Sham el-Sheikh in New Delhi.February 28, 2010
The dialogue of the deaf last Thursday had one clear winner, Pakistan, and one comprehensive loser, India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh capitulated again and will live to regret it
Last week India talked to ‘Pakistan’ amid much fanfare and media hype. I say Pakistan within quotes because that country cannot be described as a composite nation-state in the conventional sense. And, on issues relating to India, Pakistan is divided into many segments, at least five. First there is the Army, which controls Pakistan’s political, economic and military destiny whether formally in power or nominally in the barracks. Next is the ISI, the all-encompassing superpower in the Pakistani establishment, which functions as a state within the state. Third is Pakistan’s civilian Govern- ment, an insecure entity that has little popular legitimacy, is powerless against the Army and ISI and hopelessly divided within. The fourth consists of jihadi groups, both overground and underground, including the Pakistan Taliban, armed anti-India terror outfits like LeT, its public face Jamaat-ud-Dawa’h, others like JeM that share the same ideology and methodology, and the Afghan Taliban sheltered and nurtured by ISI. Finally, there is a small, elite civil society comprising well-heeled, English-educated socialites, more comfortable waxing eloquent on Indian TV channels when they are not busy sojourning in London. Each is at loggerheads with the other. They do not fuse into a collective entity except, may be, when Pakistan is at war with India.
Given this reality, what Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao did last Thursday was to talk with the designated representative of one-fifth of Pakistan, namely its civilian Government, the second-most fragile component of the Islamic Republic after its fledgling civil society. No significant outcome was expected and none happened. So, it may well be asked why get agitated over something that predictably did not rise above ‘time pass’?
The Delhi talks may have ended as a non-event but there were disconcerting developments in the run-up while the aftermath too will be no less damaging for India. First, India visibly capitulated for a second time since the grisly 26/11 attack in the face of joint Pakistani and American bullying, the first being the shameful genuflection at Sharm el-Sheikh. There it succumbed to Pakistani bluster by admitting Balochistan in the Joint Statement — a grave blunder that has allowed Islamabad to triumphantly bracket its most disturbed province to counter India’s plea to stop cross-border terror in Jammu & Kashmir.
This time, the brow-beating by Washington was so severe that India scurried to call Islamabad to the table a day after Home Minister P Chidambaram appealed to them to do “something, just something” to progress the 26/11 cases Pakistan has been stonewalling. To add insult to irony, the very day India invited Pakistan to talks, JuD and other assorted terrorists held a rally in the heart of their capital where Abdur Rehman Makki declared that Pakistani farmers were ready to march across the border and “drink India’s blood” if more water was not allowed to flow into their fields.
More water has since flowed down the rivers of Punjab. Apart from Pakistan’s Army chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s cocky remarks against India in New York, its Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi offered a “blank cheque” to China on his visit to Beijing, urging it to become the “third party” and help resolve Indo-Pakistani issues, knowing fullwell how that would irritate New Delhi. As the talks date neared, Hafiz Saeed, mastermind of the mass murders in Mumbai, thundered “Ek Bombay se kya hota hai?” thereby inciting his fanatical killer squads to perpetrate more such acts.
In sum, while we talked to one-fifth of Pakistan, that is its civilian Government, the country’s other components derisively ignored the dialogue — the Army offering to bail out the US from Afghanistan provided India was held in leash by Washington, the jihadis declaring their resolve to intensify the bloodbath, the ISI sheltering and training terrorists to infiltrate across the LoC or strike cities like Pune, and even elements in the civilian Government speaking the language of hate.
Meanwhile India cut a sorry figure, ignored at the Afghan talks in Istanbul, External Affairs Minister SM Krishna made to sit in a second row chair at the London Conference where Pakistani officials strutted around as bridegrooms at a wedding, and rapped on the knuckles by Uncle Sam for hesitating to put out the other cheek for Pakistan to administer another resounding slap. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quite candidly acknowledged on the eve of the Delhi talks that the Obama Administration had “encouraged” India to get back into the dialogue mode with its tormentor.
Anyway, judging by the official Indian briefing last Thursday, both countries reiterated their stated positions face-to-face in Hyderabad House. India handed over three fresh dossiers to Pakistan, something that could well have been mailed by diplomatic bag the same way as the last six were sent post-Mumbai but never acted upon. Pakistan raised Balochistan; we said their concerns were baseless. They made a song and dance over river waters; we said the Indus Water Treaty had stood the test of half a century. We mentioned beheading of Sikhs by Taliban; they said ‘very bad, very bad’. We told them about Ilyas Kashmiri and 17 Indian Mujahideen killers basking in the Pakistani sun; they said they would try to find out if that were true. We pleaded with them to restrain the fire-breathing Hafiz Saeed; they lied, saying their laws did not permit action against his utterances.
From all appearances it was a dialogue of the deaf. But we were, clearly, the losers. That’s because we abandoned a cardinal weapon aptly described by BJP leader Arun Jaitley as the “diplomatic option of not talking to a hostile country”. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir can go back home and credibly assert he stood his ground and managed to add water and Balochistan on the agenda apart from pressing for a “solution” to the Kashmir issue (by which Islamabad means handing over the Valley to them). Bashir also spent last Wednesday evening confabulating with three separatist Kashmiri leaders although he was frustrated by their insistence on meeting him separately, presumably to run down one another and seek enhanced funding for their respective outfits. Their Foreign Minister can now feel vindicated; he claimed last fortnight Pakistan had succeeded in dragging a whimpering India to the negotiating table.
Watching from the sidelines, the entire drama that played out seemed surreal. It was like a neighbour walking into your house saying ‘You have a lovely lawn. Give it to me.’ You refuse. He slaps you hard and keeps assaulting or insulting you endlessly. Finally, you get so scared you invite him over for tea. He walks in, reiterates his claim and adds a few more items to his wish-list. He has, meanwhile, mobilised the local dada who stands guard, intimidating you further. Obviously you can’t accept the preposterous demands. So he slaps you again and walks out threatening more violence. You cower into a corner, tremulously awaiting the next assault!