Indo-Pak relations: Time for a Tough Stand
Not reacting, offering help and making conciliatory gestures has only emboldened our neighbour—India must revisit its strategy on Pakistan
Vikram Sood Delhi
Some Delhi newspapers, reporting the Kathua terrorist attack of March 20, described it as the work of militants. The terrorists and their handlers would have loved this description, almost legitimising them on the front page with the photo of the grieving family of a constable. This attack and the one in Sambha can be seen as responses to Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s appeasement when he thanked Pakistan, the Hurriyat and the terrorists for allowing Kashmir to hold elections. There was not a word for the people of Kashmir who voted, nor for the police and security forces who enabled the holding of elections. And no mention of the Election Commission, which organised the elections. Well, if you appease, this is what you get.
Sayeed was the Home Minister in 1989 when his daughter was abducted by terrorists in Srinagar. We acceded to their demands for release of terrorists in custody. Appeasement was his policy then and look what we got over the years for having succumbed to the terrorists’ demands. Of course, there were other reasons for what happened in the Valley in the 1990s but if there was a trigger, this was it.
It is New Delhi’s call on how to react to events in Kathua and Sambha but surely we cannot dismiss it as the handiwork of non-State actors. There is a BJP-PDP government in Kashmir, and the targeting of ‘Hindu’ Jammu in recent attacks should not be lost on the authorities. Instead, we have given them honorifics like militants, non-State actors, gunmen, misguided youth—for killing innocents, raping and molesting in the name of freedom.
When the chief minister speaks, he speaks not just for Kashmir but also for the country. So, if a terrorist attack takes place in the future, as indeed it will, let us not rush into rationalizing it or softening the impact by describing it as an attack by gunmen, in the style of the BBC, or by non-State actors. In these attacks innocent Indians died along with security personnel who were defending us. Not acknowledging their sacrifice is undermining their morale and there can be no justification for this.
Pakistan has made enmity with India the reason for its existence. This enmity needs an excuse—which is Kashmir. Religion became the weapon. Both sharpened after 1971. Terrorism became the force multiplier and while Kashmir was the reason for the Army to gather greater powers unto itself, the politicians boxed themselves into a corner from where it has become difficult to withdraw without the radical Islamists baying for their blood or without the Army approving normalization of relations. The hope that somehow we would strengthen the democratic process in Pakistan by giving concessions to Pakistani political leaders has been unfulfilled. It has not even been allowed to take off by hardliners in Pakistan.
Recently, Major Gen Mahmood Durrani, former NSA and one of those Pakistani generals who openly advocates peace between India and Pakistan, was in India and spoke of India-Pakistan amity at various venues. Durrani stated that Pakistan, with its limited resources, can only deal with internal terrorists that threaten it. Assuming that Pakistan finally agreed it was necessary to take on India-specific terrorists, this would not be its first priority. This obviously means that India needs to be patient, understanding and take a few terrorist hits as they come.
Durrani was, in effect, making two observations. One, that the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jamat-ut-Dawa are Pakistan’s valuable assets against India. Obviously, no Army in Pakistan will ever even voluntarily consider allowing degradation of this asset. Second, in the context of collapsing governance in Pakistan, the JuD, mother ship of the LeT, is seen as a provider of essential social services to the ordinary Pakistani. The civilian government, not in a position to deliver such assistance, will not therefore consider curbing JuD’s activities or those of its leading lights, like the lovable Hafiz Saeed.
Every successive Pakistani Prime Minister has come to power and assured his people that solving the Kashmir issue to Pakistani satisfaction is the bedrock of relations with India. Similarly, every Indian Prime Minister has promised better relations with Pakistan regardless of Kashmir. Both have assumed they can attain their declared goal by treading a path not taken by their predecessors and both have been successively proved wrong. The Pakistani politician is caught in this rhetoric on Kashmir and is unable to change positions for fear of angering the hardline Islamists and the Indian with the desire to be magnanimous and forgiving.
There was great flourish when we announced postponement of Secretary-level talks with Pakistan after the Pakistan government ignored the Indian suggestion that their High Commissioner should not meet Hurriyat representatives ahead of these talks. For a while, one got the impression that India was beginning to change strategy in keeping with our policy of seeking peace with Pakistan only if they stopped and gave evidence that they had finally given up supporting terror aimed at India. Last year, the Indian reaction to unprovoked firing by Pakistan on the LoC or terrorist activity in the Valley was firm and proportionate and some say more than equal. The reaction to Pakistani insistence on meeting Hurriyat representatives despite Indian opposition, was appropriate even if such meetings had been allowed to take place in the past. One would have hoped that this line of action would have been sustained just as Pakistan has sustained its terror option for decades. Then, just as suddenly, the Indian Foreign Secretary was in Pakistan apparently to seek a resumption of these talks.
So what should we make of this? It was a U-turn in our stand until then. Now we have taken another U-turn and two U-turns make a circle. We are where we were, illogical and weak, trying to look good. And if all this confusion in our thinking and strategy is not enough, witness the spectacle of Gen VK Singh attending the Pakistan High Commission’s reception.
Nations, especially neighbours, need to live in peace with each other. But we need to be consistent about the terms and conditions of this peace instead of letting our naiveté and sentimentality or both get the better of us. Pakistan is in internal turmoil and on the periphery of worsening turmoil in the region west to it. It is far better to let things be and wait for Pakistan to extricate itself. Meanwhile, to expect that Pakistan will change its attitude towards India is to deceive ourselves.
Our periodic outbursts that terrorism will not be tolerated or that the government will issue White Papers on terrorist funding impress no one— neither the terrorist nor his master.
When a particular strategy against a specific target or country yields no results or, worse, is counterproductive, the natural assumption should be that it has failed. The wise move is to change the strategy. Our strategy of not reacting to repeated Pakistani depredations or repeatedly offering help and conciliatory gestures may have earned us international accolades as a responsible nation but has not made Pakistan change its policy options or stance towards India. Its rulers see their policy towards India as successful and do not feel any need to change course. It is necessary for India to revisit its policy and strategy towards its recalcitrant neighbour who feels that its actions pay dividends and, therefore, it can continue being the juvenile delinquent.
If we say that Kashmir is an internal issue between Srinagar and New Delhi, then let it be so. Pakistan is not interested in a solution or revising India’s status as an enemy country as it arms itself with various categories of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. And it seeks a continuance of the problem as it hands over real estate in the Gilgit-Baltistan area of Jammu and Kashmir to the Chinese.
The writer is former Secretary, R&AW