India-Pakistan low-intensity conflict was extended to the arena of diplomacy in October. Following Vajpayee’s Srinagar surprise in spring, came Yashwant Sinha’s 12 point bombshell on confidence building in the autumn. This should not have surprised Islamabad. Even though 2003 is among the more successful years in Indian foreign policy, Delhi was under some pressure for refusing Pakistan’s insistence on a dialogue. To most informed people, the General’s reiteration of talks “any place Ã¢â‚¬â€œ any time”, sounds like a cracked gramophone record played at slow speed. But to the uninitiated the President’s utterances are persuasive. As he had relieved himself of some executive authority, he spent much time this year globe trotting and never missed an opportunity to sing his favourite song. India’s insistence on an end to “cross-border terrorism” first does not have the same magic two years after 9/11.
Sinha’s CBM offer hit Islamabad like a cruise missile strike; sudden and debilitating. For once Pakistan had no immediate answer and took time to frame a response, even though none of the proposals are truly new. In packaging it together and in the timing of its delivery Sinha made it appear novel, sincere and plausible.
Pakistan’s counter offer a few days later reflected its weak hand. Unable to respond to genuine people to people contact measures, so unnerving to the ruling Pakistani military-bureaucratic elite, it resorted to subterfuges. The aim was to scuttle these measures and yet save face if possible. It had also somehow to introduce the K factor to appease its more radical elements at home. Therefore, all but resumption of sporting ties and permitting superannuated people to cross the border at Wagah on foot, are back to where they were Ã¢â‚¬â€œnowhere. A few minor measures may be implemented after some additional dialogue among experts. These include restarting Samjhauta train service, increasing frequency and capacity of the Lahore-Delhi bus and civilized behaviour among coast guards. Talks on resuming Samjhauta express will be stretched as long as possible, because afterwards a discussion on restoring air links will be difficult to put off. Pakistan wants this as badly as it wants the pox. In its calculation, Indian airlines lose three times more money in avoiding Pakistani air space than the PIA, which has so few services this way anyway. No harm if its own toes are cut, if India would then lose a part of its foot! Very reminiscent of the non-dialogue on oil and gas pipelines through Pakistan to India. Indian authorities continue to play the spoil sport on the very same principle, which only proves that when it comes to negativism both sides can play the game to the hilt. Perhaps there may be a difference of degrees,
By far the most disappointing is the attempt by Pakistan to bring the UN in on the Muzaffarabad bus route and host Kashmiris in Pakistan. To all but the totally uninitiated, this is a clear indication of its intention to comprehensively destroy this round of peace initiative. This brings us to the two key questions that we will ask today. Why this Pakistani response? And, what do we do about it? The first is not difficult to answer. This is the response of the military-bureaucratic mind-set, walking on egg-shells, balancing too many pitchers on its head while attempting simultaneously to hold on to power. They refuse to see any good coming from India. More important the Islamabad mafia today is beleaguered. The reality is not, Camp David hospitality, receptions in the UN and meetings with heads of government in state capitals. It is, the FBI and US soldiers patrolling at home, the Afghans fighting across the border, bin Laden in the NWFP, the Parliament crying for the President to shed his uniform and the Shia-Sunni mischief always waiting in the wings. In this beleaguered state its leadership has few options but to continue harping on the K issue.
India’s options too should be clear. New Delhi needs to accept that the weakest link in its foreign policy lies in its neighbourhood. India’s greater international aspirations can indeed be held to ransom by the countries of South Asia, who by themselves may wield little power. It cannot assume its rightful place in the world, when its own backyard remains fractious and troubled. As an accepted leader of a developing and progressive region, India counts for much more than itself. After all by population South Asia today is larger even than Greater China. Geography has decreed that Pakistan cannot be ignored. Policy dictates that ways be found to accommodate it as a valuable partner, even when regional cooperation can be crafted to by-pass it if necessary. Good relations may be unlikely under military rulers tainted by Kargil. As a policy then Delhi must shift even more to develop good relations with its people and with an eventual government that truly represents them.
This is why Sinha’s bombshells are to be welcomed. Not just this round of CBMs, let us think up any number of issues that does not adversely affect India’s fundamental concerns and rain these over Pakistan as an artillery barrage. The idea of India is too strong to be resisted as much of the world is beginning to realise today. Let this happen in our own backyard.