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Hopefully, some Pak general is not planning another Kargil

By Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retd)
December 30, 2015 09:00 IST
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'Checkmating India by its nukes, Pakistan can pursue terrorism against India in the Kashmir Valley and also resume launching Mumbai 2008 style attacks.'

'The military oligarchy in Pakistan has a totally different view of what is desirable and possible in the subcontinent,' says Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retd).

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Lahore.It is an understatement to say that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Pakistan on Christmas came merely as a pleasant surprise. It generated a happy feeling in the subcontinent, and except for the sworn 'Opposition', the bonhomie was shared alike by the common man and the elite. The prime minister's bold initiative was greatly admired in many parts of the world.

We have no reason to disbelieve the PM when he says he had not planned this stopover and the idea came his way as he was winding up his planned visit to Afghanistan. His speech there did not shy away from mentioning that Afghanistan would succeed in its effort when 'terrorism no longer flowed from across the border.'

He had also emphasised that cooperation and support of its neighbours, including that of Pakistan, was necessary.

Ordinarily, this would have set the cat among the pigeons in Pakistan because the Indian presence in Afghanistan is anathema to the military leadership in that country. The military in Pakistan looks upon Afghanistan as its backyard, to be used the way it likes. In its eyes Afghanistan confers 'strategic depth' on Pakistan.

The Indian presence in Afghanistan revolts against the Pakistan military's fundamental assumptions. Prime Minister Modi's visit to Afghanistan, in the normal course, would have ended with acerbic comments in the Pakistani media.

The inspired improvisation to surprise Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, by dropping in on his birthday, called for a firm belief on the Indian PM's part that goodwill would breed goodwill, and it was appropriate to give a go by to formal protocol.

Considering that bureaucrats on both sides were surprised, and visas had to be arranged at the eleventh hour, the visit did look impromptu. On the other hand, many of the 'default' security settings in and around Lahore must have had to be switched to 'safe' mode before the Indian PM landed; if so, it is likely that the contingency might have been thought of earlier.

It seems the PM did take a chance and decided to act on his impulse. In the prevailing atmosphere things could have gone either way. PM Modi's initiative and goodwill were vindicated when he was warmly received by PM Sharif.

On his part, in spite of his personal commitments (his grandaughter was getting married), PM Sharif went out of his way to make time for the Indian PM and extended warm hospitality. After that, it was happy camaraderie all along, protocol was forgotten.

Of course, the visit is more symbolic than substantive at this stage. That apart, we cannot rid ourselves wholly of a feeling of deja vu. We do recall that then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had taken a bus ride to meet the very same PM Nawaz Sharif in February 1999.

Unknown to the prime ministers, General Pervez Musharraf had already hijacked the street car of Indo-Pak camaraderie and taken it onto the bumpy side road of successive military confrontations.

Even as prime ministerial hands were proffered and accepted in warm friendship, Musharraf had already approved the plan of a Pakistani campaign against India in the Kargil sector, and also given finishing touches to his cover plan of deception.

A question bugs us: Will history repeat itself as tragedy or will it be farce? Hopefully, 'none of the above' proves to be the correct answer.

As of now, General Musharraf is out there in the wilderness, defending himself against charges of treason. Hopefully, some other ambitious general is not lurking in the shadows. We have good reasons to be sceptical.

PM Modi opened his innings by inviting all SAARC prime ministers, including PM Sharif, to his inaugural. That was a first of its kind. But Indo-Pak relations were derailed by the Pakistan military soon thereafter.

The intensity of firing on the LoC was increased by Pakistan. The annual induction of trained terrorists into Jammu and Kashmir was resumed behind the cover of intense firing. Unlike in the past, this time the response by the Indian side was a tad higher than 'proportionate'.

Some ratcheting up of firing by both sides followed until Pakistan found it counterproductive, and normalcy, such as it can possibly be obtained on the LoC, was restored. This kind of Indian reaction was somewhat unusual.

India's defence preparedness had taken a beating for the past decade. PM Modi set about making up the equipment deficiencies with import-agreements that had 'Made in India' clauses built into them. He was not willing to talk peace from a position of weakness.

Early in 2015, after elections in J&K, a coalition government was formed by the Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party. This was brought about after hard bargaining.

That the so-called 'Hindu nationalist right wing party' had come to an understanding with the PDP in itself was a wonder of wonders because the PDP had fought the assembly election on the basis of the primacy of Article 370 inter alia, closer ties across the Line of Control, making borders irrelevant, and so on.

