New Age Islam Edit Bureau
25 August 2015
India and the Hidden Hand
By Praveen Swami
Losing the Plot on India-Pakistan Ties?
By Rakesh Sood
And The Hawks Have It
By Khaled Ahmed
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Bonding With Her Boudi
By Vivek Shukla
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
August 24, 2015
Late in the autumn of 2002, as Pakistan’s military emerged from a bruising 10-month standoff with India, Brigadier Muhammad Zia was among a small group of officers tasked with rethinking how an increasingly powerful adversary could be contained. “India is highly volatile on its internal front,” he wrote, “due to numerous vulnerabilities, which, if agitated, could yield results out of proportion to the efforts put in”. Faultlines in Kashmir, the Northeast and Punjab, he suggested, could be employed as an “offensive option against India”. Last week’s implosion of national security advisor-level talks has demonstrated that there is indeed a hidden hand that guides India-Pakistan engagement — the hand of the generals. Published in The Green Book, a collection of essays that, as scholar C. Christine Fair puts it, allows us to listen in to the Pakistan army talking to itself, Zia’s essay and others published with it offer us important insights into how the country’s generals see their strategic situation. The collapse of the talks, clearly, had something to do with Delhi’s petulant insistence that there be no meeting with Kashmiri secessionists. It also had something to do with Islamabad’s efforts to drag Kashmir into the negotiations through the back door. However, it had far more to do with a core dynamic in Pakistan’s politics; with an army for which the jihad against India is, as scholar-diplomat Husain Haqqani puts it, “an existential imperative”. Indian policymakers have battered their heads against this stark fact for two generations now — and it will confront Prime Minister Narendra Modi, irrespective of the course his Pakistan policy takes now. To illustrate the problem, it is worth revisiting 2008, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s search for detente was in full flower, and peace seemed destined to break out. “India has never been a threat to Pakistan”, then President Asif Ali Zardari told the Wall Street Journal in his midtown Manhattan suite, “I, for one, and our democratic government is not scared of Indian influence abroad”. Yet, as we now know from investigations, Ajmal Kasab and nine other Lashkar-e-Toiba terrorists were at exactly that time making their preparations for 26/11. This is part of a pattern. In February 1999, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee signed the Lahore Declaration, committing both countries “to implementing the Simla Agreement in letter and spirit”. Even as the Lahore agreement was being drafted, Pakistani troops were being trained to push their way across the Line of Control. For those seeking further historical evidence, there’s no shortage of examples: Pakistan talked peace on the eve of the 1965 war, and flatly denied its now well-documented sponsorship of irregulars who fought in 1947-48. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani’s subversion of the 2008 peace process, though, wasn’t some kind of mindless perfidy. Faced with an insurgency that threatened to overwhelm the Pakistani state, he saw anti-India jihadists, as well as political Islamists, as valuable allies. General Pervez Musharraf’s historic rupture with these groups had ended up stripping the Pakistan army of legitimacy. The obstacle to the resolution of this problem is that India and Pakistan seek very different things from dialogue — and can’t agree on a fair price for what they seek. India sees talks as an instrument to secure stabilisation; that is, to push Pakistan to ensure an end to terrorism and border tensions. It isn’t, however, willing to make the kinds of political concessions that Islamabad wants on Kashmir. Islamabad, conversely, needs the support of anti-India jihadists — and believes that Delhi should make concessions on Kashmir in return for them being reined-in. Ever since Modi took power last year, Pakistan has demanded negotiations, seeing them as a cushion against possible Indian strikes in the face of a major terrorist attack. Large swathes of its troops tied down in counter-insurgency duties, the Pakistan army would be hard pressed to resist even a limited Indian push in areas like Kashmir’s Neelam Valley. Though Pakistan often threatens nuclear reprisal, it knows it would be hard pressed to deliver on this threat in all but the most catastrophic scenarios, for the simple reason that annihilation would follow in short order. The truth is nuclear-armed adversaries have engaged in small conventional wars: China and Russia clashed on the Ussuri river in the 1950s, and India and Pakistan themselves in 1999. In Ufa, Modi essentially agreed to give Pakistan the cushion it sought — but only if the dialogue excluded the wider political problems in the relationship, like Kashmir. The Ufa joint statement spoke only of “a meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism”, as well as early contacts between the chiefs of the border security forces. This halfway house, however, collapsed in the face of pressures on the Pakistan army, as well as government, from Islamists hostile to peace with India — a force both need to ensure their struggle against anti-Pakistan jihadists has ideological legitimacy. It makes sense, now, for the Pakistan army to test Modi’s resolve. It will, more likely than not, escalate tensions on the LoC — hitting India’s border-fencing repair work in the spring of 2016, leaving Kashmir more vulnerable to infiltration. Terror strikes, of the kind seen in Gurdaspur and Udhampur, will likely be more frequent. Modi will then need to speak to the hidden hand in a language it understands, but his options aren’t good. Even though a limited war would have high costs for Pakistan, a crisis would frighten away the investors he needs to realise his economic vision. Firing across the LoC has been demonstrated not to deter the Pakistan army. Targeting jihadist leaders across the LoC is an option, but India just doesn’t have the capacities for it at present. For years now, India-Pakistan engagement has had little but cliché to guide its course: “no talks with terror”, “core issue”, “uninterrupted and uninterruptible”. This is time to pause and reflect. There are many paths ahead — and at least some of them, after all, lead straight to perdition. firstname.lastname@example.org
Losing the Plot On India-Pakistan Ties?
