Monday, December 24, 2001

The Pakistan conundrum

EVEN CONTRARIANS will concede that the decision by the Government of India to recall its High Commissioner from Islamabad and to terminate the New Delhi to Lahore bus service as well as the Samjhauta Express is reflective of the deep sense of public outrage at the terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament on December 13 and on the Jammu and Kashmir Legislature on October 1. More critically, however, New Delhi's moves articulate a growing frustration at its relations with Islamabad and its inability, despite persistent efforts, to inject a modicum of civility and stability to bilateral relations. The Pakistan conundrum presents perhaps the most intriguing example in the history of state-to-state relations since the Treaty of Westphalia. Neither military defeat, nor constructive engagement, nor unilateral gesture, nor passive disregard, nor even international pressure seems to be able to reduce the pathological hostility that the Pakistani state bears towards India, and which goes much beyond the problems in Kashmir.
Consider the recent history of India-Pakistan relations, and the manner in which the whole spectrum of policies adopted by New Delhi towards Islamabad has floundered because of oppugnant Pakistani behaviour. Twice since 1998 New Delhi has publicly engaged Pakistan. The Lahore summit of February 1999 raised expectations that a new detente in the subcontinent was in the offing, and indeed the summit documents included an imaginative set of cooperative measures, particularly on the nuclear issue. So much so that several do-gooders prematurely nominated Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Sharif for the Nobel peace prize. But even more prudent analysts seemed to have been convinced that the overt nuclearisation of the subcontinent would help Pakistan acquire the confidence and maturity to normalise its relations with India without being burdened with existentialist fears that had plagued it since 1947, more so since 1971.
In the event, Pakistan - instead of seeking to project itself as a responsible nuclear power - sought to use the cover of nuclear weapons to escalate the conflict in Kashmir, burying the Lahore process under the heights of Kargil. Similarly, the Agra summit failed primarily because Pakistan was unwilling to concede that no normalisation of relations is possible until Islamabad discontinues its policy of sponsoring violence and terror across the border. Indeed, it is believed that India had been willing to concede at Agra much more than it had done during the last decade, including setting up of a high-level bilateral group to discuss Kashmir and only Kashmir. But whatever was left of the spirit of Agra evaporated after the September 11 terrorist attacks and particularly after the terrorist attack in Srinagar on October 1.
But Lahore and Agra were only the public face of a policy of engagement that New Delhi has been attempting to construct at various levels. More important, India has not been shying away from discussing what Pakistan has termed as the core issue of Kashmir. It is now well known that a special envoy of the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, had been discreetly meeting a Pakistani counterpart, in the weeks after the Lahore summit, to discuss a possible resolution of the Kashmir issue. It is even believed that the two interlocutors had been mandated by their respective Prime Ministers to find a solution to the Kashmir issue before the dawn of the 21st century, and met several times in Islamabad and New Delhi before Kargil and the military coup by General Musharraf derailed the process.
Similarly, New Delhi has persisted with its efforts to initiate a peace process with Kashmiri separatists, even with that section which it knows is deeply beholden to Pakistan and is in constant touch with elements within the Pakistani establishment. Even before Mr. K. C. Pant was designated a special interlocutor earlier this year, a quiet dialogue with Kashmiri separatists and militants had been continuing for at least a year. But it became clear that any time there was a real chance of translating discreet drawing room parleys into a more public political process, Pakistan would use all means at its disposal, including direct physical threats, to subvert the process. In other words, Islamabad was unwilling to even let Kashmiri leaders, whom it had sponsored, sustain a meaningful dialogue with New Delhi's representatives.
Neither have unilateral gestures of goodwill and cooperation made a difference. India's continued treatment of Pakistan as a most favoured nation has not been reciprocated by Islamabad and it is believed that the report of the SAARC Eminent Persons Group, which recommends imaginative time-bound steps to promote regional economic integration, has been given short shrift by Pakistan, despite the presence of one of its former Foreign Secretaries as part of the group. New Delhi's decision, before the Agra summit, to unilaterally relax visa rules or its decision to open further crossing points on the border have failed or had little effect in the absence of Pakistani reciprocity. Pakistani unwillingness to give visas to Indian artistes, its attempts at blocking Indian television channels, have meant that the hope that there could be a detente from below, a genuine breakthrough because of greater people-to-people contact, too have been dashed.
Ignoring the military regime in Pakistan has always seemed to be an attractive option. For more than a year, after the Kargil war and before the Agra Summit, India passively disregarded Islamabad. There were those within India who were convinced that Pakistan was in such a deep internal crisis that it was best left alone. Economically it was on the verge of collapse, politically it had descended into yet another praetorian phase and socially it was one of the most divided societies in the world.
On paper, this option may have seemed desirable, but in reality it was an option that was unsustainable. It is extremely difficult to ignore Pakistan if Islamabad does not want to be left alone. As long as Pakistan continues its support for militancy and terrorism in Kashmir and other places, and seeks to portray South Asia as a region on the brink of a nuclear war, it will be almost impossible to look the other way.
If both a policy of constructive engagement and passive disregard have failed, so has the policy of military defeat and international pressure. Although it would have been unrealistic to expect General Musharraf, architect of Kargil, to concede that the war of 1999 led to a total humiliation of Pakistan, militarily and diplomatically, it is a fact conceded by a wide range of Pakistani commentators. But the lessons of Kargil have not led to any change in the Pakistani attitude towards India. Indeed, in the past, even the defeat of 1971, and the dismemberment of the country, led to no rupture in Pakistani thinking.
Nor does Pakistan's global isolation, until September 11, its description as a failed state, or persistent international pressure, most memorably reflected in President Clinton's statements during his four-hour stop in Islamabad last year, seem to have forced the guardians of the Pakistan state to change their India policy.
What then are the options open for India? Will the future be different from the past? Very unlikely. In the long term, the only hope is that the Pakistani state and society, through introspection, or other means, will move away from its anti-Indian identity to becoming a country that has come to terms with itself and is able to construct itself in more humane, if not more modern, terms. But in the short term, India will have to live with persistent Pakistani hostility even while it may attempt, in vain if past experience is good evidence, a new cycle of policies, ranging from military action to constructive engagement.

