K.M. Singh evaluates the faltering attempts to establish dialogue between South Asia’s two nuclear powers
While most parts of the north-western region of India were afflicted during the pre-partition days, Jammu & Kashmir witnessed no ripples of communal tension. This gave solace to Mahatma Gandhi, who wrote in his autobiography: ‘I see a ray of hope in Jammu & Kashmir.’ Kashmir had been the epitome of peace and communal harmony for centuries. From the days of the Mughals, it was called ‘Paradise on Earth’ and, with its natural beauty, Sufi culture and communal amity, it was indeed a paradise. The state was possibly the safest place in India, with a very low crime rate: until the 1980s, it was common to see women walking home late at night on the streets of Srinagar.
Unfortunately, this erstwhile paradise has turned into a crucible of violence over the last three decades.
The blame for such a situation must be shared by both India and Pakistan for their acts of both omission and commission. India needs to reflect on why it has been unable to win over the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people during the last seven decades, while, perhaps more importantly, Pakistan cannot escape responsibility for exploiting the Kashmiris with promises of liberation, and for relentlessly sponsoring terrorism in the state.
Various past initiatives – including the Shimla Agreement (1972), Lahore Declaration (1999), Agra Summit (2001), a series of confidence-building measures initiated by PM Vajpayee (2003), the Eid-Ul-Fitr LoC Ceasefire by Pakistan (2003) or the Joint Press Conference by PM Vajpayee and President Musharraf in Islamabad (2004), with Musharraf assuring that he would ‘not permit any territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any manner’ – have been exercises in near futility. Every time there is any significant initiative towards dialogue aimed at normalising relations, an act of aggression or a major terrorist attack follows, sponsored directly or indirectly by Pakistan, be it Kargil (1999), the 2001 attack on Parliament, the Mumbai strikes of 2008 or the Pathankot attack in January this year.
In this context, it may be relevant to mention that in his book India vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?, Husain Haqqani, former Pakistani Ambassador to the US, has observed that the space for Indo-Pakistani friendship is shrinking and that Pakistan’s policy on Kashmir has been ‘plebiscite or nothing’. It is an apt description of Pakistan’s recalcitrant attitude, despite PM Nawaz Sharif’s initiatives (along with PM Modi’s) in a more positive direction.
As far as the issue of a plebiscite in J&K is concerned, Pakistan needs to recognise that the UN Resolution of April 22 1948, being under Chapter VI of the UN Charter, is only advisory and has no enforceability. Besides, it lost its relevance long ago, having been excluded from the ‘Annual List of Unresolved International Disputes’ under the observation of the UN Security Council. It may also be noted that the UN Resolution had long been superseded by the Shimla Accord; even former President Gen. Musharraf acknowledged this. And if one were to extend this argument further, Pakistan’s continuing demand for discussions on the ‘core’ issue of Kashmir as part of the ‘Comprehensive Dialogue’ mechanism does not gel with the UN Resolution formulation. As such, Islamabad’s repeated efforts to raise this issue in the UN are simply fruitless. Is Pakistan willing to start anew by vacating its illegally captured territories? Will it also ask the Chinese to move out of the vast areas it has surrendered to them?
It is high time Pakistan’s leaders realised that a plebiscite is now a non-issue and a non-starter. Not only India, but
Any country that perpetrates and promotes terrorism today is in an indefensible position. With most Western countries convinced that India has been a victim of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, India is getting growing support from the West, including the US, as Pakistan becomes increasingly marginalised.
