June 20, 2001


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General (retd) V P Malik

High stakes and low expectations

Now that the surprise over Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's invitation to President Pervez Musharraf is over, it is time to think about the stakes, possible agenda and expectations from the forthcoming Indo-Pak summit in July 2001.

I do not agree with the people who are questioning the summit. After the war in Kargil, in which over 1,200 lives were lost [on both sides] and thousands of crores were spent by India and Pakistan, only irrational people, who do not understand war, would think of letting Indo-Pak relations worsen.

India and Pakistan are geographically ordained to live with each other even if they fight from time to time. We may question the timing of the summit -- perhaps we could have waited till after the maximum infiltration period of the summer months was over -- but the talks were, and are, inevitable.

The stakes are high for the prime actors. Not just the burden of lives lost in Kargil and elsewhere, but of historical judgement on their political sagacity and statesmanship. As of today, Musharraf is perceived as the saboteur of the Lahore summit, author of the Kargil war, and someone who derailed the fledgling democracy in Pakistan. He has yet to establish his credibility at home and abroad and his vision of political, economic and social [ethnic, sectarian] reforms in Pakistan is not yet clear to Pakistanis or to the outside world.

Most importantly, we are not certain about his control over the jihadi groups and his own corps commanders who form the military junta under him. As everyone knows, it is always the military -- more specifically the army -- which dictates Pakistan's foreign and defence policies, particularly on India, Afghanistan and nuclear weapons. My own belief is that J&K is more a military agenda than a political agenda in Pakistan.

As a military ruler who supervised the last military takeover and benefited from it, Pervez Musharraf's stakes are not only national, but also personal. They are very high indeed!

Prime Minister Vajpayee, as everyone in India and abroad can see, is trying much too hard. Maybe he wants to create a niche in subcontinental history. His first initiative after Lahore and Kargil to bring about peace and tranquillity in J&K was in July 2000 when the Indian government announced the suspension of operations against the Hizbul Mujahideen and talks with the group.

Not many people know that around the same period, in consultation with some foreign friends, we also attempted a ceasefire along the Line of Control. Both these efforts failed because Syed Salahuddin, the Hizb leader in Pakistan, rejected the Indian initiative, no doubt on the instructions of the ISI, and there was no let-up in the infiltration of Lashkar and Harkat jihadis from across the LoC.

The second initiative of the ceasefire along the Actual Ground Position Line in the Siachen sector, the LoC and the international border in Jammu along with non-initiation of combat operations against all jihadi elements in J&K was taken with the start of Ramzan last year.

This had to be partially called off on May 23, 2001, due to lack of success in the hinterland. During this period, the killing of innocent civilians and attacks on security forces continued unabated. Therefore, offensive operations against militants became necessary once again.

Prime Minister Vajpayee's third initiative of a summit with Pakistan's military ruler within two years of the Kargil war is a really bold one. Saner elements on both sides of the border have welcomed it. But that does not mean he can afford to fail again.

The stakes are high for both nations, who have already defied the world on nuclear weapons. The next few weeks of preparing the groundwork are, therefore, important. Hopefully the leaders on both sides will not succumb to the political rhetoric of the hawks or media sensationalism, which is bound to intensify in the days to come.

Before we think of the possible agenda and expectations, let us analyse the situation on the ground.

Infiltration through the LoC after the second ceasefire has been much less, but then those were winter months. It increased a little through the international border (Kathua-Samba-Jammu sector) which has now become active because the Pakistani military has realised that we are going ahead with the fencing of this part. Pakistani resistance, through increased firing, despite the announcement of the summit, shows that there is no change in their policy or mindset.

With this background, surely no radical steps or solutions to any of the deep-rooted or violent problems can be expected. If the Pakistani military junta, despite its chief executive's call of talks anywhere, anytime on any subject, tries to make the summit hostage to the 'core problem', as reported in the media after the conference of Pakistan's corps commanders, the summit is bound to be fruitless.

What we can expect at this stage are not solutions, but confidence-building measures that will bring down the temperature and allow more meetings and dialogue. These CBMs should be political, economic, social and, most importantly, military, which will prevent another conflict at any level -- sub-conventional, conventional or nuclear. As Kargil has shown, all these are interlinked and difficult to be compartmentalized with any certainty.

India and Pakistan need to engage each other on several issues at several levels. That is how the Cold War between the East and the West thawed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. CBMs work well in peace, help in preventing war, and as seen during the Kargil war, are useful in limiting a war. This utility during the state of tension is accepted all over the world.

The first thing to do is to endorse and rejuvenate all old agreements and understandings which have got diluted or eroded ever since militant activities started on our western border in Punjab and later in J&K.

We already have an agreement on notification of military exercises near the border. It is possible to extend this into an annual exchange of information on more military activities: for example, types of activities, characteristics, purpose, area, planned duration, number and types of troops involved, and so on. The aim should be to bring about greater transparency in the military field.

In 1997-98, we had proposed several telephone links and hot lines at formation and BSF sector headquarters levels all along the LoC and the border. For some reason, those were to be considered or agreed upon between the mandarins of both countries. These could be discussed on the direction of the two leaders.

It is useful to involve the military in the ownership of military CBMs, something India has often neglected. That would not only increase military commitment to the CBMs, but also help in making them pragmatic, constructive and verifiable.

After the nuclear tests by both nations in May 1998, the Lahore Declaration was a landmark on CBMs. Unfortunately, by then, the Pakistani military had already initiated the Kargil intrusion, with full or half-baked political consent.

The Lahore Declaration and the MoU signed by the foreign secretaries contain some useful CBMs on the management of the two countries' nuclear capabilities and on other military aspects. Knowing our geographical conditions and the fact that at present our organisations and systems dealing with nuclear weapons are anything but robust, I believe that CBMs in the nuclear field are extremely important and in the interests of both nations.

We need to talk to each other in more detail on issues of nuclear safety like protocols for risk management. There may be a need for experts from both countries to establish nuclear risk reduction centres in India and Pakistan [with help from outsiders, if necessary] which will maintain round-the-clock hotlines with each other.

On the political front, discussion on the revival of SAARC and its institutions, which are now in limbo, will prove to be a useful CBM. The two leaders also need to discuss the activities of armed jihadi elements in Pakistan, who are emerging as a social threat to South Asia and also bringing a bad name to that country.

The other issues that could be discussed are trade, SAFTA [the South Asian Free Trade Agreement], gas pipeline, fishermen straying into each other's waters, visa facilities, and so on. I am sure the officials will consider these and many others.

Personal meetings between leaders, away from the glare of the media, have always proved useful. Instead of trying to resolve the long-frozen, emotional, highly complex and volatile issues which could lead to another holocaust on the subcontinent, the need of the hour is to increase transparency and create an atmosphere of confidence and trust at this stage.

I believe that at the forthcoming Indo-Pak summit, the stakes are very high, the agenda fairly limited, and expectations low. But I would be quite happy if I am proved wrong and the summit proves to be more constructive.

Why the Indo-Pak summit is doomed
What validity does a Vajpayee-Musharraf deal hold?
This is not Nirvana
Supping with a rogue general
Tackle Mr Hyde, not Mush Musharraf
Internal security slips, but the red carpet is out
That treacherous road to peace

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