August 25, 2015
A diplomatic engagement requires a common script, more so the complex India-Pakistan relationship. Somewhere along the way, from Ufa to the cancelled talks in Delhi, it was clear that the plot was lost sight of and the management of the process was reduced to a rhetorical tit for tat
The non-event of talks between the National Securtiy Advisors (NSA) of India and Pakistan, Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz, has generated a fair amount of heat but does it also throw any light on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s policy towards Pakistan? Crafting a credible Pakistan policy has been a challenge for every Indian Prime Minister since Independence, and each one of them, from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru onwards, has tried to put his or her own personal stamp on it. Yet, it remains a complex relationship, saddled with the bitter legacy of Partition and four inconclusive wars, and mired in hostility which tends to flare up from time to time.
Mr. Modi is a strong and decisive leader backed by a solid majority in Parliament. He got off to a flying start with his “neighbourhood diplomacy” initiative inviting all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) leaders to his swearing-in ceremony last May. Talks with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif opened the way for a meeting between the Foreign Secretaries to work out terms for a dialogue which had been stalled for over two years. However, in August 2014, the talks were called off after the Pakistan High Commissioner decided to go ahead with a much publicised meeting with the Hurriyat leaders. Meetings between Hurriyat leaders and Pakistani officials were hardly a new development, but clearly, the Modi government was marking a new red line for talks. The public manner in which the ultimatum was delivered to Pakistan left many wondering whether there had been a change of position on New Delhi’s part or whether it was merely ineptness. The cancellation of talks was followed by an intensification of firing incidents along the Line of Control (LoC), with India adopting a muscular retaliatory posture. Both Mr. Modi and Mr. Sharif were in Kathmandu for the SAARC summit in November 2014 but registered no progress regarding resumption of talks.
Ufa and its aftermath
Months later, in the run-up to the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit meetings in Ufa in July, the Indian side sought a bilateral meeting. There had been signals that a policy review was underway — the message at the time of the Peshawar school massacre, Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar’s visit to Islamabad and release of fishermen. Pakistan responded positively to the idea of a meeting between the Prime Ministers and by all accounts, it was a constructive dialogue. A crisp Joint Statement emerged and one of the outcomes was the scheduling of the meeting between the two NSAs; other decisions included meetings between the chiefs of the Border Security Force and Pakistan Rangers and Directors General of Military Operations; releasing fishermen in each other’s custody; facilitating religious tourism; and an agreement to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai trial. The cancellation of the NSA-level talks has been accompanied by acrimonious exchanges leaving the future of other meetings uncertain.
At Ufa, the media was effectively managed, but thereafter, the atmospherics deteriorated. To tackle some hard line critics who are ideologically opposed to talks, a narrative was put out that at Ufa, India had successfully changed the terms of the talks. The careful diplomatic phraseology which held the statement together collapsed under the onslaught of the TV talk show gladiators. Debating points were scored about the fact that Kashmir was not mentioned, forcing Pakistan to clarify that it was implicit in the phrase, “all outstanding issues”. Both sides sought to claim victory, even before the NSA talks got underway. No visible effort was made to lower the pitch and after Mr. Aziz held his press conference in Islamabad on July 13, it was clear that Pakistan was uncomfortable and needed to reassert that there had been no dilution in its stand.
