Author : Vikram Sood

Originally Published 2010-03-10 00:00:00 Published on Mar 10, 2010
What Salman Bashir did was a scaled down version of what Musharraf did at the India Today Conclave a year ago in New Delhi and much more scaled down version of his antics at the Agra Summit. It should have been déjà vu.
The fiasco that need not have been
The India-Pakistan talks were followed by the usual Prime Time agony on TV on February 25 as wise men and women dissected what went wrong.  There was considerable surprise and consternation at how events and strategies unfolded that day. It was obvious that the theatrics by the Pakistan Foreign Secretary caught us by surprise. It was equally obvious that we had not done our homework. Actually what Salman Bashir did was a scaled down version of what Musharraf did at the India Today Conclave a year ago in New Delhi and much more scaled down version of his antics at the Agra Summit. It should have been déjà vu.

I had written about these tricks last year, pointing out that whenever Pakistanis want to launch their careers or burnish their fading images, they come here. The artiste performs to gushing audiences while the politician, general, or civil servant addresses his domestic audience in Pakistan. It pays or, is indeed expected, that he should act tough while in New Delhi. Rare is the case that a man comes to New Delhi and talks reasonably in public. One eminent journalist of a well known Pakistani magazine made that mistake some years ago and the agencies got to him pretty quickly when he got back with their gruff midnight knock. So this should have been anticipated and prevented unless this was a deep Brahmanical ploy and the Pakistanis are still trying to figure this out.

The game plan was obvious the moment we announced that we would resume dialogue. The first thing Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi did was to jump onto his high horse, fulminate in Multan about how Pakistan had brought India to its knees and proclaim victory. This was a novel way of restoring normalcy. It was then the turn of the jihadis to warm up to the act. Hafeez Saeed was off the mark first when he announced that one Mumbai was not enough and that jihad was the only way. Wanted in India, this outburst was described later by the Foreign Secretary as Saeed’s exercise of his democratic right of free speech.  Just before the Delhi tamasha got going, the Pak Foreign Minister offered his Chinese hosts a blank cheque to help improving India-Pak relations. The astute Chinese did not bite the bait, knowing that such cheques could bounce.

Abdul Rahman Makki, brother in law of Hafiz Saeed, and the new face of terror against India, was jingoist about jihad in Kashmir on February 4 when he also warned that Pune would be the next target. So it was on February 13. We did not withdraw the offer to talk. Two days before the talks were to commence 23-year old Captain Devendra Singh Jass and two soldiers died combating terrorists in Sopore. Before the talks commenced the Pakistan Foreign Secretary assures Syed Ali Shah Geelani, that secessionist who does not want to live in Pakistan, continued support. He says this after meeting him in our country. We allow the meeting, therefore say nothing. We did not call off the talks. How could we do that anyway? We had already announced that talks and terrorism could continue simultaneously. Moreover, we have this great desire to look good and seek approval from the West.

Two days after the talks were over, Pakistan sponsored Taliban or Haqqani networks or Lashkar e Tayyaba terrorists or all three put together, hunted and killed Indians in a guesthouse in Kabul. The message they are giving us --   if we care to decipher it -- we can hit you in Kashmir, in Maharashtra and in Kabul; we will do it again and there is nothing you can do about it.

It is not that one should not talk to one’s neighbour, after all they cannot relocate. The talks had been called off after an angry India demanded that Pakistan breakdown the terror infrastructure and stop cross-border terrorism after 26/11. The question is simply whether that has been achieved and if Pakistan has given India adequate satisfaction on this? What has been achieved between November 26, 2008 and now, that we felt compelled either on our own or under gentle nudging to be magnanimous and resume this dialogue of the deaf?

The other issue is that our Candlelight Brigade never tires of telling us about the oceans of goodwill that the people of Pakistan have for us and that they want nothing but peace with India. It also claimed that there is a representative government in Pakistan now that should represent this sentiment. If that be so, then what is the need for the Pakistani establishment to play to the hardline lobby that prefers to wage jihad in India not just Kashmir in preference to waging peace? This leads one to conclude that the leadership, pumped up today even more, post Istanbul and London, feels that their moment both in Afghanistan and against India has come. Happily placed as America’s indispensable ally, even as they allow anti-American sentiments to flourish, they can do no wrong. It is very clearly a successful foreign policy in the short term and they can continue to play the hardline act.

Therefore, to talk peace with India at this juncture is dangerous for the corporate interests of the Armed Forces and their allies in the bureaucracy, the politicians, feudal landed class and the mullah all of whom depend upon the Army for their survival. All get their dividends from this state of affairs. The peace dividend is much weaker for them. The US would no longer give them any good boy bonus. Besides, peace with India means having to divert troops away from the Indian frontier to the west and participate in acting more diligently against their own protégés, the Taliban. It also means admitting that India does not pose an existential threat to Pakistan adversely affecting the Army’s primacy is based on false strategic premises bur very sound sectional interests.

Our efforts to enlist Saudi Arabian support (or interlocution) in the Pakistan context may not yield the desired results.  Having supported Wahhabi Islam in Pakistan and Afghanistan, contributed heavily to the Taliban cause and having always described the Kashmir issue as a freedom struggle, it makes sense only if there is a change of heart in Riyadh. Saudi-Pakistan relations are too deep to expect the Saudis to intercede on our behalf. Anyhow no harm in trying to enlist support and hope to succeed where others have failed – like Indira Gandhi when she tried to get Saudi support against the Khalistanis operating from Pakistan.

In dealing with Pakistan we need to remember a few things. They will blame us for all their ills and also complain that we do not help them solve their problems. They have also assessed that we will not do anything more than what we have done so far and the US will not say more than they have so far. It was Pakistan who believed in the two nation theory. There was no reason for us to convert this into a Hindu-Muslim issue by constantly trying to deal with Pakistan by assuming that India’s Muslims wanted India to be lenient with Pakistan because of their religion. What Indian Muslims want is to be treated as Indians – no matter what their problems – and we should therefore treat people of Pakistan as Pakistanis and not simply as Muslims. When we learn to treat them so, just as we treat French or Germans as French and Germans and not as Christians, we will find a different way of handling this issue. Last year, I wrote elsewhere, that “Let us not forget that the largest number of Muslims that has ever lived in a democracy anywhere in the world for such a long time is in India. In Pakistan they are now saying that Islam and democracy are incompatible. The word secularism does not exist in the mullah’s vocabulary, not even in the minds of some self proclaimed moderates like General Musharraf.”

This is our strength and we should learn to use it.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Vikram Sood

Vikram Sood

Vikram Sood is Advisor at Observer Research Foundation. Mr. Sood is the former head of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) — India’s foreign intelligence agency. ...

Read More +


Holger Rogner

Holger Rogner

Holger Rogner International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Read More +