By M. K. Bhadrakumar
The ‘reset’ of the Russian- American relationship is a good starting point for a critique of the India- Pakistan dialogue process. The ‘reset’ is in the doldrums largely because it is at a standstill. A push by Washington to galvanise Russia’s membership of the World Trade Organisation; a gesture to relegate to history the cold- war relic known as Jackson- Vanik Amendment of 1974, which imposed trade embargo on USSR; a visit by President Barack Obama to Moscow before the campaigns for the presidential elections in Russia (March 2012) and the US (November 2012) get under way — any of these would keep the ‘reset’ rolling. The dynamics won’t be lost on an uncertain journey through uncharted waters.
Stagnation is lethal to any dialogue process. The dictum in its irreducible minimum is: ‘For God’s sake, keep doing something.’ From the state of play in the India- Pakistan dialogue process, when we look into the womb of time, the danger is of inertia leading to stagnation. Stagnation can deal fatal blows to an inherently perilous relationship. If the anatomy of the 26/ 11 Mumbai attacks ever gets vivisected in honesty and integrity without pride or prejudice, the startling political finding would probably be that the inertia in the India- Pakistan dialogue circa end- 2005 was the single biggest contributory factor behind the horrendous happening.
India’s fateful disposition to keep the dialogue in a state of suspended animation led to a perception ( or misperception) within the sanctum sanctorum of Pakistani establishment that New Delhi extracted what it wanted out of a dialogue process and thereafter smartly sought ‘ standstill’, as the ‘ payback- time’ had come.
Indeed, Indian pundits have no dearth of convincing reasons to argue that the dialogue simply slowed down at that point in time when 2005 gave way to 2006 and a prime ministerial visit to Pakistan couldn’t be undertaken just yet — preoccupations over the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, political uncertainties in Pakistan, lack of availability of any ‘doable’ things to embellish the crown of an Indian prime minister visiting Pakistan, etc.
Of course, Pakistan did slide into political turmoil by 2006; India did get preoccupied with the UP elections; and, ‘doable’ things did appear to be elusive. At any rate, do not forget that soon thereafter, India also set out on a voyage of discovery over the frontiers of the ‘ strategic partnership’ with the United States with a flawed compass that suggested that its long- term geo- strategies in South Asia and the Asia- Pacific would eventually depend on the verve of its American partnership. By the time things somewhat calmed down in Pakistan, the Indian prime minister was already in the boxing ring for securing a fresh mandate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. In short, 26/ 11 occurred against a political backdrop, much as its unspeakable horror, its unpardonable venality and its tragic aftermath — or the nation’s profound anger and its sense of humiliation over what happened — still linger.
The India- Pakistan dialogue is again at the crossroads. We are most certainly cruising in a time machine toward 2005 and may already have arrived there. It is becoming increasingly hard to find the ‘feel- good’ CBMs (confidence- building measures). The need to ‘reset’ the sights has arisen. In sum, things have been successfully navigated as far as diplomatic ingenuity allows. The time has now come for politicians to step in and play their due role of captaincy — both in terms of explaining to the nation the imperatives and seeking understanding for an action plan and in terms of taking the stewardship visibly and manifestly in hands so that the ‘reset’ continues and a dangerous stagnation doesn’t reappear.
A major decision involves the 6- year old invitation from Pakistan for a prime ministerial visit. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been extremely courteous in accepting the invitation, which the Pakistani dignitaries unfailingly extend to him and this has now become a ritual of the dialogue process. Delhi’s dilemma seems to be that a prime ministerial visit cannot be crowned with a ‘doable’ act yet with Pakistan and, therefore, the visit has to wait.
But the pitfalls of procrastination are at once obvious. Another assembly election in UP is approaching. Beyond that lies the strong possibility of a realignment of the Indian leadership. Alongside, the parliamentary elections will be due in Pakistan.
By the time a new government is formed in Pakistan and the dust somewhat settles down by end- 2013, India will be preparing for a crucial parliamentary election in 2014.
From all indications, the government- formation in India is going to be even more complicated than in Pakistan, and if the Congress’s uneasy bonding with Trinamool or the DMK is any indication, coalition politics will become even more pitiless.
That is to say, the window is fast closing for taking any major initiatives toward Pakistan and a 3- year interregnum lasting till the second half of 2014 may ensue. The prospect is ominous if recent history gives any lessons. Furthermore, this interregnum will also coincide with a transformational phase in regional security. Suffice to say, it becomes doubly imperative that India and Pakistan remain closely engaged in the coming 2- 3 year period on an ‘uninterrupted’ and ‘ uninterruptible’ basis — to use those hackneyed words.
This is where political leadership has a role to play. The two foreign offices have carried the good tidings and the atmospherics optimally. Much of the responsibility to sustain and carry forward the positive impulses and to impart a predictable, enduring character would lie squarely on the shoulders of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. This is because he is uniquely placed, as his consistently high “rating” in the Pakistani opinion amply testifies.
Do not deride the Indian political opinion as being immature. Even the detractors of the India- Pakistan dialogue in our country who stood up to lampoon are increasingly finding themselves in two minds, unable to rationalise their paranoia and reduced to incoherence. The heart of the matter is that the Indian people always desired a normal relationship with Pakistan. The Kashmir Valley is witnessing a calm that it didn’t know for a generation or two. As for ‘external’ factors, India is no more entrapped in a dreamland about the strategic partnership with the US. There is realism that India lives in its difficult neighbourhood and America is on the decline.
Most important, India needs to have its say in choreographing the regional security architecture that is taking shape. In this far reaching process, India’s effective role happens to be predicated on a climate of trust and confidence with Pakistan. Even the western propagandists no longer have the audacity to characterise the Afghan problem as a by- product of India- Pakistan rivalry. India has done well to refuse to be drawn into the US’ regional policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. India’s endeavour should be to convince Pakistan that the legitimate interests of the two countries can be reconciled. Indeed, the interests are legitimate and they can be reconciled.
Of course, for an optimal progression of these impulses, India also needs to work hard to repair the damage that has been caused to its traditionally close ties with Iran. Equally, there has to be a better awareness about the qualitative shift in the Chinese policies; new imperatives are creeping into the Sino- Pakistan relationship that should not be misinterpreted as borne out of animus toward India. Over and above, India and Pakistan’s membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation altogether changes the calculus of regional security.
The big question nonetheless remains: Will Dr. Singh take the plunge to visit Pakistan? Finding a certain ‘doable’ to assemble a prime ministerial visit around it isn’t going to be difficult. It has never really been.
Nor is the country going to quarrel with Dr. Singh on his choice of the ‘doable’ that serves his purpose. The Indian nation will understand it to be his prime ministerial prerogative.
The writer is a former diplomat
Source: Mail Today, New Delhi