Disagreement on the agenda for the talks was now becoming apparent and only exposed the fault lines. Details of dossiers being prepared by both sides to be handed over to the other side were leaked. Pakistan took three weeks to confirm the dates proposed by the Indian side, fuelling speculation. Meanwhile, the media continued to drive up expectations on both sides and eventually ended up determining the outcome. Some banked on the hope that the talks would take place because neither side wanted to be blamed for being the spoiler. But the process was too fragile and after back-to-back press conferences by Mr. Aziz in Islamabad and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Delhi a day prior to the visit, the die was cast.
Both sides accused each other of moving away from the terms of the dialogue set out in the Ufa joint statement. Ms. Swaraj emphasised that the Ufa joint statement mandated the NSAs to only discuss “all issues related to terrorism”, and second, that a meeting between Mr. Aziz and the Hurriyat leaders amounted to introducing a third party into the bilateral dialogue, which was contrary to the spirit of the Shimla Agreement. Accordingly, talks between the two NSAs could only go forward provided Pakistan gave an assurance on these two counts. Mr. Aziz pointed out that the Ufa statement also contained a willingness to discuss “all outstanding issues”, implying Kashmir, and advising against a meeting with Hurriyat leaders amounted to laying down preconditions which were unacceptable.
The fallout was that a diplomatic engagement was converted into an ‘us versus them’ battleground. The battleground outcome is a zero sum game with one side winning and the other losing. A successful diplomatic outcome is qualitatively different where both sides need to be satisfied with the outcome; it has to be a win-win situation. Second, a diplomatic engagement requires a common script whereas on a battle ground, conflicting narratives seek dominance. Trying to score points publicly easily becomes a blame game and the win-lose result becomes a lose-lose outcome. Somewhere along the way from Ufa to the talks in Delhi, it was clear that the plot was lost sight of and the management of the process was reduced to a rhetorical tit for tat.
Defining policy and managing tactics
For nearly a quarter of a century, some form of dialogue with Pakistan has been pursued by various governments, both officially and through back channels. There have been ups and downs but the underlying conviction has been that India should manage its relations with Pakistan so that Pakistan’s hostility does not become an unwanted distraction. Since an all out conflict is ruled out, leverages to influence Pakistan’s behaviour have to be found through dialogue and engagement so that suitable messages can be conveyed and understood. Linked to this realisation is the conviction that the more successful India is in managing this troubled relationship, the more diplomatic space it provides us for pursuing our relations with other countries in our neighbourhood and beyond. Engaging in tit-for-tat hostility and rhetoric with Pakistan diminishes India’s standing and attracts unwelcome and gratuitous suggestions of third parties who are often prone to raising the notion of a nuclear flashpoint. The focus on confidence building measures and communication links, particularly after 1998 (following the nulcear tests), was undertaken with this clear purpose in mind. Admittedly, it has not been smooth sailing but when it has worked, it has made the LoC peaceful, increased India’s diplomatic leverage and also given political space to deal with the domestic aspects of the Kashmir issue.
This broad policy bears the individual imprints of each of the Prime Ministers — P.V. Narasimha Rao, I.K. Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh — but also reflects a degree of consistency. It does not anticipate any breakthroughs with Pakistan but acknowledges that there are elements in Pakistan’s decision-making circles that would seek to sustain a hostile relationship with India. As long as these elements remain influential, a normal state to state relationship will elude us. Pakistan’s internal politics will need to change before these elements can be neutralised. In a democratic India while there is consensus on the need to have normal and peaceful relations with Pakistan, there is also a strong sentiment that Pakistan’s support to terrorism against India prevents normalisation. A dialogue should therefore be considered not an outcome but only a process. The process will take a long time to yield conclusive results but meanwhile it also expands the range of options in our political tool kit thereby increasing India’s leverage.
There is a sentiment being voiced in Delhi that the cancellation of talks has been a setback for our anti-terror agenda. An opportunity to highlight our concerns regarding the presence of Dawood Ibrahim and other fugitives currently in Pakistan as well as recent terror strikes in Gurdaspur and Udhampur has been lost. When these incidents took place, we described them as provocations intended to scuttle the talks. Meanwhile, 91 incidents of ceasefire violations have been reported during the last five weeks. Resorting to retaliation can be a temporary response but hardly a decisive option. The Hurriyat has certainly received more media attention in recent weeks with their detention and release than was the case in recent years and this is not helpful for the political agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Peoples Democratic Party government in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
All this leads to certain inevitable questions. Is this the outcome that Mr. Modi wanted? Can dialogue with Pakistan be resumed? Will relations with Pakistan deteriorate in coming months? And if so, can this slide be managed without a dialogue? Under the circumstances, can he still visit Pakistan in 2016 for the SAARC summit, as committed in the Ufa statement? Did India lose an opportunity to confront Pakistan on the issue of terrorism? Does brinkmanship with Pakistan serve India’s interests? Or did events spin out of control, generating expectations which could not be realised? These are not easy questions but will need to be addressed if Mr. Modi has to put his personal stamp on a Pakistan policy that is both coherent and credible.
