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Should India talk with General Kayani?

October 13, 2011 17:35 IST

We need to take the bull by its horns and confront the Pakistan Army directly. However blasphemous and anti-protocol it may seem we must insist that General Ashfaq Kayani be a part of the dialogue process, says Vivek Gumaste.

What exactly defines the trajectory of normalisation of relations between warring neighbours like India and Pakistan? Is it when an attractive young Pakistani foreign minister with an engaging smile waltzes through India swinging her Birkin bag to the fawning admiration of smitten glitterati?

Can we assume that the two nations are inching closer to genuine bonhomie when External Affairs Minister S M Krishna brushes aside protocol and drops in on a reception in New York hosted by his Pakistani counterpart Hina Rabbani Khar on the sidelines of the recently concluded UN General Assembly and then surmises: "…Pakistan happens to be a close neighbour with which we have a connection, both in terms of civilization, we have same common history, background and language. Hence it is necessary to normalise relations with it."

The answer is neither. In fact both instances unequivocally emphasise a fundamental flaw in our foreign policy vis-a-vis Pakistan; an approach that is overshadowed and consumed by symbolism as evidenced by inane paeans to our common heritage rather than judged by the principles of realpolitik; so much so that in the lexicon of our Pakistan diplomacy superficiality has been substituted for substance and pretence has supplanted the real.

In his opus, Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger characterises realpolitik as foreign policy 'based on calculations of power and national interest'. Diplomatic tête-à-têtes and social niceties are mere adjuncts to sweeten the harsh ground reality; a means to an end and not an end in itself. That is where Indian diplomacy hits a stumbling block.

While Pakistan stands out as a past master in the art of diplomacy, India comes across as a bumbling novice readily accepting at face value diplomatic chatterati without being able to decipher its nuances. In other words, we have been mesmerised by a play of words into a self defeating paralytic inertia with disastrous consequences for our national interest.

Neither can foreign policy be perceived as a platform solely to exhibit ones debating prowess or flaunt one's moral superiority with the inevitable, 'I told you so' rhetoric. Unfortunately that is what our foreign policy towards Pakistan has been reduced to: a strategy that revels in these meaningless one-upmanships in lieu of tangible national gains. Former foreign secretary and current Indian Ambassador to the United States, Nirupama Rao was reiterating the same fallacy when at a recent panel discussion on India-US Strategic Relations organised by the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think-tank, she remarked: "India's point of view (on terrorism) is increasingly believed in and subscribed to."

We cannot remain content with scoring a debating victory. Mere approximation of world opinion with ours devoid of decisive action is not going to secure our national interest.

Compounding the deleterious effects of our confused self-defeating psyche is a faulty modus operandi: both traits feeding into each other to ensure failure and engender a dangerous situation of vulnerability.

It should have dawned on us by now that we have been speaking to the wrong entity: a puppet civilian government that is impotent and inconsequential in Pakistan's functioning. Pakistan's diplomatic interaction with India is a stalling technique and a cover for the Pakistan Army's nefarious misdeeds.

The scene that is being enacted across the border is a complex charade; one big lie without an iota of truth or a speck of sincerity. The Pakistan Army is the command and control centre of an evil triumvirate that includes terror groups and the political establishment (whenever it exists), each with a distinct, scheming role in an ongoing Indophobic ploy aimed to deceive rather than negotiate making honest interaction almost impossible.

Still smarting from the defeat of 1971, the Pakistan Army remains a seething cauldron of   Indophobic vitriol that shows no signs of abating. It continues to persist with its anti-India shenanigans using terrorists as a proxy: a point that the current ugly spat between Pakistan and the United States reaffirms.

When Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Army described the terrorist Haqqani network in Afghanistan as a 'veritable arm' of the Inter Services intelligence, he publicly unmasked the immutable Janus faced visage of the Pakistan Army: seemingly a standard bearer against terrorism but in actuality an inveterate confidante of terrorist groups. More importantly this altercation revealed the primary calculus of the Pakistan Army's unholy nexus: its singular anti-India focus.

The New York Times rightly averred: "The Haqqani network is seen as an important anti-India tool for the Pakistani military as it assesses the future of an Afghanistan without the Americans, a situation Pakistan sees as not far off."

Despite its hapless predicament in the face of relentless US pressure post 9/11, Pakistan craftily transformed an uncomfortable situation into a self serving venture by siphoning off billions of US aid dollars (almost $5 billion) earmarked for Afghanistan, to fund its anti-India strategy.

In short, Pakistan's anti-India game plan remains on track, ideologically and logistically, and more robust than ever, unaffected by the tumultuous events of the last decade.

By now it must be clear to everyone that India's diplomatic confabulation with the civilian government in Pakistan is tantamount to an exercise in nihilism; barking up the wrong tree and achieving nothing. Course correction is necessary by emulating the example set by the United States.

Most exchanges with Pakistan involve Army Chief Ashfaq Kayani, the real seat of power. In May 2011, when Hillary Clinton visited Pakistan post Osama Bin Laden's dismemberment, General Kayani was very much a part of the negotiations. And on an earlier visit, Clinton spent more time with General Kayani than with President Asif Ali Zardari or PM Yusuf Raza Gilani.

We need to take the bull by its horns and confront the Pakistan Army directly. However blasphemous and anti-protocol it may seem we must insist that General Ashfaq Kayani be a part of the dialogue process. Not that I am hopeful of such a possibility or its positive outcome, but it is our last chance at successful dialogue and worth a try.

Vivek Gumaste