Indo-Pak peace: Play to win, Mr Prime Minister
By M J Akbar
If war between two nuclear powers is unthinkable, what is thinkable? States who sponsor terrorism have done their thinking: surrogate war, not easily traceable to its masters. This leaves India with a problem. Since we are a status-quoist power, without territorial ambitions upon any neighbour, our defence forces are what they say they are. Their purpose is to defend India's space and peace. Their mechanisms for offense are designed for counterattack, not attack. When we did attack in the special circumstances of Bangladesh, we left within four months of completing our mission. We had no territorial aims. Pakistan's armed forces, in contrast, still play war games whose end-point is Srinagar.
This is the strategic dilemma of Delhi: if war is not a policy objective, what options, including pre-emptive, are we left with? Conversely, the enemy can be sanguine that India will respond only when provoked by formal war.
One cannot argue, in principle, with Dr Manmohan Singh's bid for peace with Pakistan. India is slowly rising out of the quagmire of community conflict that sucked the air out of the three decades before he became finance minister in 1991. He wants to release the subcontinent from this debilitating, suicidal malaise.
Peace, alas, is too elastic a term; war is taut, specific. When Dr Singh looks for peace, he must be absolutely sure that India and Pakistan are searching for the same thing. Does Pakistan want peace in order to resolve a six-decade conflict, or does it want peace because its armed resources have been diverted towards America's war in Af-Pak?
In 1965 Lal Bahadur Shastri thought a little give would purchase a lot of take at Tashkent. In 1972, Indira Gandhi bought Bhutto's plea that what remained of Pakistan would crumble without her sympathy. She did not insist on a written agreement ending the Kashmir dispute along the Line of Control. Atal Bihari Vajpayee reached out to shake Pakistan's hand at Lahore, and got slapped in the face at Kargil.
In 1972, Pakistan accepted peace because its army was incapable of war. We provided a decade of rest and recuperation. The moment Pakistan's army was rejuvenated, in 1980, with American aid (after the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) Pakistan resumed action on its eastern front. It armed and abetted an insurrection in Punjab, where it had no dispute with India. The cost was catastrophic: the tragic destruction of the Golden Temple, assassination of Mrs Indira Gandhi, anti-Sikh riots. The price of trust can be unbearable.
For Dr Singh, the gamble is on. He has staked vital diplomatic assets at Sharm el Shaikh. He cannot walk away from the table. Dr Singh can explain his joint-statement gambit only as an interim bet, not a final show of the cards. Poor drafting is an alibi, not an explanation; the written word is the sole value in this game, the spoken word is irrelevant. Dr Singh either gets up with massive winnings, or he ends up a pauper. The moment of truth must come, soon. If he can get explicit commitment from Islamabad on a deal left implicit in 1972, he will be a hero. If not - well, you do the math.
He has already done Yusuf Raza Gilani an incalculable favour. Gilani's credibility has multiplied to the point where he feels strong enough to challenge Asif Zardari. The ISI, not famous for doveish sentiments, has already planted a dossier blaming India not only for Balochistan but also for the attacks against Sri Lanka's cricketers in Lahore. The ramifications are unfolding. In the political calculus, Gilani does not have to do much more to survive. After all, what can India do if he does nothing? Start a war?
It would be unwise to forget that the Mumbai outrage, and the post-operation legal soft-pedalling against terrorist masterminds, happened under Zardari-Gilani's watch. Islamabad's first reaction to Ajmal Kasab's detailed confession, from defence minister Chaudhury Mukhtar, does not augur well: "The confession is made by a person under the custody of Indian jail authorities. It is no evidence." Did Mr Mukhtar want a statement from Kasab after he had been awarded a medal for valour in the custody of ISI? Pakistan is still interested in the least it can do, not the most. It will not be doing India any favours by arresting Lashkar-e-Toiba chief Hafeez Sayeed. It will be meeting its obligations under international law.
The Indo-Pak conflict was begun by Pakistan within six weeks of freedom because it wanted to seize the Kashmir valley from India. There is only one way to end it: a treaty in which Pakistan abandons its claim to the Kashmir that is now a part of India.
The Sufis had a wise theory: when you are trapped in a vicious circle, draw a larger one around it. The first circle will tighten and suffocate the government unless the prime minister can draw the larger circle of a final settlement on Kashmir.