Kashmir not for talks

By Sanjay Jha

(As Published in The Sunday Pioneer on Sunday, August 8th 2010)

Will China hold talks with anyone on the future of Tibet? Has Pakistan ever involved India on the issue of Baluchistan insurgency? So, why should New Delhi engage Islamabad on Kashmir? K-word should be non-negotiable for us

As I drove past the seedy-looking dilapidated single-screen Edward Theatre near Princess Street, Mumbai, the irony was not lost on me. It was playing the classic romantic film, Kashmir Ki Kali, even as India remembered the fallen martyrs of the Kargil war valiantly fought 11 years ago.

The India-Pakistan bilateral relationship has been mired in a complex, intractable web since 1947. But despite the woebegone progress in 63 years (please ignore those celebrated cricket matches, frequent photo-ops in international summits, fanfare-ridden bus rides and numerous cosmetic gestures) and three hostile wars later, both countries continue the same ham-handed, appalling job in bridging the cavernous divide.

As India and Pakistan take a deserved hiatus after the Islamabad altercation, it is time to introspect and do some soul-searching. And plain speaking.

The Islamabad Fiasco

The rigorous examination of the ill-fated press conference of External Affairs Minister SM Krishna and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi in Islamabad is singularly unwarranted. It was a sure-shot misadventure from the word go. No doubt, public opinion matters and nervous politicians are justifiably worried about people’s perceptions, but media management cannot overtake subtle nuances of managing serious diplomatic equations. What was the compelling urgency to have a press conference, when a simple well-drafted joint statement expressing good intentions would have sufficed? Which strategic analyst expected a miraculous “breakthrough” anyway? It was pure tactlessness especially when you know you are treading on treacherous ice.

Qureshi is not necessarily the personification of nastiness, but he sure possesses the charisma of a flat tyre. Frankly, Qureshi needs intense media lab sessions as he fails to realise that body language is three-fourths of an effective communication, particularly in a Truman Show’s world. Also, in these bilateral media interactions there is humongous competitive pressure to score brownie points over each other, as if it is a quasi-presidential debate. Media cursorily evaluates: “Who won?” Qureshi’s irrational exuberance ensured that both Krishna and he lost.

India scores brownie points for engaging in diplomatic dialogue with a recalcitrant neighbour despite the wishy-washy handling of 26/11. The despiteful masterminds of that orchestrated attack today live in Pakistan. The Mumbai attack was not just a sporadic terrorist assault by a handful of misled, malevolent young men wearing backpacks on a suicidal mission, but a planned attempt by splinter terror outfits to wage a proxy war against India. David Coleman Headley’s testimony of the ISI’s involvement is a trenchant indictment of Pakistan’s tacit institutional abetment of that attack.

Changing Tactics

Global terrorism is the new, modern warfare replacing cross-border conflicts of the World War II kind. Now deadly killers destroy civilian lives and predetermined sensitive targets in a guerrilla operation. There are no UN sanctions, no international condemnation either. But a wounded India needs to emphatically tell the world that despite frequent provocations it has resisted the mounting urge to counter-attack.

India has not been able to successfully ostracise Pakistan by building a strong international lobby, essential to keep Islamabad under constant surveillance. The 26/11 attack was promptly repositioned by the much underrated President Asif Ali Zardari as an act of “non-state actors”, an ambiguous term wrapped in a fuzzy foil. Non-state actors have given Pakistan a convenient pretext to walk away scot-free from both the moral and criminal responsibility it otherwise would have faced. In fact, it unwittingly legitimises cross-border terrorism. Quintessentially, Zardari insinuates that if another 26/11 happens, so be it.

But why should India pay such a mammoth price for Pakistan’s internal challenges? And in any case, how can Islamabad thereafter put up such a ludicrous pretension that it needs conclusive evidence despite being presented several dossiers? Perhaps Pakistan’s cocky demeanor emerges from its peculiar stranglehold over the world’s sole surviving superpower, the blundering United States. But then that’s another story altogether.

The External Affairs portfolio needs a savvy sangfroid politician with deft negotiation skills, not an old party faithful awaiting political resuscitation. Is Krishna the right man for the job? He was resurrected from semi-retirement and offered a high-profile sensitive portfolio despite the delicate geopolitical challenges confronting India. It is one thing to manage Reddy brothers and Silicon Valley investors but altogether another to handle artful, seasoned and even crafty adversaries from across the border. Krishna will need to buck up quick as he could be to the UPA II what Shivraj Patil was to the UPA I.