It was not as if the full significance of this development had not sunk in at the time. The happy adjustment of a predominantly and avowedly Muslim party with the BJP was a first of its kind in the western part of the subcontinent.

Such an adjustment had already taken place in the eastern part of the subcontinent in that India already has had a happy relationship with Bangladesh.

This was further improved upon by Prime Minister Modi during his visit to Dhaka this year by extending a $2 billion credit to Bangladesh; a border treaty was also signed. This was a signal to all SAARC countries that the security of the subcontinent was indivisible. Geopolitics of the subcontinent does not give us any other choice.

The PDP-BJP coalition points to a possibility, which appears distant at present, that the road from New Delhi to Islamabad via Srinagar may prove to be the shortest. It is a model -- although a hazy one at present -- that may inspire the happy and peaceful coexistence of India and Pakistan both.

No, not so fast, says the sceptic, and she is right. The military oligarchy in Pakistan has a totally different view of what is desirable and possible in the subcontinent. In its view, Pakistan has sufficient tactical nuclear weapons and launchers to set at naught India's conventional military superiority.

Checkmating India by its nukes, Pakistan can pursue terrorism against India in the Kashmir Valley and also resume launching Mumbai 2008 style attacks. They plan to use the Taliban to secure southern Afghanistan, and thereby offset the disadvantage of lack of depth for Pakistan.

For so long as Pakistan has mastery over the geostrategic region stretching from the Hindu Kush to the Suleiman, the US has no choice but to back Pakistan on account of its geopolitical compulsions.

The annual American financial assistance is proof of that. The US backs Pakistan, notwithstanding its proven sponsoring of terrorism in J&K. The Pakistan military seems to feel it has an obligation to spearhead jihad in the subcontinent. In Pakistan, the elite and the common man alike has been nurtured on this line of thought for very long. The elite has always backed the Pakistani military and therefore has not been uncomfortable with military rule.

It is only recently that the elite in Pakistan has reoriented itself and created a new trend of thought: The not-so-happy state of Pak finances is owed by Pakistan to its pursuit of confrontation with India. Confrontation with India is neither necessary nor affordable any longer.

The gift of Saudi money to bigoted Islamists has given rise to terrorists who have turned on Pakistan itself. Pakistan's identity in the world is embarrassing at times and many Pakistani citizens have to pass themselves off as desis in the US and Europe. A new paradigm of coexistence and development has to be found.

Pakistan being a highly hierarchical society, the change in the elite's attitude has started impacting the common man. A slow but steady change is coming about. The first-ever full term of a democratically elected government in Pakistan is indicative of that.

Would this change of mood in Pakistan last, in spite of the venom that is spread on a daily basis by the likes of Lashkar-e-Tayiba founder Muhammed Saeed is a question that cannot be answered with certainty. Indian preparedness is the only answer.

PM Modi sensed the change of mood correctly and made a deliberate effort to cultivate Prime Minister Sharif in disregard of right wing criticism. Having demonstrated that India could match the Pakistani military, knock for knock, Modi decided to change tack and opened a dialogue with Sharif not from a pedestal, but as an equal.

Did Modi have the Egypt-Israel rapprochement as the model? He has taken foreign policy initiatives of a kind rare in India. From non-alignment, he has moved to active and constructive engagement. He has a masterly skill in reconciling contradictions and differences. He is equally comfortable with heads of governments in the US, Russia and China.

The Opposition in India asserts that PM Modi's Pakistan policy has been inconsistent. The Opposition finds the present initiative inconsistent with the attitude that informed the cancellation of the NSA-level talks by India in August 2015.

Looking at the results obtained now, the Opposition charge seems churlish. Possibly, they are unaware that 'a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.'

PM Modi is not risk averse. He decided to take the plunge and it worked to everyone's advantage. His spectacular coup seems to have made the Opposition uncomfortable even as it was basking in the glory of disrupted Parliamentary sessions. The Opposition seems to be out of sync with the common man in India.

PM Modi makes foreign policy and leaves only its execution to the professionals. He leads from the front.

Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi, PVSM, AVSM, saw active service in Jammu and Kashmir in the 1965 and 1971 wars. General Joshi was Director General of Military Training, overseeing the policy and planning of training in the Indian Army during the final two years of his long and distinguished service to the nation.

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Lieutenant General Ashok Joshi (retd)
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