(Source: The Hindu, 24/12/01)

Monday, September 17, 2001

The Kux Of The Matter

The United States And Pakistan, 1947-2000, Disenchanted Allies, Dennis Kux, Woodrow Wilson Center Press, Washington DC
Few relationships in the international arena have been as tempestuous as Pakistan's with the United States. While India's ties with America may have gone the roller-coaster way, Washington's engagement with Islamabad has swung like a pendulum. At times, Pakistan and the US have shared a passionately intense arrangement, with Islamabad virtually reduced to a client state of Washington. On other occasions, the separation has been so deep and wide that the possibility of reconciliation has seemed almost impossible. But then, few relationships have been as unlikely or unequal.
What, one might ask, does an economic and military superpower that views itself as being the paragon of democratic and secular values have in common with a poor third world country built on the ideology of religious separatism and whose commitment to democracy has often existed not even on paper? That, however, is the stuff of international politics. And while the odd Marxist ideologue may still pretend otherwise, nations usually pursue each other not because of a shared attachment to common values, but due to a perceived convergence of strategic interests. And the relationship falls apart once either or both sides feel that continued engagement is no longer in their national interest. This zeitgeist of contemporary international relations encapsulates the turbulent US-Pakistan relationship.
As is inevitable in any unequal relationship, the priorities and strategic calculations that motivated Islamabad and Washington to come together during the cold war years were different. For Islamabad the calculus, while being central to its foreign policy, was a rather simple one. India, and mostly always the belligerent relationship that existed with New Delhi, was the determining factor in its relationship with the outside world. As the weaker state, facing a bigger and militarily superior neighbour, Islamabad cultivated Washington and hoped that diplomatic and military support from the US would enable it to balance New Delhi.
For Washington, Pakistan ranked relatively much lower in priority, but the calculations were more complex. Pakistan was a pawn in its global game to contain the bulwark of Soviet communism, with neighbouring India pursuing what many Americans believed was an 'immoral' policy of non-alignment. For a brief period, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Islamabad almost graduated to being more than just a subaltern in the American grand strategy. Once, however, the cold war was over, Pakistan's importance became marginal, and—in recent assessments—it is its 'nuisance power' rather than its strategic utility that has generally guided American policy towards it.
Ambassador Dennis Kux, who had previously authored the critically-acclaimed study of India-US relations, India and the United States: Estranged Democracies, 1941-1991, has once again produced a masterly account of the US-Pakistan relationship. Comprehensive in scope, tracing events from Pakistan's independence and the initiation of diplomatic relations, to President Clinton's visit to Islamabad in March 2000, Kux's narrative makes for an engrossing and engaging read. Although heavily referenced, and drawing from recently declassified American sources as well as a series of interviews with American and Pakistani policymakers, the book is written, in its easily accessible style, as much for the general reader as for the scholar. Kux has an added advantage since he served in the American embassy in Islamabad in two critical phases, from 1957 to 1959, and again from 1969 to 1971, and was eyewitness to many of the events that led to the blossoming of the relationship.
Kux's account, for instance, of the well-known trip by then National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger, to China in July 1971 makes for compelling reading, despite the wealth of new material that has appeared recently on the subject. According to Kux, President Richard Nixon, who had incidentally won political fame because of his tirade against communism, sought Yahya Khan's help as early as 1969 to help Washington make an opening to China. And once China had responded positively, Kissinger was sent to Beijing via Islamabad. The mission was, however, top secret and once in Islamabad Kissinger pretended to be down with a severe case of 'Delhi belly' which required him to rest for a day or two in the mountain resort of Nathiagali. In reality, he was confabulating with Chinese leaders in Beijing and it was this preparatory trip that enabled Nixon to make his famous visit. Even the author, as Kissinger's control officer in Islamabad, was unaware of the trip until it was made public later by the White House.
Any long-term assessment of bilateral ties must finally focus on popular perceptions and public attitudes. The sad reality is that not only is the US seen as an untrustworthy ally by Pakistan's ruling elite, but, as Kux points out, most Pakistanis believe that the US discarded Islamabad 'like a used Kleenex' after the Afghan war. However, and in this may lie the crux of the problems of Pakistan, the US and much of the international community seem today to be echoing what US secretary of state Dean Rusk wrote after his 1963 trip to South Asia: "Fear, distrust and hatred of India means that we cannot rely on Pakistan to act rationally and in what we think would be its own interests."

