Tuesday, October 15, 2013

India Needs to be Tough on Pakistan

Kanwal Sibal, 
Dean, Centre for International Relations and Diplomacy, VIF

Mentioning toned down expectations from his meeting with his Pakistani counterpart at New York, Shri Manmohan Singh gave an advance signal that nothing substantial would emerge from it.Until almost the last moment, we let uncertainty hang over the decision even to meet, which itself indicated watered down prospects.

Normally, summit meetings serve to boost existing ties and infuse them with new political purpose. They are well prepared with planned positive outcomes. Our troubled relationship with Pakistan makes the management of summit outcomes particularly sensitive. If the circumstances surrounding a planned summit are not propitious and preparatory work has yielded no assurance of notable progress, postponement is preferable. Obama, for instance, cancelled his agreed bilateral summit with Putin just before the September G-20 summit in St Petersburg because continued divergences between the two countries on several issues did not promise success.

Postponing Talks

If the PM’s meeting with Nawaz Sharif had already become controversial because of cease fire violations by Pakistan, the freedom given to extremists like Hafiz Saeed to pursue their anti-Indian crusade, lack of progress on trying those responsible for the Mumbai terror attack and delaying the decision to grant MFN status to India, the advance admission by PM that the New York meeting would be low in results argued strongly in favour of postponement.
The Samba attack immediately before the summit made the case for deferment even stronger. Our position that we will continue talking to Pakistan even if it carries on terror activities against us is not easily comprehensible. We cannot claim zero tolerance of terrorism if we indulge the country sponsoring it against us. By allowing a distinction to be made between state and non-state actors, we have given political room to Pakistan to blame the so-called non-state actors for such activity and distance the Pakistani governmental agencies from it.

Worse, Pakistan no longer admits that even non-state actors are to blame. It pretends they don’t exist and that incidents in India have local origins. Pakistan has feigned ignorance of recent incidents on the LoC and even denied their occurrence. It is unwilling to assume any responsibility for terrorist attacks against India. When pushed, it accuses India of terrorism not only in Balochistan but also in FATA where we are supposedly complicit with the Pakistani Taliban. Nawaz Sharif’s foreign policy Adviser Sartaj Aziz threatens to produce evidence of Indian interference in Balochistan at an appropriate forum, which suggests that Pakistan intends to step up propaganda on this issue in advance of US withdrawal from Afghanistan and create the ground for targeting our consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar. The Samba incident provided us a timely opportunity to begin reversing our costly policy of delinking dialogue from terror by adjourning the summit to a later date when Nawaz Sharif’s position on terrorism became tangibly aligned with his protestations of friendship with India.

The PM’s reference, in his joint press conference with Obama and his UNGA speech, to Pakistan being the epicenter of terrorism was commendable. The robust affirmation in his UNGA speech that Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India and that we will never ever compromise with our territorial integrity was equally praiseworthy. Nawaz Sharif apparently took exception to PM complaining to Obama about Pakistan’s involvement with terrorism, provoking him to compare his conduct allegorically with that of a “village woman”, a slight later denied.

Pak Game

The macho image that Pakistani Muslims have of themselves apart, Nawaz Sharif can hardly cavil at India involving the US as a third party in bilateral India-Pakistan issues, when seeking third party intervention in resolving the Kashmir issue has been the staple of Pakistani foreign policy for decades, not to mention the issue of a strategic balance in South Asia, both to procure more arms from the US and place curbs on India’s nuclear and missile programmes.

Sharif himself tweaked India at New York by asking for UN or third party intervention in investigating the LoC violations, knowing India’s allergy to such interference. He emphasized Kashmir in his UNGA speech in line with his declared intention after assuming power to focus on this issue, even describing Kashmir as the jugular vein of Pakistan. His statement on Kashmir was more expansive than that made by Pakistani leaders in recent years at the UN, which exposes the argument that he needed to pander to domestic lobbies in Pakistan. On terrorism too, in his media interviews, he equated India and Pakistan in terms of answerability for such actions.

Non-State Actors

Indisputably, stabilising the LoC and ending cease fire violations would be essential for resuming India-Pakistan peace talks and hence the agreement at New York that the DGMOs of the two sides will meet and devise mechanisms to restore peace on the LoC. This initiative will produce results only if Pakistan acknowledges the existence and activities of “non-state actors” and its responsibility for controlling them. It should be willing to establish a five kilometre deep anti-infiltration grid on its side to match the Indian disposition so that any hostile movement within this zone is prevented. It should share information on attempts to cross the LoC culled from intercepts. Border meetings even down to brigade level would help to control the sort of destabilising activity on the LoC that the DGMOs have been tasked to do. All this hinges on Pakistan’s sincerity in ending cross border activity, which remains illusory as shown by last week’s infiltration bid in the Keran sector, so soon after New York.


We were right in not agreeing this time to a joint statement after both premiers met. If this signals a more hard-headed approach to Pakistan in the future, it would merit general approbation.

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