Policy or Sycophancy?
Seema Mustafa, The Frontpage, 22 July 2009
This time with Pakistan he again managed what even his own colleagues would have conceded as ‘impossible’ before the Prime Minister departed for the non aligned summit at Shrm el Sheikh. The highlight of the visit remained the meeting with Gilani, known in Pakistan as an ISI/Army leader and sent there instead of President Asif Ali Zardari to negotiate a hard agreement. Gilani, or should one say the US, succeeded in persuading Singh and his advisors to sign the dotted line on a joint statement that one, establishes both India and Pakistan to be victims of terrorism; two, makes it clear that India will be happy with progress on the Mumbai terror attack and makes no mention of the old stand of dismantling the terror infrastructure; three, formalized the exchange of ‘real time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats’; and four, recognized Pakistani claims for the first time in 60 years of Indian involvement in Balochistan.
Prime Minister Singh knows, as well as the US, that there is no opposition worth its name in India, and after a walk out in Parliament at best, the opposition leaders will settle down to ‘acceptance.’ This is exactly what happened. The regional parties had nothing to say, the Left stayed quiet, the BJP raised the issue in Parliament and walked out in protest. Singh went on the record to state the old positions of the government, saying there would be no progress until and unless Pakistan delivered on terrorism. It was almost as if the joint statement existed, just as last year he had managed to make it appear that the Hyde Act too was a useless document, and that his word in Parliament would supercede the agreements being signed on nuclear cooperation between Washington and New Delhi.
It is known to everyone with the slightest interest in foreign policy that the joint statement with Pakistan was to please the US on the eve of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Delhi. As for talks, these have already started. After what were Singh and Gilani doing in Egypt: talking right? And they will talk again on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly at New York in September. The foreign secretaries have been authorized to talk as and when they feel like it, so again Prime Minister Singh sought to camouflage the real import of the agreement with his remarks in Parliament.
This is not to say that India and Pakistan should not talk. They should, but dialogue should follow considered policy and not whims dictated by US policy. Without thought out policy the talks can only undermine India’s interests, and as the joint statement has clearly shown bring in factors like Balochistan that are extraneous and will only lead to complications in the long run. As it is Pakistan television channels have started focusing on this, and in one swift move Gilani and the Pakistan army, endorsed by India have established: one, that the Baloch struggle is not indigenous but fuelled by Indian intelligence agencies; two, justified the murder of leaders like Bugti; and three, legitimized Pakistan propaganda about Baluchistan and the struggles of its people. This is highly unfortunate, from the point of view of both sides as it has already given a handle to the Pakistan establishment to dismiss the Baloch struggle as Indian sponsored.
The one positive development, if it sustains itself, is that Prime Minister Singh has finally recognized that India’s interest lies in “a stable, democratic, Islamic Republic of India.” If this is indeed what he believes, then it could settle the long debate within the strategic establishment whether India will gain from a broken Pakistan, or a stable Pakistan. Having said this, it is also true that peace cannot come through a policy that has not been thought out, as both India and Pakistan will find it very difficult to sustain a dialogue that is not backed by consensus. Prime Minister Singh might take advantage of the general ignorance of the political opposition but the fact remains that in signing this statement with Gilani he has seriously hurt the strategic soul of India. And he has committed himself to promises that he will not be able to keep if there is another terror attack here such as not linking dialogue with action on terrorism, a demand that halted the peace process for several months.
Much is being made of by the government here about the missing ‘K-word.” But there is no need to mention this as Singh has said in the joint statement that “India was ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues.” Every child knows that Kashmir is a major outstanding issue, and if anyone was in doubt Gilani clarified this shortly after his arrival at Sharm el Sheikh. There was no need to mention it in the statement, more so as the government here then could inform the ignorant opposition and sections of the media that it had scored a big brownie point with this exclusion!
Pakistani leaders had maintained that the talks would be resumed after the elections, and although this led to howls of protest from New Delhi, they appear now to have been right. Singh has not wasted time in getting the dialogue going, without any real change on the ground. In that Pakistan has held its ground, in that it has been consistent in condemning the Mumbai attack and offering to track down the perpetrators. As for Hafiz Saeed, and his arrest and subsequent release that led to further Indian protests, Pakistan has not changed its position here as well. So what has happened since the elections and today for Prime Minister Singh to change his mind? Nothing, except the visit of Hillary Clinton.