Pak policy needs constant review ~ kalyani shankar
The killing of five Indian soldiers by the Pakistan army on the LoC this week couldn’t have come at a worse time for India and Pakistan. It is no secret that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is keen to normalise the relationship with Pakistan. Fresh efforts are being made after the election of Nawaz Sharif as the Pakistan prime minister in May. This setback comes ahead of a planned meeting between him and Mr Singh on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in September.
The dialogue between the two countries had been suspended since the January ceasefire violations. There was hope that relations would improve following the election of Mr Sharif, as he has been promising better ties with India. He said in a TV interview that he wanted enhanced trade and energy ties, a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Kashmir, and promised to “make sure that the Pakistani soil is not used for any such designs against India”. Mr Sharif held that it was imperative for both India and Pakistan to take effective steps to ensure and restore ceasefire on the LoC.
The incident on Tuesday is one of scores that have taken place along the 750-km border that separates the two sides of Kashmir despite a ceasefire agreement that was signed in 2003. Every few months, soldiers from the two sides are killed in cross-border firing or attacks. We have had skirmishes in January, February, July and August, to name a few in 2013.
The LoC tension has once again brought to the fore a debate about how to handle the Indo-Pak relationship. The immediate fall-out seems to be that the proposed meeting of Indian and Pakistani prime ministers in New York is unlikely.
There are only two choices before the two governments – to resume the dialogue or fight. Both countries are nuclear powers and this latter option could only be the last option. While the hawks in India argue for a hard line as Pakistan has not kept up any of its assurances, the doves in India argue that a serious crisis with Pakistan would damage India&’s real strategic goal of achieving double digit growth. War would set back for years the efforts to reduce the strategic gap. Prime ministers Vajpayee and Singh both understood this. They felt this could only be done through a prolonged process of churning.
They have been trying the dialogue process, which is interrupted often by the skirmishes or the Mumbai attacks or some such thing. New Delhi has also chosen trade and economic routes to normalise relations with Pakistan, although Islamabad is yet to confer the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India.
Mr Singh&’s hopes of moving forward with the help of Mr Sharif may have been dashed after the Tuesday incident, as there is tremendous opposition for the prime minister-level talks. On the Pak side, it is not clear how much say the civilian government will have, as Pakistan army all along has the final word on foreign policy and security issues.
On the Indian side, the Singh government is at the fag end of its second term and is not very strong, facing several scams. There is mixed reaction from other political parties. The BJP insists that the PM should call off his meeting with Mr Sharif in New York. The party argues that until the 26/11 Mumbai perpetrators and those involved this week are brought to justice, we should not have the highest-level talks. The opposition wants the government to name and shame Pakistan.
SP chief Mulayam Singh also has his own view on the Pakistan policy. The JD-U and the NCP say that talks between the two prime ministers should be held since Mr Sharif had expressed regret. The war of words between the opposition and the government would only impede the Pakistan policy. Before doing anything, the first priority of the government is to bring the opposition on board on the Indo-Pak policy.
Some top policy experts in India have conveyed to Mr Singh that he should cancel his meeting with Mr Sharif, as it would send a wrong signal that it is business as usual. The hawks insist that New Delhi should not announce dialogue resumption before Pakistan settles its internal equations. Islamabad should also announce the MFN status for India and ensure the speedy trial of Mumbai accused. They argue that Mr Sharif can create a conducive atmosphere by responding positively to these issues and that Prime Minister Singh must make it clear to his Pakistani counterpart that there is no question of returning to the 1999 position as Mr Sharif has suggested, unless Pakistan ensures that the territory controlled by it is not used for terrorism against India and that infiltration is brought to an end.
There is lack of a comprehensive policy on Pakistan; also the lack of a political consensus. Mr Singh should first of all build consensus within his own party, as the party is not fully on board with his views on Pakistan. Secondly, he must try and build a consensus with opposition parties broadly on how to handle Pakistan.
Thirdly, since there is a disconnect between the Pakistan army and the civilian leadership; New Delhi should do well to engage with both.
The basic lines of the policy of flexible engagement followed by governments in India since 1990 are not wrong. But what is required is constant review and tweaking of this policy, which involves strategic restraint, engagement and limited use of force.