(Source: Outlook, 17/09/01)

Friday, February 2, 2001

Salvaging the peace process in Kashmir

IN THE Kashmir of today, every deadline is like a Damocles sword ready to snap the only link with hope and survival. And the next deadline is February 26, the day on which New Delhi's latest extension of the unilateral ceasefire will come to an end. It is clear to even the most casual observer that unless there is a dramatic shift in established postures, and a discernable change in the ground situation, the end of February may mark the demise of one of the bravest attempts to generate a peace process in Jammu and Kashmir.
Over two months ago, the Prime Minister's announcement of a unilateral cessation of combat operations against militants in the State had brought hope and expectation. But today, in the Kashmir Valley particularly, a sense of relief at the extension is being smothered by the recognition that sustainable peace in the State may remain elusive in the foreseeable future.
Fundamentally, it is in the inability to generate a meaningful dialogue between New Delhi and separatist opinion, as represented by the All-Party Hurriyat Conference, that the peace process is floundering, even while Pakistan-sponsored militant outfits continue to spread terror, and especially target pro-Indian constituents within the Kashmiris, in cold contempt of the unilateral ceasefire. Unless, therefore, the peace initiative begins to reveal visible dividends quickly, even the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, will be constrained to call off New Delhi's boldest gesture, in recent years, towards the Kashmiri people.
But has the ceasefire initiative led to any tangible gains? Who, in any case, is to blame for the lack of obvious progress? And can the incipient peace process be prevented from being derailed? Perhaps the biggest achievement of the Ramzan initiative is the widespread acceptance within the State that ceasefire was not a tactical manoeuvre by the Central Government to secure short-term advantage, but rooted in a genuine desire, on part of Mr. Vajpayee at the very least, to bring durable peace to the State. Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister's Musings from Kumarakom have struck the right chord. Indeed, one separatist leader recently went as far as to suggest that no Prime Minister including Nehru had been so bold and forthright in his resolve to settle the problems of Kashmir. And he echoed Mr. Vajpayee's words: ``In our search for a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem, both in its external and internal dimensions, we shall not traverse solely on the beaten track of the past''.
There is also no doubt that the Ramzan initiative has been able to tap, in a substantial measure, the overwhelming sentiment against violence prevailing in the State. There is sufficient evidence today, for instance, to indicate that on at least two related fronts there has been significant progress. First, there is widespread relief in Kashmir at the end of the cordon and search operations that were conducted by the security forces and which unfortunately often led to harassment of ordinary innocent civilians. This relief is slowly but surely translating into a larger peace constituency, and is gradually eroding the powerful anti-Indian sentiment prevalent particularly in the Kashmir Valley.
In recent years, the single biggest source of estrangement of the local population from New Delhi was harassment by security forces, and an end to this routine humiliation has taken away the biggest grouse of the ordinary Kashmiri. What is particularly reassuring is that the Central security forces have, despite tremendous provocations, adhered by and large scrupulously to the ceasefire. The same, however, cannot be said for the local security outfits, particularly the State task force, which - on occasion - seem to have deliberately disregarded the new terms of engagement. However, the Kashmiris are sensitive enough to make a distinction between the Centre's initiative and local forces that may be seeking to disrupt the slow march towards peace.
