New Delhi Is Drifting On Islamabad

Updated: Oct 26 2002, 05:30am hrs
It now appears clear that New Delhi has run out of ideas on how to deal with the challenges posed by General Musharrafs Pakistan. Following the decision to pull back army and air force units from operational positions along the international border with Pakistan, the Vajpayee Government seems to be groping about what it should do next to retain the diplomatic initiative and get the international community to compel Pakistan to end cross-border terrorism. The confusion prevalent in South Block is evident from the clumsy manner in which the issue of Prime Minister Vajpayees visit to attend the next SAARC Summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad in the second week of January 2003 has been handled.

During the last SAARC summit in Kathmandu it was agreed that the next summit would be held in Islamabad in early 2003. After consultations, Pakistan had proposed that they would host the summit in the second week of January and informed the SAARC Secretariat accordingly. The junior minister of External Affairs Digvijay Singh publicly asserted that the Prime Minister would attend the summit. His statement was promptly contradicted by the Foreign office spokesman Navtej Sarna, who obviously would not have done so without the explicit approval of both Mr Yashwant Sinha and the Prime Ministers Office. In the meantime, Defence Minister George Fernandes joined the debate and endorsed what his Samata Party colleague Digvijay Singh had said. Mr Fernandes is the Defence Minister and in normal circumstances should not have commented on subjects handled by a Cabinet colleague. But, it is odd to say the least, that Mr Digvijay Singh who is a junior minister whose charge does not include conduct of relations with SAARC neighbours, should first speak out of turn and then be contradicted by an official spokesman.

The entire manner in which the decision to pull back troops from the international border is going will have adverse long-term repercussions. Anyone who reads the Pakistan press and listens to Pakistani analysts cannot help concluding that the decision is viewed by our neighbour as reflecting bankruptcy in our thinking, combined with an inability of our armed forces to act while deployed on the border, even when provoked. The armed forces had after all been deployed after the outrageous attack on the Indian Parliament, with the clear threat held out that we would not hesitate to respond if terrorist provocations continued. The Indian state machinery, however, remained immobilised when the families of our soldiers deployed on our borders were massacred in Kaluchak, terrorist attacks intensified during the Kashmir elections and terrorists from Pakistan attacked the Akshardham temple in Ahmedabad. While the deployment did certainly lead to the international community taking more serious notice of Pakistan sponsored terrorism, it has certainly not led to any permanent reduction in the levels of such terrorism. The pullback, in these circumstances, has only persuaded the Pakistani establishment that we are incapable of matching our rhetoric with action. Not surprisingly, many Pakistanis feel that in an ultimate analysis, it is India and not Pakistan that backed off under American pressure.

The recent elections in Pakistan have led to the emergence of the fundamentalist alliance - the Muttahida Majlis e Amal (MMA) as a formidable political force. The political parties in this alliance have maintained long-standing links with terrorist groups operating in J&K like the Harkat ul Mujahideen, the Lashkar e Taiba and the Hizb ul Mujahideen. General Musharraf will be only too happy to please these groups by letting them pursue their Jihadi agenda in India. The entire effort of the Musharraf dispensation will be to persuade Washington that the emergence of the MMA will not adversely affect American interests in the war against terrorism in Afhanistan. Washington will be reminded of the difficulties and opposition Musharraf would face in curbing Jihadis operating in Jammu and Kashmir. The ever-obliging Colin Powell and his State Department mandarins will ask us to show understanding of the compulsions of General Musharraf and resume dialogue with him. The only leverage that we had by way of the threat of use of force has now been discarded by us. Why should Washington care any more for our concerns when Powell is even prepared to turn a blind eye at Pakistani transgressions of American non-proliferation laws by virtually condoning Pakistani transfers of nuclear weapons capabilities to North Korea

There is talk in New Delhi of mounting a diplomatic offensive and being pro-active in dealing with Pakistan. But this can hardly be achieved if the Prime Minister fights shy of traveling to Pakistan for the SAARC summit. The SAARC Heads of Government agreed at Kathmandu to finalise the text of a draft treaty for a free trade area in South Asia. Pakistan has stalled this proposal. Rather than being ambivalent about attending the Islamabad summit, New Delhi would be well advised to get pressure mounted on Pakistan for coming in the way of economic integration in South Asia. We should make it clear that if Pakistan persists in proceeding on its present course we will seek ways to promote regional economic integration even if it needs to be done in a manner that excludes Pakistan. But to achieve this we would first need to effect a change in the mindset of our over-protectionist bureaucrats in our Commerce ministry.

The pressure on India to resume a dialogue with Pakistan is inevitably going to grow. Rather than stonewalling calls for dialogue we should now develop our own pro-active agenda for engaging Pakistan. We should make it clear that we are not averse to promoting people to people contacts and even holding discussions at the diplomatic level to explore ways to promote cooperation and enhance confidence and trust. There is really no reason for us to delay sending a new High Commissioner to Islamabad. There was an extensive agenda for discussions that was agreed upon during the Lahore Summit in 1999. The aim should be to move towards concluding the various confidence-building measures that were agreed upon in Lahore. Given the fact that the United States is unlikely to apply any real pressure on General Musharraf, we need to devise new ways to subject the army dominated establishment in Pakistan subject to both military and diplomatic pressure even as we are seen to be having a measure of flexibility in our diplomatic posture. But we erode our won credibility when we move regularly between threats of war that our political elite lacks the will to implement on the one hand and wishful and naive thinking as manifested during the Agra Summit on the other.