Rakesh Sood is a former diplomat who was engaged with India-Pakistan talks during 1990-99. E-mail: email@example.com)
The August 23-24 meeting between the national security advisors of India and Pakistan, Ajit Doval and Sartaj Aziz respectively, had to be cancelled after Islamabad and New Delhi exchanged challenging statements on why it couldn’t be held. India said Aziz couldn’t meet the Hurriyat leaders from India-administered Kashmir before meeting with his counterpart, implying that the meeting would somehow undermine India’s position on Kashmir. Pakistan couldn’t do without meeting the Hurriyat leaders, although one has seen that happen without affecting the bilateral dialogue at whatever level. An empty gesture of the past has suddenly taken on significance. Precedents hurt when you want to change the game. There was an earlier, top-level India-Pakistan meeting in Ufa, Russia, which had set the tone for what happened to the NSA-level meeting that was suggested by Delhi after it cancelled an earlier meeting. Retired military officers hogging Pakistan TV discussions on Islamabad’s India policy lost their cool on the way Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had met his Indian counterpart in Ufa. Already tense from what the Indian army was doing on the Line of Control and the regular boundary, the audience swallowed the opinion that India was in a rejectionist mode, firming up PM Narendra Modi’s standing with an angry anti-India public opinion. The media fed on it and Nawaz Sharif was hauled over coals even for the kind of joint statement issued after Ufa. “Kashmir was not mentioned” took the field in Pakistan, and everyone who could go on TV to blow his top over it, did so. The Ufa statement had mentioned bilateral issues in general, but terrorism was highlighted in what India then started calling the “operative part”. Nawaz Sharif had made a gesture to Modi in the statement that was generally interpreted negatively back home except by a few who understood the spirit behind it. One hoped that Delhi would grasp the gesture and be mollified, even given the roster of complaints nursed by Modi’s rank and file with an eye to Doordarshan debates. Predictably, Delhi ignored the gesture of a beleaguered PM based on the Indian wisdom that if the army is in control, why have any truck with an elected leader clearly wanting to be soft. But in the India-Pakistan arena, people are more interested in showing muscle than even obliquely considering peace. Nawaz Sharif had counted on Delhi appreciating his “incremental”, flexible approach to India, without looking capitulatory at home. But it didn’t work either with India or at home. His handshake with Modi on the latter’s investiture didn’t go down well with public opinion, already in a warlike crouch after hearing about Indian shelling across the border killing two-three civilians every time. (Indians, too, have to react to news of cross-border terrorist penetrations from Pakistan, rendering the situation confusing to the outside world.) Add to that the action taken by Indian troops against protesting Kashmiris in Srinagar on a daily basis, and you have Muslims in Pakistan unrealistically bristling with nuclear-tipped jihad. The post-Ufa situation was tempting. India had cut itself off from past practice, disallowing the Pakistan delegation’s meeting with the Hurriyat leaders and it didn’t want to let go of it. Pakistan couldn’t let go either of a meaningless decades-old ritual that had yielded no dividends except a hardening of attitudes in an Indian establishment that told the world Kashmir was troubled because the Hurriyat was propped up by Pakistan through all kinds of assistance, including cross-border violations. It was media murder. Many opinion-makers who can’t resist appearing on TV rang me to ask why Pakistan is obsessive about Kashmir when no one in the world wants it to go to Pakistan, even if conscious of what India is doing to the Muslims there. They were faced with the same kind of situation as Nawaz Sharif — sick of having to carry the baggage of Kashmir, while he actually wants to do business with an Indian counterpart he had heard wanted to put business and trade on the front-burner. It was unpleasant to see the discussions on TV as some anchors tried to suck up to the hawks by proposing all sorts of punishments for the “renegade” PM. So, Aziz ended up making the ultimate show-stopping reference to Pakistan’s bomb, winning an approving nod from A.Q. Khan. India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made political capital out of interpreting the Ufa statement as disallowing Pakistan to pronounce the word Kashmir and meet Hurriyat leaders “before” the NSA-level meeting. She meant Pakistan was supposed to discuss terrorism only, ignoring the fact that Kashmir was strictly a part of the comprehensive bilateral dialogue that has been taking place off and on without getting anywhere, but which was the big fig leaf that allowed the two enemy states to unobtrusively embark on the normalisation of relations through trade and overland routes not opposed by any of Pakistan’s “external friends”. The NSA-level meeting was a precursor to that bilateral process which the world would have approved and the quarters inside Pakistan opposed to it could have done nothing about. The Congress coalition could not talk because it was weak; the BJP cannot talk because it is too strong. All the cards on terrorism were with Delhi. The entire world is with India on terrorism, including most of Pakistan, which wants its army to finish off the non-state actors who indulge in terrorism, knowing full well that some of these actors are self-produced. The Pakistan Peoples Party government wanted to lean on India to get things right in Pakistan. The Muslim League thought it would do the same. It didn’t know that it would be kicked from the wrong quarters. It probably relied too much on the precedent established by an earlier Indian PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’
24 August 2015
There’s a saying that a friend in need is a friend indeed. In the hour of grief for President Pranab Mukherjee, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to attend the last rites of his wife, Suvra Mukherjee. She considered her as her boudi. Boudi is a term used for bhabhi in Bengal.