A Soft State

It is time we stopped living in denial, in a land of dazzling illusions. Pakistan is pathologically obsessed with Kashmir, and three decisive war defeats have not waned its contumacious intent to sustain its vigorous territorial aggression. Maybe the creation of Bangladesh also hurts deeply. Hence, beneath that rehearsed feel-good pretence lies a disgruntled adversary in permanent sulk. That concealed antagonism frequently takes vicious forms, like periodic Kashmir infiltration, a Kargil and casual decontrol of non-state actors. It is the latter that Pakistan knows can create havoc in India’s essentially tranquil existence.

In India, it is an effortless task to create complete maelstrom, hence the spasmodic terrorist attacks to remind us of our unchanging vulnerability. Our intelligence systems and disaster preparedness are riddled with bureaucratic inefficiencies. This is sadly enough not a state secret. I believe it is this undeniable susceptibility that makes India a soft state, and invariably forces us into the dialogue table. India needs to replicate the Israeli security model, no matter how Herculean the task of defence readiness may be.

We desperately need a Minister of Internal Security. It is futile to stick to the flimsy pretext that terrorists can strike anywhere, anytime. I agree they can. But should modern India live in constant fear of lurking death? I think our canny neighbours know that very well. It creates a lopsided advantage if your belligerent opponent knows how unguarded is your backyard. It finally impacts diplomatic negotiations.

J&K Non-Negotiable

Despite handling Jammu & Kashmir for over six decades we have steadfastly refused to loudly proclaim the obvious: Kashmir is non-negotiable. A lot of water has passed since that October incursion of 1947. It’s time India cut out the politic pussyfooting on Kashmir, and stated: Let’s have great bilateral relations, but there will be no talks if Kashmir is brought into the fore.

Territorial disputes are usually convoluted, long-lasting stumbling blocks unless there is visionary leadership on both sides. India and Pakistan are spending exorbitant resources in defence expenditure they can ill-afford. The much-touted ploy of assuaging domestic vote-banks reveals a myopic vision, determined by short-term political expediencies. That is why the Israel-Palestine dispute also remains an interminable problem.

The most bizarre aspect is Pakistan’s allegation of Indian human rights violations in Kashmir. India’s retort should be obvious: Yes, there have been occasional indiscretions, but if Pakistan were to stop its flagrant terrorist incursions into our territories India would gladly withdraw/reduce its security forces, and then even the random assault would dramatically drop.

Learn from China

In 1947, India was a poor country just overcoming the nightmare of foreign subjugation. Six decades later, we are no longer a bankrupt nation going around with a begging bowl. In 2010, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was the first foreign head of state invited to the White House by US President Barack Obama. They also confabulate in G-20 Summits. India is a gigantic trillion-dollar economy, the emerging labour-supply chain of global manufacturers and service companies and along with China, the biggest consumer market of the future. But we must convert our great commercial base into measurable political gains. It is time for realpolitik.

India is a country that intrinsically does not know how to “market itself”. Our lobbying skills are pedestrian, our confidence in building alliances woefully lacking in diplomatic finesse and skilful stratagem. We are constantly “catching up”. By contrast, China uses a judicious mix of its military prowess and gargantuan economic size to extraordinary advantage.

As for Kashmir, what can the impressionable Kashmiri youth do if they are not gainfully employed and looking forward to a secure future with bright sanguine expectations? What are India’s leading political parties doing to create livelihood options? That should be our national agenda.

Kashmir also needs to benefit from India’s cultural diversity, as it is excessively cocooned in a security maze. Why can’t we truly make Kashmir the Switzerland of the East, a tourist haven like no other? It is a Catch-22 situation. Unless the security climate improves, Kashmir will suffer from the fear psychosis it emanates and the consequent forced isolation. On the flip side, we only deny Kashmir its full economic potential by delaying its inevitable integration into India which in turn can neutralise militancy by nipping its growth in the bud. Why can’t India’s global software majors be encouraged to set up their growing businesses in Srinagar? A big push from all stakeholders is the need of the hour.

Secularism Works

Despite a few serious setbacks, India should be proud of its secular credentials. We are home to 10.3 per cent of the world’s Muslim population. Of our 138 million Muslims in India, only about five per cent live in Jammu & Kashmir. It is grossly unfair to believe that the Indian political establishment treats 95 per cent of Indian Muslims with kid gloves and those in the Valley with a rough iron rod.

