Sheer baloney

Sheer baloney

Seldom has India’s relationship with Pakistan been so blatantly politicised in our country as currently. Almost all major political parties joined the fray except the Left, but the BJP takes the cake for an opportunistic stance that borders on political cynicism. In essence, the problem seems to be with two areas of the joint statement issued at Sharm El-Sheikh following the meeting between prime minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart.

The critics of the government allege an Indian ‘sell-out’ on account of Delhi’s readiness to talk to Pakistan and in allowing an unwarranted reference to Balochistan. Alas, critics singled out Indian officials — especially former foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon. They have been petulant. Apart from making sweeping allegations, they don’t have any constructive suggestions to navigate the complicated relationship with Pakistan.
The BJP, in particular, has a lot to explain. What has been its track record in office? Indeed, what are the alternatives to the line adopted by Manmohan Singh — keeping the lines of communication open with Pakistan at various levels even while refusing to resume the composite dialogue?

Arguably, India could shun contacts with Pakistan. But then, experience has shown that in the absence of contacts, the relationship degenerates in no time and a crisis situation would arise that eventually necessitates the resumption of contacts. Our High Commissioner in Islamabad summarily began dealing with the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf, when faced with the hijacking of an aircraft. Even after the Pakistani attack on our parliament, which triggered a lot of gung-ho rhetoric about ‘coercive diplomacy’, A B Vajpayee was realistic enough to return to the path of dialogue.
Plainly put, ‘coercive diplomacy’ is a non-option. The presence of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in India’s southwestern region implies that the scope for calibrated build-up of tension with Pakistan is virtually ‘zero’. That leaves mobilising international pressure on Pakistan to mend its ways. The option bears some scrutiny.
The NATO has arrived in our region for an open-ended stay, which may last decades. The geopolitical templates are rapidly moving in the Central Asian region. Afghanistan is a crucial launching pad of US geo-strategy and Pakistan becomes an indispensable gateway for the expansion of US influence in the strategic region that forms the ‘soft underbelly’ of Russia (and China). Thus, the US is fostering Pakistan-NATO ties on a long-term basis, apart from embarking on a massive military assistance programme for Pakistan.

Clearly, while the US may take on board our point of view or our concerns over terrorism emanating out of Pakistan, it cannot be expected to champion India’s cause to the annoyance of the generals in Rawalpindi. The same holds good for the major European countries belonging to the NATO, which spearhead the war in Afghanistan. The primary concern for these countries is to make the war an optimal success for which Pakistan’s cooperation becomes vital.

Seeking practical solutions
China, of course, has an ‘all-weather friendship’ with Pakistan. Again, countries like Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Central Asian states have hurried to form their own formats of cooperation with Pakistan to fight terrorism, which visualise Pakistan not as the problem but instead as a meaningful interlocutor in seeking practical solutions.
The stark reality is that given the absence of an independent and proactive regional policy and the obsessive US-centric foreign policy that the BJP government adopted and the succeeding Congress government followed, India today faces a serious isolation in its ‘near abroad.’ At the same time, this vastly enabled Pakistan’s geopolitical positioning today. If anyone fancies that Pakistan can be isolated internationally, that is sheer baloney.

Right-wing commentators in India live in a fool’s paradise in imagining that Pakistan is a ‘failing state.’ There are serious powers that ensure that Pakistan survives and thrives — Saudi Arabia, China and the US. It means our Pakistan problem is not going to wither away. India needs to not only commence a meaningful dialogue with Pakistan but also steer it with a medium-term perspective.

Moreover, diplomacy cannot be conducted in a spirit of self-righteousness. Pakistan has concerns about India, while we may question the legitimacy of these concerns. So, if Balochistan is an issue of concern, we need to address their perceptions of the issue.
Balochistan is a metaphor for the Indian role in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, a lot of ‘triumphalism’ crept into India’s Afghan policy in the wake of the ouster of the Taliban regime in Kabul. During the 2001-2003 period, the BJP government should have anticipated that Pakistani influence in Afghanistan was bound to revive as Pakistan has special interests in Afghanistan, a country with which it not only shares 2,400 km of disputed border but also saddled with an unresolved nationality question of explosive potential. To compound the folly, there has been extremely irresponsible talk by some high-fliers in our strategic community about an Indian military deployment in Afghanistan.
It doesn’t need much ingenuity to comprehend that against the backdrop of the US- India strategic partnership during the George W Bush era and the cascading India-Israel security ties, Islamabad rushed into conclusions about Indian intentions. For India-Pakistan relationship to gain in trust and confidence, the involvement of the Pakistani security agencies is always welcome. If Pakistan has misgivings about Balochistan, we shouldn’t shy away from clarifying that they are absolutely misplaced.
(The writer is a former diplomat)