Indo-Pak Talk: high in hype, low in type


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Dr JavidDr. Javid Iqbal
As I started this column on Sunday morning, I was in two minds—whether to wait for the outcome of New York meet of Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif or wrap it up, so that it gets to ‘RK’ editor’s table in time for review. The question whether column writing exercise was worth the wait was rolling in my mind. Finally I reached the painful conclusion that since Indo-Pak talk is more often than not, high in hype and low in type, I might as well go ahead. And continue my comment, the week following if something beyond the hype emerges. I would love to be proved wrong. Right now the assumption stays that the meeting between Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif in New York, on the sidelines of UN general assembly would be no exception. The top political executives do meet occasionally, however the interaction remains mired in inability to break the web of uncertainty woven by bureaucratic cum defence establishment across the divide. The speeches that both the prime ministers made reflected the reality. Nawaz Sharif talked of rights of Kashmiris and made a plea for ‘K’ resolution. Manmohan Singh tuned in with ‘integral part’ rhetoric, and in the same breath talked of resolving issues with Pakistan. This might appear contradictory, however that is what is noted in diplomatic position papers. And prime ministers on either side cannot but stick to the brief.

Political breakthrough in issues remains an anathema. And the reluctance multiplies manifold in mainly the ‘K’ issue labeled by design as vexed to discourage any attempt to solve it. A solution could result in political ascendance, a situation unpalatable for the file pushing bureaucrat. As also to the commanding generals, lest it affect the huge defence outlays, over which they operate with impunity. It has always been like that, ever since the divide resulted due to failure to accommodate the interests of communities living a joint life in the subcontinent for centuries. And make no mistake about it, the divide was fed and fueled by players at work in British tailored bureaucracy. There are some prominent names from bureaucracy that figure in historical narratives of subcontinent. Indian civil service [ICS] the forerunner of Indian administrative service [IAS] and Pakistan civil services had a set agenda to keep-up the divide, in order to ease the British rule. The thinking seeped over generations of bureaucratic establishment, and it gets amply reflected in Indo-Pak divide. Divide holds promise for bureaucratic ascendance.

With ‘K’ issue getting internationalized, as India complained to United Nations about what was labeled by India—Pakistan’s aggression, the result was Indian as well as Pakistani foreign policy becoming Kashmir centric. The purpose was obvious—garnering maximum possible international support. India however insists that her foreign policy concerns go much beyond Kashmir. That might be true now with Indian economy expanding, consequently concerns assuming global proportions. However in earlier decades–post independence with concurrent UN involvement in Kashmir, Indian foreign policy was to a large extent, if not totally Kashmir centric. Pakistan on the contrary never felt shy of admitting its diplomacy being geared to ‘K’ issue. The bureaucratic establishment across the divide saw to it that political set-up reads the ‘K’ situation through position papers noted by them. The security establishment worked to make any attempt at solution difficult by focusing on security angle. The very solution is made out to be carrying a security risk. The political executive is thus scared to even think of attempting a breakthrough, lest it gets accused of compromising the security.

Post eighties of 20th century, as the Russians descended on Afghanistan to get close to warm waters, feeling constrained by narrow access to sea through her cold water ports; Pakistan’s foreign policy got diversified. Pakistan’s Afghan involvement changed the shape of things in Kashmir. With west showing increasing concern, on what it calls ‘Militant Islam’ a misnomer, as Islam advocates ‘Sulh-e-Kul’ [total peace] any clamour in Kashmir for conflict resolution was labeled to be a reflection of Islamic militancy. It had buyers in international political market. With widening militancy in initial years of nineties of preceding century, Indian talk carried the desired bite. Some underground organizations, assured by Indian civil society activists of constructive dialogue changed outfit. Those who continued militant resistance were mostly neutralized. The promised constructive dialogue did not materialize. It continues to elude, unmindful of the pacifists across the divide fearing another wave of militancy, in case conflict resolution continues to remain in limbo. And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh continues to talk of cross border state sponsored terrorism, as he did in recent UN general assembly address, unmindful of the fact that best way to check militancy—cross border or otherwise is conflict resolution through purposeful time bound dialogue.

Afghan situation provides another addition to long existing Indo-Pak spat. While Pakistan wants to secure her backyard, India is pulling all strings to deny Pakistan the strategic depth. This is the crux of Afghanistan specific Indo-Pak tug of war. The tug of war has intensified with American plans o leave Afghanistan in 2014. Americans would love to walk out with a negotiated settlement with Afghan Taliban. Contrary to Pakistan Taliban, Afghan Taliban is considered to have links to Pakistani security agencies. American—Afghan Taliban channels of communication are neither to Indian liking nor music to Hamid Karzai lead Afghan regime. The politico-diplomatic jig-saw might complicate ‘K’ issue, already in knots. The months and years ahead might spell trouble; no precautionary measures seem to be in place, as politicians across the divide stick to briefs and position papers, while as statesmanship is the need of the hour.
Tailpiece: heard a wit remark, “Board room politicians rather than statesmen remain the staple of 21st century”

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]