We cannot be seen as a ruthless military regime suppressing dissidents, reminiscent of Eastern Europe in the Cold War era, every time there is stone-pelting in Srinagar. It is impracticable to believe that Kashmir will not have disaffected elements attempting intimidation. Stray incidents of violence take place in every city and town. The Valley cannot be equated with the West Bank and Gaza Strip because of its scattered incidents. In Kashmir every minor instance is hurriedly escalated to alarming levels, drawing international coverage and giving Pakistani intransigence a kick-start. Sure, local police need to gradually replace military presence and human rights violations need to be promptly addressed. It will be naïve to expect 100 per cent normalcy in the Valley. That is being both optimistic and immature. We need to give Kashmir some breathing space, and we will get better results.

Diplomacy vs Politics

The truth is that Home Secretary GK Pillai’s statements on the ISI’s role in 26/11 was factually correct and publicly known, so how is its “timing” at all germane? Krishna’s open rebuking of Pillai is a manifestation of how India lives in some strange state of renunciation of realities. Pillai committed no diplomatic gaffe, only Qureshi masterfully politicised it. Qureshi forgot that diplomacy is the art of jumping into troubled waters without creating a splash. The ripples are still being felt.

I now enter a hitherto forbidden zone, the sacrosanct territory (literally) of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Both India and Pakistan have actually arrived at a convenient status quo of sorts but are unwilling to publicly acknowledge it as they apprehend a domestic backlash. PoK remains an unofficial line of control despite its “illegal status”. But for heaven’s sake, aren’t Pakistanis holding elections in that disputed zone for decades? Who are we fooling? In effect, India believes that it is making a significant territorial concession to Pakistan (a quid pro quo for the remaining Jammu & Kashmir) by letting the ceasefire line become the new border, virtually ensuring PoK a reality. It is time Pakistan reciprocated by accepting the inevitable — that the rest of Jammu & Kashmir is rightfully Indian — and keeps a distance from Srinagar.

Willy-nilly, political leadership in both countries will have to pass the litmus test on this; the delay is costing a humongous resource-drain in both nations.

The Way Forward

The politicians on both sides who spew virulence and pseudo-nationalism need to realise that they represent the common man on the streets of Karachi and Kanyakumari, Rawalpindi and Ranchi. I believe that neither a Pakistani nor an Indian really hate each other. Given a choice, they would love to move on.

The two countries can take a cue from two fairly unheralded tennis players — Aisam Qureshi of Pakistan and Rohan Bopanna of India. They are a wonderful doubles combination, partners in one of the most competitive sports in the world. They play together as a team and travel from one city to another, even as their political leaders continue to squabble. Neither come from countries that have good tennis playing facilities. And yet they have won titles in the ATP tennis circuit and even entered the Wimbledon quarter-finals this year, not for once allowing the inimical relations between their nations to derail their friendship, partnership and faith in each other.

Therein lies a story. Of hope. Of opportunity. Of possibility. Of a tomorrow.

Futile engagement:

India suspends composite dialogue with Pakistan after the November 2008 Mumbai attack. Tensions run high for months, but the UPA Government gradually agrees to hold talks with Islamabad.

Six months after 26/11, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari meet on the sidelines of a regional summit in Russia on June 6, 2009. Singh tells Zardari he has come with a “limited mandate of how Pakistan can deliver on its assurances that its territory would not be used for terror attacks on India”.

On July 16, 2009, Singh meets Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. A joint statement de-linking Islamabad’s action on terror to resumption of dialogue and reference to terrorism in Baluchistan kicks up a storm in New Delhi, thus ensuring no improvement in relations.

Pakistan Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir meets Indian counterpart Nirupama Rao in New Delhi on February 25, 2010. Both sides promise to “stay in touch”, but Bashir defends Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chief Saeed Hafiz. No wonder
chill remains.

India-Pakistan talks taste success in Bhutan on April 29, 2010 on the sidelines of the Saarc summit. Foreign Ministers are asked to work on modalities to restore trust and confidence.

Foreign Secretaries of the two countries meet in Islamabad on June 24, 2010. Home Minister P Chidambaram visits Pakistan to meet Interior Minister Rehman Malik the next day. Chidambaram emphasises India had no role in Baluchistan and says Pakistan must back its intent to act against terror with real action.

SM Krishna goes to Pakistan for July 15 meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi. He says he would like to see action taken on LeT terrorist David Headley’s evidence on Pakistan links to 26/11. Pakistan insists on resuming dialogue on Kashmir without specific action on terrorism. Talks end amid acrimony.

Shah Mehmood Qureshi is due to visit India in December 2010

One comment

  1. I am going to have to be utterly blunt here……So much verbiage … and no concrete recommendation for action. Typical Kaangresi mentality. Haven’t you guys screwed up this country enough in the last 60-odd years? Will you never learn?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s