Zero Option: Eternal WAR, Eternal PEACE

Published: July 31, 2009 - 15:21 Updated: July 2, 2015 - 11:49

Sanjay Kapoor Sharm-El-Sheikh (Egypt)/Delhi

Only conspiracy theories can explain why India and Pakistan have not been able to sort out their long held dispute. It is 62 years since they found independence, but till now they have not been able to bring peace to a region that nestles a majority of the world's poor. It is not that attempts have not been made at rapprochement, but vested interests that thrive in instability and chaos in this region are far stronger than those who want to smoke the peace pipe. 

In 1953, the first attempt was made by US President Dwight D Eisenhower to sort out differences between the neighbours. His brief to his envoy Paul Hoffman, former chief of the Marshall Plan, was, "Our world simply cannot afford an outbreak of hostilities between these two countries, and I would risk a great deal to prevent such an eventuality."

Due to Hoffman's initiative, Nehru agreed to visit Karachi and talk to his counterpart, Muhammad Ali Bogra - a Bengali East Pakistani Muslim. Nehru was received with warmth and came back with the impression that the existing regime was favourable towards India. Although the American initiative ran into rough weather due to reports that Washington was up to no good as it was hobnobbing with Sheikh Abdullah, Nehru decided to invite Bogra to Delhi.

Nehru worked hard to give Bogra a resounding welcome, going to the extent of engaging in crowd control during the public meeting that he had organised for him. On August 20, 1953, in a communiqué, he stumped his opponents and Hindu fundamentalists when he agreed to announce the new plebiscite administrator by April 1954 and hold voting by 1955, "provided the atmosphere in Pakistan remains good". At that time it seemed like the two countries would sort out their differences, but these hopes proved stillborn.

According to Dennis Kux, author of US and India - Estranged Democracies, Karachi did not take advantage of Nehru's decision to cement plebiscite arrangements and decided to take a tougher line against India. Kux fails to give a reason, but it is clear that there were vested interests that did not want peace to return to this region.

Similar attempts were made when India defeated Pakistan during the 1971 war and Indira Gandhi had the gun in her hand to force Pakistani premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to agree to a settlement of Kashmir. Ms Gandhi let that opportunity pass by.

A decade later, progenies of the two leaders, Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto, were about to seal a deal when the young Pakistani prime minister's hand was stayed by her country's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. Clearly, the ISI had acquired far larger role after the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. 

Since then, politics in both nations have tried to assert its independence from army/military intelligence and the foreign office, but failed continuously. Pakistan, which was conceived by British colonialists as a buffer state to prevent the Soviet Union to spread communism in India as well as guard the routes to the oil wells of Arabia, got increasingly militarised. The country began to be controlled by a military elite that was willing to respond to every request of its western patrons.

Throwing out Soviets from Afghanistan contributed in subverting democratic institutions. It was the ISI that decided which civilian would rule Pakistan - until that person was overthrown in a military coup. These governments perfected the strategy of a "thousand cuts" against India by supporting Islamic militancy in Kashmir and subsequently ramping it up to spread terror in other parts of India. The occupation of Kargil heights in 1999 by Pakistani army regulars could have degenerated into a nuclear face-off if there had been no intervention by western powers.

Interestingly, Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari recently admitted of Pakistan government's role in supporting terror outfits. Indeed, Pakistan's nation-building process is premised on antagonism towards India. Its army has sharpened this identity by controlling different aspects of political, economic and civilian life. No wonder, Indian government's long held criticism that the ISI was behind terror attacks in India has begun to find resonance in some observations of western military analysts.

Post 9/11, the US decided to make Pakistan a frontline state in its fight against Islamic terror. Wily President Pervez Musharraf used that opportunity to subjugate opponents and strengthen his hold over the levers of power. Colossal amount of money that was given to Pakistan for this effort ended up in the coffers of the generals. The business enterprises of the Pakistani army, as contemporary military literature reveals, prospered during these times. This leviathan influenced foreign and domestic policies.

It is the same military-controlled State that sabotaged talks between India and Pakistan. Musharraf gave an impression that he was close to a breakthrough, but the moves did not fructify. Western observers claim that the draft resolution on the Kashmir issue was ready, but once again the initiative lost steam.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has revealed his vision of soft borders between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan - the kind that used to exist in "his days". He has expressed his desire to have breakfast, lunch and dinner in three different capitals on a single day. ("I dream of a day, while retaining our respective national identities, one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul. That is how my forefathers lived. That is how I want our grandchildren to live.")

Terror attacks from across the border have hammered his resolve. In Havana, 2006, he gave the benefit of doubt to Pakistan by claiming that they, too, were victims of terror and initiated a composite dialogue process.

Some headway had been made in de-escalating tension at Siachen and Sir Creek when the Mumbai terror attack took place in November 2008. So barbaric, brazen and organised was the attack that it seemed as if it had been done by the 'Special Forces' of the Pakistan army. Indian government agencies talked of intercepts and involvement of ISI in an attack that killed many Indians, including foreigners. After the attack, predictably, the talks were called off.

Pakistan was forced by the US and other western powers to cooperate in investigation. For the first time, Pakistan police acted on the dossier provided by India's Union ministry of home affairs. Lashkar-e-Taiba's operatives were arrested and Hafeez Sayeed, its leader, was detained.

President Barack Obama decided to focus on Afghanistan-Pakistan as he felt that this was the fountainhead of global terror. He brought in more diplomatic and military energy to these parts and forced Pakistan to attack the Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives occupying ungoverned spaces between the two countries and planning terror strikes across the world.

This is not the first time Pakistan has attacked its own people, but this time around it is different. Here, the pressure is from the US to clean up its own mess. The US had promised peace to Islamabad on its borders with India to ensure that it had more troops to counter fight on the Af-Pak front. India refused to reduce its troops till there was an end to cross border terrorism.

The US government had sent Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff,  and Obama's National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, to convince India and Pakistan to share intelligence and begin talks. After the Congress-led government regained power in May 2009, it decided to kick-start the talks. The meeting first in Yekaterinburg and subsequently in Sharm-El-Sheikh took place in the backdrop of these behind the scene exertions.

The meeting between ISI chief Shuja Pasha and Indian military attaché in Islamabad has been owned by the prime minister. If this relationship found mention in the joint statement then it is clear that these ties have been institutionalised.

What surprised every one was the manner in which Balochistan was included in the joint statement. This insertion is fraught with interesting possibilities, as the incisive articles by Mohan Guruswamy, with meticulous historical details, show in this cover story of Hardnews. Military strategists are revisiting history to figure out ways as to how this turbulent region can be stabilised. South Asia watcher Stephen P Cohen believes that stability of Pakistan is important to allow India to emerge as world power. There are others like C Raja Mohan who draw lessons from British imperial constructs that builds on India being reinforced as a military power to ensure peace in the entire Afghanistan-Pakistan region.

Presence of the US in this region gives a kind of spin to the engagement between India and Pakistan that did not exist in the times of Nehru when he began talks with Bogra. It would be interesting to see how the US perceives Pakistan and its engagement with India. Presence of nuclear weapon in the hands of Islamabad would restrain the US and India from looking at options of splitting a country that is rapidly fraying at the margin.


Presence of nuclear weapon in the hands of Islamabad would restrain US and India from looking at options of splitting a country that is rapidly fraying at the margin. Sanjay Kapoor Sharm-El-Sheikh (Egypt)/Delhi

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This story is from print issue of HardNews