A meeting between the NSAs to “discuss all issues connected to terrorism”, with the rest of the India-Pakistan relationship in deep freeze, will serve very little purpose
Roger Federer, that most sublime of Swiss watchmakers – he makes you watch – was playing on Friday evening, so I, like all intelligent people, watched him, rather than trying feebly and foolishly to compete with him on the news programmes which had invited me to comment on the Ufa joint statement between India and Pakistan. Because I flipped to those programmes during the commercials, and caught the conversations there in disjointed 30-second snatches, they made more sense than discussions on Pakistan in our media usually do. The empathy for what emerged from Ufa was unusual for anything India and Pakistan beget, but that might be because most of the commentators were my fellow pensioners, of an age where “oof” and “ah” are the statements our joints draw out from us.
How useful will Ufa be? That depends on what use it was meant to serve. Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh wanted to find the holy grail of peace for the people of India and Pakistan. Their quests, which were epic, failed, but the statements they issued with their counterparts were agreements on detours and bypasses on a road that led eventually to peace. Those agreements mattered therefore; if they were violated, as they often were, the journey stalled, the prospect of peace receded.
Prime Minister Modi does not seem to think that peace with Pakistan is something we can make in India. He responds to Pakistan like a recurring rash, ignoring it usually, scratching it when it itches, lathering on a bit of balm to soothe it if it flares up. If Ufa was an emollient, the statement serves no other purpose. There will be no disappointment if it unravels, because there was no expectation in the first place, except perhaps of betrayal. The cycle will start again: ignore, scratch, soothe.
Terrorism is isolation
Despite the hyperbole here, the statement has not wrung from Pakistan anything it has not earlier agreed to do or to discuss. The criticism in Pakistan, that it’s one-sided, is harsh, because India has agreed to discuss “all outstanding issues”, Hinglish for Kashmir, and though Pakistan’s negotiators, as good diplomats, have not broadcast this, has also condemned “terrorism in all its forms”, which is Paklish for the state terrorism that it claims India has unleashed in the Valley. Because of this, the agreement at Havana in 2006, which set up the anti-terror mechanism, and the one at Sharm-el-Sheikh, both of which the BJP excoriated, did not qualify terrorism. This is a sop to Pakistan, now quietly given.
The real point is, as the BJP argued when the anti-terror mechanism was set up, discussions on terrorism are academic as long as either interlocutor clings on to it as an instrument of State policy. It is also simply the case that no State has ever abjured the use of terrorism to get what it wants. A State stops using terrorism either because its purpose has been served, as the US did when it jettisoned the mujahideen in Afghanistan once the Soviets left, or if the cost becomes too steep, as it did for the US in Nicaragua after the Iran-Contra affair became known. A State usually abandons a terrorist protégé if it becomes recalcitrant, as India did the LTTE after the Accord with Sri Lanka.
Since the Pakistan Army still sees India as a threat, which it can try to neutralise through terrorism, which is also cheap, it will not give it up. It will be persuaded to stop, or at least to row back, only when the threat recedes, which means that abstention will be part of a package that produces at least the semblance of peace. As Europe showed after the collapse of the Soviet Union, covert activity falls off when the nature of the relationship between States changes. A meeting between the NSAs to “discuss all issues connected to terrorism”, with the rest of the relationship in deep freeze, will therefore serve very little purpose.
Not in one voice
The salivation over the sentence in the Joint Statement that contained the words “voice samples” was Pavlovian, since all that Pakistan had agreed to do was “discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial”. It’s one of the chestnuts of diplomacy that when two sides agree to discuss ways and means, one will say “no way”, the other “by all means”. In this case, a court in Pakistan had forbidden the State from handing over Lakhvi’s voice samples, and the previous government had invoked this as the reason for not being able to help. Statements issuing out of Pakistan over the weekend show that the government has no intention of going back to the courts now. Euphoria was premature.
Sartaj Aziz has told the media that it was agreed at Ufa that Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek will be discussed in the back channel, though, not surprisingly, unidentified voices in Delhi contradict him. The back channel takes over when leaders agree that a difficult problem must be settled, not just discussed. On Kashmir, the framework for a settlement exists, prepared by Tariq Aziz and S.K. Lambah; it is hard to see what substantial changes can be made to it. Musharraf as COAS persuaded the Pakistan Army to accept it, Kayani disowned it once he took over, shackling the PPP government. If Raheel Sharif has not signed on to it, discussions are pointless. But, as much to the point, is the Prime Minister’s party, now sharing power in J&K, ready for the honourable compromise that a settlement would entail?
Siachen and Sir Creek do not need the back channel. Siachen can be resolved only if this government is prepared to overrule the Indian Army, which does not want to leave the ridge and the glacier, and opposes a settlement, the details of which were negotiated a decade back. On Sir Creek, a joint survey carried out by the two navies has produced an agreed map; the political leadership must take a call on the outline of the border there, and on the maritime boundary. If we have agreed to compromises on the maritime boundary on the east, entailing larger concessions, there is no strategic reason to be intransigent here, but that is for the government to decide.
A hot border
The meetings between the border security forces are routine but pointless. The one between the DGMOs will be no better. Pakistan will not concede that its forces permit and support infiltration, our officers will not agree to modulate their responses. The Home Minister, who has given the BSF carte blanche on the Bangladesh border to protect the Indian cow, is hardly likely to hold them back on the west. August and September are usually peak months for infiltration, before the passes close, but even if the ISI does not need to send in reinforcements, it will have other uses for tension at the border this year.
Whenever Pakistan has wanted to agitate Kashmir at the UN, it has paved the way by raising tensions at the border, so that, in sequence, UNMOGIP reports firing by Indian forces, stoking some concern in the Security Council, the UN Secretary General frets over it in his annual report to the General Assembly, which meets in September, and Pakistan can use these to lay into India in its speech in the General Debate. Since this is the 70th anniversary of the UN, it will be tempted to do whatever it can to bring Kashmir out of the closet, also to pre-empt a push by India to press for decisions on the expansion of the Security Council. Irrespective of what was agreed at Ufa, the chances are that the LoC and the international border with Pakistan will hot up over the next two months.
It is just as well that the Prime Ministers at Ufa have not given any hostages to fortune by agreeing to meet in September at the UN. That would have certainly provoked the nay-sayers in the Pakistan Army to sabotage the meeting as violently as they could, as they did in similar circumstances in 2008. But even otherwise it may be a long hot monsoon. Infiltration must of course be stopped, and our forces will do it, but if the government wants to build even tentatively on what it tried to lay down in Ufa, it should not get into a slanging match with the civilian government in Pakistan, which simply strengthens the Army there. Unfortunately, we have at least three ministers in key ministries who have feet in constant hot pursuit of their mouths. If Ufa is not to be the dampest of squibs, the Prime Minister will have to keep them muzzled.
Satyabrata Pal is a former Indian diplomat. He served as India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan, and as a member of the National Human Rights Commission