Leadership vision is what propels nations to greatness. Across the world, Roosevelt, Churchill, Deng, Mandela and Obama are considered examples of leaders with vision. Ashoka’s peace offensive, Akbar’s inclusivism, Nehru’s development model, the ‘Indira doctrine’, Rajiv’s call towards the twenty-first century and VP Singh’s egalitarian initiative are examples closer home. Examples from the recent past include Narasimha Rao’s stewardship of liberalization and Vajpayee’s reaching out to Pakistan, thrice in his tenure, rates as consistency in vision despite the gravest tests.
Of equal importance is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s current Pakistan initiative. In his speech he links it with Atalji’s earlier efforts, thus trying to bring about a bipartisan consensus. However, it remains controversial since it is seen as a departure from the position that resumption of the Composite Dialogue is subject to Pakistan delivering credibly on the bargain struck at Islamabad in January 2004. The allusion to Balochistan in the Sharm-al-Sheikh Joint Statement added fuel to this controversy. Since the perils of a flawed vision are well known - Mohammad bin Tughlak is often cited as example - Dr Manmohan Singh has had to tread warily.
Nevertheless his statement to the Lok Sabha serves as a vision document to redirect India’s Pakistan policy. The necessary political play required to gain the stakes and a constituency should be boldly attempted. The Vajpayee initiatives that it builds upon were retarded by the weight of the conservative-realist lobby. Dr Manmohan Singh, no stranger to controversy in his pushing through of economic reforms as Rao’s finance minister and lately the Indo-US deal as PM, needs to rely on his instinct, experience and conviction to materialize his vision.
The PM acknowledged the threats of terrorism in his Lok Sabha address when he said, “another attack of this kind will put an intolerable strain on our relationship…” While he required Pakistan to “take all possible measures to prevent a recurrence” in light of the uncertain internal situation in Pakistan, recurrence cannot be ruled out. The PM’s project of economic reforms requires averting possible Indo-Pak conflict resulting from any future crisis.
The means to do so are spelt out in his vision thus, “I say with strength and conviction that dialogue and engagement is the best way forward.” The mechanism as it currently stands involves the meeting of foreign secretaries when deemed necessary who make relevant reports to the respective ministers. India is looking for concrete action against Hafeez Sayeed. However, Pakistan, currently battling the Taliban, is unlikely to open up another front against itself. Just as Pakistan treated AQ Khan with kid gloves, Hafeez Sayeed is likely get away too. Given the likelihood of such a development, India should attempt to de-emphasize this linkage, lest it hold up talks.
Finding the political traction necessary to take talks forward is an immediate necessity. In the words of the PM, “unless we talk directly to Pakistan, we will have to rely on third parties to do so. That route…has very severe limitations as to its effectiveness….” Since Pakistan’s active involvement is imperative for defeating terrorism, the PM must rely on his belief that “the current leadership there understands the need for action.” However, the Zardari-Gilani combine is on even more tenuous ground than was Nawaz Sharif at Lahore, even though the latter was seemingly unassailable after his taming of the Chief Justice and the Army Chief the previous year.
This time round, India would require reading the Pakistan Army better. It is unlikely to concede any ground with respect to constraining its strategic tool of terror unless there is some trade off. India, being on the ascendant in Kashmir, has nothing to offer on this score. The Pakistan Army is currently preoccupied with developments in the Af-Pak region, the outcomes of the Petraeus-MacChrystal ‘surge’ and the aftermath of elections in Kabul. It’s aim is restricting the Indian foot print in Afghanistan and, allegedly, in Baluchistan. A return to the contest by proxy with India, as part of the by now acknowledged ‘Cold War’ between the two, can be predicted.
As in the earlier period, a better positioned India can doubtless manage the problems posed by the Pakistan Army. However, the ‘vision thing’ implies playing the game differently. It is for this reason that the PM requires to break out of the stance that “it is impossible for any government in India to work towards full normalization of relations with Pakistan unless the Government of Pakistan fulfills, in letter and spirit, its commitment not to allow its territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India.” While ‘full normalization’ can be delayed, talks towards partial normalization should certainly be kept going.
If he was willing to stake his government on the questionable Indo-US nuclear deal, then this surely is a more worthwhile issue, particularly as the PM himself acknowledges, “I believe that there is a large constituency for peace in both countries.” The PM credits Mr. Vajpayee with “political courage” for “not being deterred”. His place in history, already assured by the economic reforms, would be only cemented were he to display the same “political courage.”