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How will Modi deal with Imran?

August 27, 2018 09:30 IST

'Modi loves to keep others guessing and basks in the media glare, both traits that are politically helpful but are inimical to stable relations, especially in the fragile Indo-Pak equation.'
An exclusive excerpt from Pakistan Adrift: Navigating Troubled Waters by Asad Durrani.

Imran Khan with Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi in New Delhi, December 2015. Photograph: @MEAIndia/Twitter

IMAGE: Imran Khan with Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi in New Delhi, December 2015. Photograph: @MEAIndia/Twitter

Both the countries (India and Pakistan) took covert as well as overt measures to prevent unintended reactions.

During the Pakistan army's multi-corps exercise in 1989, Zarb-e-Momin, India did not move its troops to the borders since its ambassador and military attachés in Islamabad were informed and observers invited.

Similarly, when India mobilised its troops in Punjab at the end of 1992 to ensure that there was no revival of Sikh militancy, Pakistan was duly informed, perhaps even invited, to do ground checks.

Post-nuclearisation, to prevent false alarms over their nuclear alert statuses, both Islamabad and Delhi developed a reasonably functional system of exchanging information, including prior warnings on missile testing.

Some of our ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) heads have also met their Indian counterparts to assess the chances of intelligence cooperation.

The JATM (Joint Anti-Terrorism Mechanism), though not operationalised, could be improved to ensure the sharing of intelligence, at least on groups operating from either side of the international border.

In case of an incident, it could provide for joint actions like investigation and the interrogation of suspects.

Bureaucratic and political reservations are expected, some of which might even be legitimate, such as concerns about 'sovereignty' and intrusion into sensitive matters.

 

However, if these are not overcome, the endless exchange of dossiers, à la post- Mumbai (the 26/11 terror attacks), becomes unavoidable.

Even if it were established, the system would work primarily, if not solely, on the basis of the threat being mutual.

Initially, we could be content with this. As the two sides develop trust and rapport, its canvas would expand.

One day, even joint trials might become possible.

Soon after I retired from the (Pakistan) army, I was involved with a few Track Two circuits.

This was partially due to my stint in intelligence, but essentially because of our toxic relationship with India.

I could therefore be counted amongst the beneficiaries of this circus that performs around the globe.

After the two national security advisors, Ajit Doval of India and Naseer Janjua of Pakistan, met in Bangkok in December 2015, some of our prominent colleagues from one of these tracks had reason to feel gratified.

Only a few weeks earlier, they had been charged with conveying to their respective sides that a covert channel between the two governments was strongly advised.

Their role might have made a difference, but one would do well to remember that the establishment was not holding its breath for some wiseacres to return from a Track Two yatra to enlighten it on issues that the incumbents in office believed was their turf.

At times, they might actually gang up against these spent cartridges who, having royally messed up on their own watch, were now pretending to know better.

Those of us who have access to the decision makers or have a voice in the public domain (through the media or open discourse) could still contribute by sharing their Track Two experience.

Even the most stubborn of governments, when it has exhausted all options or come to a dead end, might recall an odd piece of advice given by an old-timer, who himself might have learnt a thing or two from his former adversary, now a worthy colleague in this confessional league.

The real benefit of this track accrues when a participant is willing to shed some of his prejudices and admit mistakes.

Of course, these tracks also facilitate the formation of new 'old boys' clubs', trans-national in their composition.

I, too, gained by reflecting deeply on my service experience and from some exchanges with my counterparts, even writing joint papers with them, and coming up with what seemed to be 'breakthrough' strategies.

IMAGE: Indian and Pakistan troops exchange sweets on the occasion of Eid-al-Azha at the Chakan Da Bagh crossing point near Poonch. Photograph: PTI Photo

I did not come to the conclusions right away. Rather, as events unfolded, one tried to make some sense of them and adjusted one's assessment accordingly.

Some things seemed to make sense in theory, but when there was no movement even on the most mundane of matters, like the easing of visa and trade regimes, I was forced to reflect again.

The conclusion was that the Indo-Pak relationship was frozen in time, and that there were good reasons for that.

The status quo, if not too inconvenient, is the establishment's preferred option. If it proves to be of advantage vis-à-vis the adversary, so much the better.

If the price one has to pay to improve relations seems to be more than the cost of conflict, one would do one's best, or worst, to prevent change.

Since India has, during the last two decades, achieved a greater level of comfort compared to Pakistan, it would rather manage the present state than risk a transformation whose dynamics it may not be able to control.

Pakistan might like to break the stalemate in its own favour, but has, in the meantime, become reconciled to the situation in the belief that it can not only live with the present state of affairs but can also deal with any aggravation.

It is too soon to assess how Prime Minister Modi will handle the Indo-Pak relationship.

All the steps he has taken so far -- inviting Nawaz Sharif to his oath-taking, and then reading him the riot act; heating up the Line of Control between the two countries; calling off the foreign secretaries' symbolic meeting on a fabricated pretext (our high commissioners used to routinely meet the Hurriyat leaders, including before such visits); the Ufa non-event; the 167-second huddle in Paris; melodramatically crash-landing in Lahore after giving an earful to Pakistan in Kabul; the 'nuanced' reaction to Pathankot -- each of these can be rationalised in an individual context.

Taken together, they reflect a persona that loves to keep others guessing and basks in the media glare, both traits that are politically helpful but are inimical to stable relations, especially in the fragile Indo-Pak equation.

I had believed that India would defend the status quo at all cost, but must admit that I had not considered including a caveat: What if there was a revolt in Kashmir that India was unable to contain with the methods that had worked in the past?

When that happened in the 'post-(Burhan) Wani awakening' of 2016, even the status quo became tenuous.

Considering that such events could recur, we have to be prepared for more explosive times.

I still think that all our earlier efforts to service this relationship were useful and conflict management efforts will be resumed in due course.

If the lessons we learnt, some of them 'on the job', are only kept in mind and the urge to find 'final solutions' checked, then the next rounds of negotiation could be more productive.

Excerpted from Pakistan Adrift: Navigating Troubled Waters by Asad Durrani, with the kind permission of the publishers, Westland Books.

Lieutenant General Asad Durrani (retd)