that both countries should be desirous of peace and that India stands to benefit from a strong and stable Pakistan. Yet, both assumptions must be questioned.
First, Pakistan is not desirous of peace with India. The belief to the contrary has been costly in the past. As noted by M.J. Akbar,
In 1965 Lal Bahadur Shastri thought a little give would purchase a lot of take at Tashkent. In 1972, Indira Gandhi bought Bhutto’s plea that what remained of Pakistan would crumble without her sympathy. She did not insist on a written agreement ending the Kashmir dispute along the Line of Control. Atal Bihari Vajpayee reached out to shake Pakistan’s hand at Lahore, and got slapped in the face at Kargil.
Second, history suggests that regardless of whether Pakistan is a dictatorship, democracy, or anarchy, the state will remain hostile to India. To believe that Pakistan will willingly disown terrorists it has long nurtured is naive when even American pressure has not weaned Pakistan’s establishment from its love of jihadis. The ISI and army continue to support Al Qaeda, Taliban, and Kashmiri terror outfits such as the LeT. And we must remember that the Mumbai terror attacks took place during Gilani’s reign.
The bottomline is that Pakistan cannot be trusted. And there is no reason to hope, as the PM appearently does, that Pakistan will change its behavior. In view of that, “it is Pakistan that must reshape its policy towards India, not vice versa.” Yet, if history is any guide, Pakistan is most likely seeking a detente till its troubles in the West have receded.
Nor should India try to prevent Pakistan’s disintegration by compromising on its own foreign policy. If Pakistan wishes to fail as a state, by breeding terrorists, that is its choice and India cannot (even if it wished) prevent that fate. The sole purpose of India’s actions should be to want Pakistan to speak to India, not the other way around.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has done exactly the opposite and weakened us in the process. Mr. Sibal said it well:
Past experience shows that Pakistan would construe our reasonableness as weakness, and those who would applaud our moderation would not stand by us when needed. The bane of our Pakistan policy has been our inability to stay the course whichever the party in power. In time, we begin to see our reasonable position as undue rigidity and, disregarding the lessons of the past, we are ready to commit the same mistakes again.
Mr. Singh’s embrace of Pakistan is another such insulting mistake. As Kargil showed, it is India’s soldiers that pay the price of the naivete of its political leaders. They did so with China in 1962, and with Pakistan at Shimla and then again in Lahore. It is time India learnt from its lessons. And the first step would be to remove the Prime Minister, who has no understanding of foreign policy, from any role in shaping it. Then, we can start shaping a foreign policy in line with our aspirations.