Pakistan Not So Eager For Talks

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Old 08-Feb-2010
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Post Pakistan Not So Eager For Talks

India that was expecting a polite and immediate ‘yes’ from Pakistan to its offer for foreign secretary-level talks once again finds itself on the wrong side of the fence. Not only did Pakistan take its time in reluctantly accepting the offer with several ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ for public consumption, it also gave clearance to the jihadists to organise a string of anti-India meetings in Muzaffarabad, Islamabad and Lahore that were addressed by Jamaat ud Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed.

The Kashmir Solidarity Day that the Pakistan government has long since turned into an annual event, marked the re-emergence of the Lashkar mentors in all the three cities where India was targeted even as they laid claim to Kashmir. This was their first appearance after the Mumbai terror attacks, and while this time ministers from the Pakistan government were not present, several former officials of the ISI joined the meetings. In fact so emboldened was the Jamaat ud Dawa (banned by the US) that it dropped the alias Falah-i-Insaniyat that it had been operating under, and brought out its own banner in total defiance of international opinion.

India has been asking for the arrest and trial of Hafiz Sayeed for his involvement in the Mumbai terror attack, and the meetings made it clear that Pakistan had no intention of obliging. In fact, JuD speakers spoke at length of intensifying the struggle against India for Kashmir, a signal that the terrorist groups were getting back on the old agenda which had been temporarily suspended because of the war in Afghanistan. They urged the crowd to fight for Kashmir until the last Indian soldier was dead. Several speakers also said that the jihad should be taken to Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan making the linkages for the terrorists.

The Pakistan government has been completely silent on this show of strength by the terrorist outfits. Instead it has gone on a media drive to highlight the fact that India has asked for the dialogue under international pressure. Surprisingly, New Delhi, completely embarrassed and one should hope worried, is silent. It has not said a word about the Pakistan claim of international pressure, and it has also not been able to decry the public meeting organised by terror outfits lest Islamabad reject its offer of talks. In what is suddenly a pathetic posture, after the rigid and unthinking stance fo 14 months, the government here seems totally confused and clueless and is now waiting for the next move from Pakistan.

One does not know who is responsible for the current mess, but it is obvious that the UPA was acting under US pressure as it moved from the tough “we will not talk unless Pakistan contains terrorism” to the pliant “let us talk” with a suddenness that left the strategic establishment stunned. There was no explanation why the government position had changed within hours, what were the new factors that had opened the door for a dialogue, and on what basis had the government reached the new assessment. Despite questions being asked officials were silent, and churned out a couple of off-the-record explanations that were faithfully reported by some scribes, but made little sense.

Judging from the hostile Pakistan response, the decision to talk was used to put India further into the dock by Islamabad, a sort of “we are the big guys and we have them where we want them” approach. The JuD meeting dug the knife in further. The Prime Minister’s Office that is in the driving seat on matters related to Pakistan has again timed it all wrong, and brought no strategic thinking that could protect India’s interests. Rushing, as always, to think and act out of the box, the PM and his advisors actually got the country trapped inside the box.

The problem is that the escape route is closed, more so as after swallowing bile and insisting on talks, the government cannot really indulge in yet another volte face without losing credibility not just nationally but across the world.

This has been the story through out with foreign policy becoming even more reactive and knee jerk after the Mumbai attacks. First India by refusing to join regional initiatives like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and insisting on sitting only at the US hosted high table, managed to isolate itself in the region. By following a foreign policy congruent with that of the US in not just West Asia but also to a great extent in South Asia, New Delhi gradually lost its status as an independent voice in the region. This was primarily the reason why India was not involved as a player in the talks held by Turkey, and at another level by Iran, to bring Pakistan and Afghanistan together on the same page. So there was the usual surprise in South Block when at the fourth such meeting hosted by Turkey, both Karzai and Zardari agreed to seek a solution for Afghanistan based on dialogue with the so called good Taliban. India was completely out of the picture, and while most analysts here had seen this coming, the government and its advisors were left staring with their mouths open.

The result was that India was virtually isolated at the London Conference on Afghanistan where the strategy to talk with the Taliban moderates was endorsed even by the West and foreign minister S.M. Krishna returned home with little to say. Now that this important strategic line had been decided upon, US pressure on India increased to open dialogue with Pakistan so that it could withdraw its troops from the eastern border, and focus entirely on Afghanistan. In case Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has any other views, the fact is that US President Barack Obama does not care a bit for Kashmir and terrorism there, he wants to get out of Afghanistan with an assurance that American nationals will remain safe in their own country.

So if Pakistan wants to flaunt some Kashmiri outfits and terrorists in the process, so be it. Let them have their little fun. And instead of realising this, foreseeing this, the Indian government in its search for a good seat at the high table, walked right into the Pakistani trap without assessing the pros and cons of the offer. Surely strategy is to build and plan for a worst case scenario and work backwards from there. This is how the world does it, but in New Delhi ‘feel good’ remains the mantra and in an environment where the bureaucrats only task is to please the political masters, frank strategic assessment remains confined to the dustbins. Clearly the assessment here was, offer talks and the Pakistanis desperate for the dialogue will come rushing. They did not, as they never have even in the past but then history, even very recent history, has never inspired our political class to draw the right lessons. As for the bureaucrats they have long since ceased to think.

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