Both Ms Hasina and Suvra Mukherjee spent considerable amount of time during the lonely years that the former spent in New Delhi from June 1972 to 1981. Ms Hasina was living in self-exile in Delhi after her father, the first President of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated on August 15, 1975.
Both the ladies developed a close relationship during those years. Ms Hasina then used to stay at a Government accommodation that she got at Pandara Park. She first stayed at 56 Ring Road, Lajpat Nagar-III and then later on moved to Pandara Park, where she lived till 1981.
While Ms Hasina was in Delhi, India was under the state of Emergency, and perhaps due to this reason, she wasn’t allowed to meet many people. In any case, she was also not a very approachable person. Even after Ms Hasina left for her country and became a formidable leader there, both Suvra Mukherjee and she remained in close contact. On her visit to Delhi in 2010, Ms Hasina broke all protocol to visit Suvra Mukherjee’s home at Talkatora Road. The Bengal bonhomie was complete with the then Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee gifting Nalli sarees and sweets to Ms Hasina.
In Delhi, Ms Hasina and Suvra Mukherjee had long discussions on music, art and literature. Both of them were fond of the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam. It is said that President Mukherjee and Ms Hasina’s husband, MA Wazed Miah, too were very close. Wazed was a nuclear scientist. He was engaged in research work at the New Delhi-based laboratory of Atomic Energy Commission of India during 1975 to 1982, during the period of exile.
The children of both Ms Hasina and Suvra Mukherjee virtually grew together. Ms Hasina’s two kids — Sajeeb Wazed and Saima Wazed Hossain Putul and Suvra Mukherjee’s kids Sharmistha Mukherjee, Abhijit Mukherjee and Indrajit Mukherjee played together.When the Armed Forces of Pakistan massacred lakhs of people in the then East Pakistan, huge protests were held jointly by the Karol Bagh Bang Sabha and the Minto Road Puja Samiti in front of the Pakistan High Commission. Ms Hasina too was invited to these functions, but she declined to attend them. However, she was appreciative of their concern for the people of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
The friendship of Ms Hasina and Suvra Mukherjee later extended to the other members of their families. Ms Hasina’s younger sister Sheikh Rehana is also very close to the Mukherjee clan. Her daughter, Ms Saima, is a childhood friend of Ms Sharmistha Mukherjee, who is now a Congress leader. Ms Saima is based in Canada and Mr Wazed has settled in the US.
When Ms Hasina was in Delhi, her party leaders used to visit her to convince her to take up the mantle of the Awami League. Although she was not very keen on it, she later on agreed to take up the leadership position. While she was in India, she was elected as the head of the Awami League. In Delhi, AL Khatib used to work as an assistant to Ms Hasina. He also authored a book, Who Killed Mujib? It is still considered as one of the most authentic accounts of the killing of Sheikh Mujib and his family.
Ms Hasina was completely broken due to the senseless killing of her parents and her siblings. Due to a very hostile Government in Bangladesh, there was no question of her going back to her homeland. That was the time when Suvra Mukherjee gave her a shoulder to cry on.Returning to her visit to Delhi in 2010, both her kids came here and reportedly met their childhood friends — Sharmistha Mukherjee, Abhijit Mukherjee and Indrajit Mukherjee. Doubtless to say, they had a gala time.