On the issue of cross-border terrorism against India, the major problem is Pakistan’s persistent denial of involvement, in spite of the plethora of substantive evidence that it was implicated in the 2008 Mumbai attacks and in this year’s Pathankot incident. In the case of Mumbai, the role of Pakistan is fully exposed in Husain Haqqani’s book. The author recounts the visit by the then ISI Chief, Gen. Shuja Pasha to Washington on December 24/25, 2008, during which he made startling revelations relating to the 26/11 terrorist attacks. Haqqani mentions that Gen. Pasha admitted to him that the planners were ‘our people’, though it was not ‘our operation’. Pasha is also reported to have told the CIA chief, Gen. Michael Hayden, that ‘retired’ military officers and ‘retired’ intelligence officers had been involved in the planning of the operation. The fact that Pakistan has never pursued the evidence against the accused (officers), despite all the material provided – not just by India but also by the American National Security Adviser, including intercepts of conversations during the attacks – points an accusing finger at the Pakistani government.
Notwithstanding Pakistan’s attitude in dealing with India-specific terror groups, and its constant denials, Indian PM Narendra Modi has initiated significant pro-active gestures to mend fences with Pakistan. His first was to invite Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014, which was warmly reciprocated by Sharif, despite opposition in certain quarters in Pakistan, particularly the army. This was followed by a series of positive initiatives: a meeting between the two prime ministers at Ufa (January 2015) and Paris (November 2015), a meeting of the two national security advisers (NSAs) at Bangkok and a visit by Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to Pakistan, both in December 2015.
To cap it all, PM Modi took everyone by surprise with his historic visit to Lahore on December 25 2015 to greet PM Sharif on his birthday and bless his granddaughter, who was getting married. This visit was hugely appreciated in both countries, silencing even Pakistan-baiters in India and India-baiters in Pakistan. A new start in the relationship between the two countries seemed highly possible. The bonhomie was such that even the Pathankot attack, which immediately followed Modi’s visit, did not affect his resolve to continue with his policy of meaningful engagement. The reaction on both sides, particularly India, was measured and mature.
In an unprecedented gesture, India allowed the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) from Pakistan to visit Delhi and Pathankot in the last week of March 2016, displaying a spirit of co-operation between the two neighbours in pursuing cases of cross-border terrorism. The JIT was given sufficient evidence, including names, addresses and weapons, and the Indian NSA, Mr Doval, personally ensured that all available material and leads were shared with the Pakistani investigators. What was required of them was to build on the leads since all evidence of the conspiracy, preparations and execution of the attack lay within Pakistan.
However, all these efforts seem to have become mired in difficulties, with Pakistan once again denying responsibility. There is no official feedback yet from Pakistan on the JIT team’s visit to India, and no sign of any reciprocal visit of India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) team to Pakistan. Significantly, Pakistan has even refused to accept the bodies of the four Pakistani terrorists killed in Pathankot. It is only recently, according to media reports, that they were buried locally after observing the appropriate religious rites. Pakistan’s reluctance to host a reciprocal visit by India’s NIA team is apparently due to its apprehension over likely requests by the Indian investigators to question the mastermind of the Pathankot attack, Jaish-e-Mohammad’s Masood Azhar.
Vocal criticism of the Sharif government’s move to send a JIT to India has now begun to surface, as his critics see it as an implicit recognition of the role played by Pakistani elements in the terror attack. The Pakistani PM’s position has been further undermined by the Panama Papers scandal, dealing another blow to hopes of dialogue.
The ball is now in Pakistan’s court, and more in Rawalpindi, where the military establishment must take the call on the fate of the dialogue process, than in Islamabad. During the last two years, both prime ministers have invested a great deal of political capital in initiating bold and unprecedented moves towards the normalisation of their countries’ relationship. But the tempo seems to be slowing, with Nawaz Sharif getting weaker and his detractors gaining the upper hand in Pakistan.
As far as India is concerned, the ‘stab in the back’ in Pathankot will make it exceedingly difficult for Narendra Modi to pursue any fresh overtures until he receives some positive signals from Pakistan, particularly regarding the Pathankot investigations and on how Pakistan intends to deal with the likes of Masood Azhar, Hafiz Sayeed and Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, to name a few.
K.M. Singh is a former Special Director of India’s Intelligence Bureau (IB), former Director General of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) and founder Member of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).