‘Not talking is not the best way to deal with Pakistan’

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PODCAST


Edited excerpts from the interview:

The terrorist attack in Jammu is one of the biggest incidents since 26/11. Were you expecting such a major incident?

This behaviour of Pakistan has become a pattern – whenever political talks are planned or international visitors come to India, such incidents happen. If there are bilateral India-Pakistan talks or visits, attacks happen to send a signal that there is a problem in Kashmir. So I am not surprised that this has occurred considering that there has been a stepping up of exchange of fire, violence and infiltration from the Pakistani side ever since Nawaz Sharif took over. So this incident seems to be repeating the pattern we have seen for quite some time.

Although Nawaz Sharif has been talking about better relations with India, the BJP claims that he is unable to control the Army and that the Army seems to be in cohort with the militants. Considering this, who do you think are the people behind these attacks?

One has to keep in mind that Nawaz Sharif’s political base is in Punjab and those parts of Punjab regions that have a strong presence of militancy. His family has long-standing connections with Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Saudi Arabia. Not only his father, but he himself had sought shelter there. So he has strong connections with Sunni conservatives and militant elements.

Secondly, as his political base is in Punjab – his party won only in Punjab except for one seat in Sind – he has to take care of his political base.

Thirdly, his relationship with the Army is by no means that of mutual confidence. There is a history that all of us know. The Army will not trust him with foreign policy – India, Kashmir, Afghanistan and nuclear capability. They will certainly not give him a free hand. They will gently warn him that if he tries to act on his own or be too ambitious, they will upset the boat. Therefore he has to have a measured approach.

But having said that, the fact is that terrorism in Pakistan has a life of its own and is not completely under the control of the armed forces or the government. And the fact that Nawaz Sharif’s party wants to reach out to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and engage them in negotiations shows his links with militants and his desire to accommodate them. Consequently, these forces are encouraged as they have an ambience created by political circumstances in which they have more liberty of action

Since the army is also under attack by the terrorists, one can’t say across the board that they control all the militancy in Pakistan, but the militancy that they do control is the one that targets India, i.e., Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jamaat-ud-Dawa. Nawaz Sharif’s government gave over 60 million rupees to Jamaat-ud-Dawa for its charitable work, knowing fully well that it is on the terrorism list of the United Nations Security Council. It also allowed Hafiz Saeed to lead the Eid prayers at Gaddafi Stadium, again knowing how sensitive India is about Hafiz Saeed. They also disregarded the fact that Nawaz Sharif wants to come across as someone who wants to settle issues with India. How can you settle such issues if the publicly visible and aggressive face of Pakistani terrorism against India is given so much political space in Punjab?

Opposition parties have asked for calling off India-Pakistan talks. Is not talking to Pakistan a solution to the problem?

I have a different view. Whatever our reservations about Nawaz Sharif and our suspicions about his capacity to do what he says, the fact is that we have a new Prime Minister in Pakistan whose statements indicate that he wants change. Moreover, Pakistan is in a very difficult situation. Even if he was not motivated by any altruistic feeling towards India and acted merely for Pakistan’s self-interest, he wishes to improve relations to a degree. It looks very odd when the Prime Ministers of both nations are in the same town (New York) and they refuse to talk. I don’t think that this is the best way to deal with this situation. More so when we have seen that there is some sort of easening of relations between United States and Iran.

However, there must not be a joint statement because this is where we faulted earlier: we get manoeuvered by Pakistan into getting back into the same old sterile framework of composite dialogue on various subjects on which there is no progress.

Also, Nawaz Sharif has not taken any measures, even in areas where he could have in order to improve the atmosphere and signal his positive intentions. The easiest way he could have done that – and on which the previous government had made progress – was to grant India Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status. Pakistan does not even have to make any concessions: India and the US have MFN status and one of the biggest issues on the Prime Minister’s visit to the US is commerce and trade. So giving MFN status does not mean that all other complaints and difficulties will be resolved. Non-tariff barriers have nothing to do with MFN status; they can be dealt with even after granting the status. Instead, they have asked business groups on both sides to discuss it, but those groups can’t resolve this issue satisfactorily. They also said that this issue would be raised when the commerce secretaries’ talks take place. By then, Pakistan will have delayed the decision on the issue and will inevitably link it to progress in Siachen.

Keeping these in mind, the Prime Minister can meet Nawaz Sharif and issue a statement that they met, discussed issues of importance and are looking forward to progress in bilateral relations. I think it will be a folly, without any positive movement by Nawaz Sharif, to give him what he wants – a composite dialogue.

With less than nine months to go for the completion of his term as Prime Minister, what would Mamohan Singh’s legacy be vis-à-vis Pakistan?

I think any Prime Minister’s legacy would be that the future interests of India are secured. The problem is how do you interpret this and what would you count as a positive legacy. Manmohan Singh’s legacy would simply be that he stood firm on basic issues. He made sure that the issue of terorrism was not swept under the carpet because that is the biggest issue in India. And this problem will get aggravated once the Taliban are accommodated in Afghanistan.

So India’s long-term interest requires that we stand firm on this issue and do not follow a policy which weakens our defences because unless Pakistan credibly ceases to be an instrument of terrorism not only for India, but also Afghanistan, there is no point in making a deal with Pakistan. Besides, why do our political class think that if progress has to be made on standing issues, India has to make the move and there is no onus on Pakistan to do so?

Pakistan refuses to budge on any of the issues under discussion. That’s why they want a composite dialogue. They will use it to continue to press India on Siachen and Sir Creek knowing that their constant pressure has eroded the will and the resilience of the Indian political class. They raised the water issue which is most unfortunate because the only thing that has worked between India and Pakistan is the Indus water treaty. There is no treaty in the world as generous to another state as this treaty is. Yet Pakistan has made this into an issue because the international community has ceased to pressure India on Kashmir. The water-sharing issue, being very emotive, can be used to appeal to certain sections of the international community and force India to take a defensive position and block all the hydroelectric projects we intend to set up entirely in accordance with this treaty.

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