Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2015 > Don’t play One-move Chess with Pakistan, have a Game Plan

Mainstream, VOL LIII No 36, August 29, 2015

Don’t play One-move Chess with Pakistan, have a Game Plan

Monday 31 August 2015, by M K Bhadrakumar

The following article was written just before the NSA-level Indo-Pak talks were put off. However, its contents are highly illuminating; hence it is being published here for the benefit of our readers.

The whole story of the two-hour detention of the Hurriyat leaders in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday (August 20) may never be known, but what seems plausible is that New Delhi and Srinagar were probably not on the same page.

Very sad, indeed, if South Block didn’t anticipate the inevitability of the Pakistani move to invite the Hurriyat leaders to have a cup of tea with their visiting National Security Advisor, Sartaj Aziz.

One can only hope that if and when the Hurriyat leaders arrive in the Indian Capital, they are not detained again to prevent them from attending the reception in the Pakistani High Commission on Sunday (August 23).

The quarrel over the Hurriyat’s interaction with the outside world is ancient. It first erupted in a big way in the early nineties when the Hurriyat leaders were prompted by Pakistan to travel to Geneva to be on call at the United Nations Human Rights Council [UNHRC] deliberations regarding the situation in J&K.

Of course, the situation in J&K was critical at that time and there was even talk amongst some who held responsible positions in our establish-ment that it was simply not worth the while to hold on to the Valley at such immense cost and suffering and loss of prestige to the country.

The human rights situation in J&K was indeed appalling and the security forces were unaccoun-table and barely coping with the insurgency. Pakistan didn’t have to strain to make a convincing case at the UNHRC forum.

Clearly, the Indian foreign and security-policy establishment took the view that it would be far too damaging for the national interests to allow the Hurriyat leaders to perform on the sidelines of the UNHRC at Geneva as the handmaiden of Pakistani diplomats. (The Home Secretary at that time was none other than the present Governor of J&K, N. N. Vohra.)

But South Block and North Block were put on the mat by the then Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, who overruled their advice to decide that the roof wouldn’t come down if the Hurriyat leaders spoke up against his government at Geneva. (Make no mistake, Rao led a ‘minority’ government.) The rest is history. Rao’s decision once again proved clear-headed and far-sighted.

India is today far better placed in the Valley. Why is the government panicking unnecessarily and making clumsy moves? Playing one-move chess with Pakistan never pays. You only end up playing into Pakistani hands. That was what happened yesterday (August 20).

The Indian foreign-policy establishment is not reading the tea leaves correctly. There is no real need for all this anxiety disorder gripping the policy-makers. Forget for a moment that the Americans want us to engage with Pakistan at any cost.

Pakistan is caught in the vortex of a major crisis and it needs much time—probably, months —to figure its way out of the crisis. The sudden dissipation of the Mullah Omar myth has brought about great clarity in the air and Pakistan is called upon to perform transparently without the cloud cover of ‘strategic ambiguity’. The audience today includes China also.

One can only hope, from the perspective of regional stability, that Pakistani military and the Inter-Services Intelligence [ISI] somehow manage to regain their grip over the Taliban leadership and succeed in consolidating the new leadership of their hand-picked nominee for the vacancy of the post of the Amir of Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor, with a view to resume the peace talks.

This is no ordinary enterprise. Trust the detractors and spoilers in Kabul and in the region (and outside the region) to make things very difficult for the Pakistani military and the ISI. On the other hand, failure in the enterprise is fraught with grave consequences for Pakistan—and for Afghanistan and the entire region. Simply put, Pakistani military and the ISI cannot afford to fail in this one enterprise.

Suffice it to say, unless Pakistan makes some progress with the AfPak, it cannot and will not seriously engage India. The trust-deficit goes far too deep—in both time and substance.

Stemming from the above, the upcoming meeting of the National Security Advisors cannot be anything more than foreplay at best. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval is, therefore, getting a splendid opportunity to identify negative thinking (not only on ‘their’ part but also ‘ours’) and incrementally work toward replacing it with realistic and well-balanced thinking.

India painted itself into a corner through the past one-year period in regional politics but, fortuitously, an “exit door” is now becoming available. This is where the cognitive part becomes important—learning new methods and ways so that one can give up the same old habits and thinking patterns. The starting point, of course, is the elimination of the anxiety disorder. Who are the Hurriyat leaders anyway?

Now, the NSAs’ talks are going to be held without a set agenda. This can work to the advantage of both Doval and his Pakistani interlocutor, Sartaj Aziz (who both enjoy the trust and confidence of their Prime Ministers), since it ought to provide flexibility and wide margin for having useful exchanges. The advantage lies in not degrading the opportunity with rhetoric or sideshows.

A holistic picture is needed. Iran’s impending integration, the growing contestation between the Taliban (plus Al-Qaeda) and the Islamic State, the dissipation of the Mullah Omar myth, the sharp deterioration in Afghan-Pakistan relations—they make a massive accretion in the geopolitics of the region by any yardstick, a paradigm shift, don’t they? And, yet, they are only the newest happenings on the regional landscape through the past few weeks alone since the two Prime Ministers met at Ufa.

Each of these happenings is of profound consequence to the ambience of India-Pakistan dialogue even if one were to overlook the phenomenal transformation of the regional security scenario and the international situation during the long interlude since the two countries last held a meaningful dialogue.

In sum, Doval’s objective should be modest. It can be pared down to what is realistically possible to be achieved: one, try to lower in practical terms the India-Pakistan tensions on the ground, which are inching toward a flashpoint; two, try to calm the Pakistani nerves (to the extent India surely can—and Doval would know how to do it better than anyone on Raisina Hill); and, three, try to ensure that the NSAs do meet again in a not-too-distant future—hopefully, after a meeting between the two Prime Ministers on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York next month.

That gives the respite to look into the seeds of time and estimate “which grain will grow and which will not”—to borrow a line from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.