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Why PM's 'secret talks' with Pak must be welcomed

Last updated on: April 24, 2011 19:51 IST

Why PM's 'secret talks' with Pak must be welcomed

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B Raman

Senior analyst B Raman argues that one should not be surprised if PM Manmohan Singh -- whether independently or under US nudging -- has authorised our army chief to enter into clandestine contact with his Pakistani counterpart to work out the details.

A certain amount of sensation has been caused both in India and Pakistan over a report carried on April 23, 2011, by the Times of London that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has opened 'secret talks' with Pakistan and appointed an unofficial envoy about 10 months ago to contact Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's chief of the army staff.

Despite denial of the report by government sources in Delhi, it is not totally disbelieved by many analysts, including me.

The report does not carry conviction in one respect. It says that Gen Kayani, accompanied by Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha, the director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, had visited Kabul last week for talks with Afghan leaders and that India, which would have normally condemned the visit as Pakistani 'meddling,' remained silent.

The Times projects this as the latest evidence of a United States-driven rapprochement between India and Pakistan.

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Image: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Photographs: Reuters
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This was not the first visit of Kayani and Pasha to Kabul. They have been visiting Kabul at least half a dozen times a year -- sometimes for bilateral talks, sometimes for trilateral talks involving US military commanders too.

The latest visit was somewhat different in nature from the previous visits. Whereas the previous visits were to discuss the ground situation and the exchange of intelligence, the latest visit was reportedly to meet the members of the High Peace Council set up by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai for persuading the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.

Afghanistan is an independent country and Pakistani leaders and officers have every right to visit that country for whatever purpose provided there was an official invitation.

The question of India protesting against such visits does not arise. The Times inference is, therefore, far-fetched.


Image: Pakistan army chief Gen Kayani shakes hand with soldiers.
Photographs: Reuters
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India has never hesitated to hold open and secret talks with Pakistani army chiefs when the army was in power.

We had contacts and talks with Gen Zia Ul-Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf. Some of these contacts were initiated through intermediaries.

Thus, the secret contacts between Zia and Rajiv Gandhi, which led to two meetings between the then chiefs of the ISI and the Research & Analysis Wing, were initiated through the then Crown Prince of Jordan.

Similarly, it is believed that a brother of Musharraf, who lives in the US, had played a role in paving the way for the official visit of Musharraf to India in 2001 for the Agra talks with Atal Behari Vajpayee, the then Prime Minister.

Image: Former Pakistan President Parvez Musharraf
Photographs: Reuters
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However, it has been India's policy not to have direct talks or contacts -- open or clandestine -- with Pakistani army chiefs when an elected civilian government is in power in Islamabad.

None of the Indian prime ministers had encouraged such contacts of a political or quasi-political nature with a Pakistani army chief when an elected civilian government is in power, lest the authority of the civilian government -- never very strong in Pakistan -- be further weakened.

Nobody has cited any strong reason as to why Dr Manmohan Singh should depart from this healthy policy.

However, there have been reports of attempts being made by the US to encourage open or clandestine contacts at the professional level between the armies and intelligence agencies of the two countries.

One of the Wikileaks cables contains a tell-tale reference to attempts being made by the US to organise a tripartite meeting of the investigating/intelligence officers of the US, India and Pakistan in the US to review the progress in the investigation of the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai by the Pakistani authorities.

The cables are, however, silent whether this meeting actually took place.

One should not be surprised if the US has not relented in its efforts to promote a clandestine relationship between the intelligence and investigating agencies of the two countries.


Image: PM Singh and Pak PM Gilani meet the layers ahead of the ICC Cricket World Cup semi-final match in Mohali
Photographs: Reuters
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I have been of the view for some years that we should not fight shy of such liaison contacts on a regular basis and that we should take the initiative in this direction instead of depending on the US.

Suggestions have also come from time to time from experts in India and the US, including me, for paving the way for a strong military-to-military relationship between the two countries in order to encourage military confidence building.

This would entail steps like regular exchanges of visits by the army chiefs and other senior military officers of the two countries, establishment of a hot line between the army chiefs of the two countries to supplement the present line between the director-generals of military operations of the two countries and the association of the army officers of the two countries with some of the training courses in the two countries.

Such diversified professional contacts, if well nurtured, could ultimately have a political dividend by reducing the post-1971 feeling of insecurity of the Pakistani army and making it amenable to supporting the moves for a political rapprochement between the two countries.

One should not be surprised if our prime minister -- whether independently or under US nudging -- has authorised our army chief to enter into clandestine contact with his Pakistani counterpart through suitable intermediaries to work out the details.

If this is correct, this initiative should be welcomed and supported.


Image: US president Barack Obama and PM Singh in Washington, DC
Photographs: Reuters
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