Second, the ceasefire has also made it possible to clearly identify and isolate those outfits that are continuing to perpetrate violence. And the verdict is clear: barring a few incidents, the two organisations that have demonstrated no sensitivity towards the powerful sentiment for peace are the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. Both organisations are led, manned, financed, trained and controlled by forces in Pakistan and have less than a tenuous link with elements that lie at the very heart of the Pakistani establishment.
Given their suffering over the last decade and their continuing sense of fear and insecurity, it is premature to expect Kashmiris to publicly and openly distance themselves from these organisations. But there are signs that both these outfits are finding it increasingly difficult to obtain logistic and other forms of support from the local population. Indeed, the more these organisations persist with their mission of terror, the greater will be the alienation of Kashmiris from them, and it will eventually open up the possibility of active resistance from Kashmir's still-latent civil society. More important, despite the Lashkar's recent espousal of civic problems in Kashmir, the ideological distance between Kashmiri cultural norms and the Lashkar's obscurantist extremism is so huge that there is virtually no possibility that this Manichean divide can be overcome.
But the ceasfire can, at best, be only a means towards generating a meaningful engagement, in which the main actors have a stake. This has, despite persistent efforts, not happened. It would have been naive to expect Pakistan to cooperate with New Delhi's peace offensive. Nonetheless, the manner in which militant outfits and other agencies in Pakistan have sought to manipulate the composition of the APHC delegation to the country, shown not even the slightest willingness to clamp down on the militants, and escalated the violence against civilians in the Valley, leaves no doubt that Pakistan is deeply insecure about any peace process involving New Delhi and the Kashmiris.
What, however, is tragic is how the APHC is, because of pressure from Pakistan and Pakistan-based militant outfits, not responding in any meaningful manner to the Centre's open offer to enter into an unconditional dialogue, bound not by the limits of the Constitution but, in the Prime Minister's words, within the framework of Insaniyat. Nor have they come out against the continued violence by the Lashkar and the Jaish. A visit to Pakistan to convince militants of the need to reciprocate the ceasefire, or to provide Pakistan with a face saver (which on present evidence it does not seem to interested in), can only be a sideshow.
The real theatre has to be enacted here, in Kashmir and within India, by entering into negotiations with New Delhi. On the contrary, statements by individual leaders seem to suggest that they are not interested in a peaceful resolution of the problems of Kashmir. Most important, if the APHC leaders were sensitive to Kashmiri opinion, they would clarify their
stand on at least three issues: Do they view the continued violence by a few militant outfits as serving political ends of the Kashmiris? Are they free agents of the Kashmiri people, or are they being pressured by forces outside Kashmir? And, finally, do they believe that that Kashmir is a political problem, which can be resolved through a dialogue, or do they consider the troubles in the State to be part of a religious war to be settled through `jehad'? It is important for the APHC leaders to remember that if they want to prevent their political marginalisation, they must not just be more sensitive to the cause of peace through dialogue, but be seen as being pro-active in initiating a process. If this chance for peace is lost, a large share of the blame will fall on the shoulders of this umbrella alliance, and Kashmiri sentiment for one will not easily forgive.
The challenge before New Delhi will become even more acute in the weeks to come. The need is to devise policies that recognise the gains made by the ceasefire, and to advance them, even while preparing to fight the consolidation in militant ranks that has taken place over the last two months. Most important, however, is to put in place policies that are addressed at the Kashmiri people, rather than at specific individuals and groups. In the absence of a dialogue, a unilateral package of economic and political incentives would be the right way to continue the peace process even if the ceasefire has to be terminated.

(Source: The Hindu, 02/02/01)