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Count the zigzags

The BJP's zigzags when in power would make a drunk’s walk seem an exercise in fidelity to a straight line, writes AG Noorani.

india Updated: Apr 15, 2007, 23:24 IST
AG Noorani
AG Noorani

There is no precedent in history for an Opposition party to ask a foreign State not to settle a dispute with its own country’s elected
government but await the party’s return to power. Yet, on February 20, LK Advani, and the next day, AB Vajpayee warned Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri against “any haste” in the peace process. Advani explained that while Indian politics revolve mainly around domestic, and not foreign, policy, issues relating to Indo-Pak relations were “totally different”. He had boasted on March 14, 2004, “The BJP alone can find a solution to our problems with Pakistan because Hindus will never think whatever we have done is a sell-out.” Admittedly, the BJP is a communal party. It invests Indo-Pak relations with communal colours.

It can neither absorb the shock of its defeat in the Lok Sabha polls in May 2004 nor that of the visible success of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s policy. He not only rules out J&K’s “secession” and “redrawing boundaries”, but has secured Musharraf’s concurrence to these. The BJP is disturbed by his success and goes about screaming ‘sell-out’ and ‘cross-border terrorism’.

Both Vajpayee’s letter to the PM on June 16, 2005, and Advani’s letter to the PM on March 13, 2007, were leaked to the press by the BJP, as were their remarks to Kasuri. The subtext is: “Wait till we return to power and settle with us.” Vajpayee successfully wrecked I.K. Gujral’s initiative, on June 23, 1997, to set up working groups with Pakistan. He revealed on May 24, 1998, that Gujral’s offer at Dhaka on January 14, 1998, to discuss all subjects in one go in order to avoid discussing Kashmir specifically, was worked out in consultation with him. This had been on for over a year. Vajpayee wrecked the 1997 accord. Singh is of stronger moral fibre than Gujral. But Vajpayee cannot forget the taste of the blood he drew in 1997-98.

The BJP will act dirty everywhere — in Parliament, at the polls and on foreign policy. Its own zigzags when in power would make a drunk’s walk seem an exercise in fidelity to a straight line. At the very outset, it revived the UN’s concern for Kashmir. On May 18, 1999, immediately after Pokhran II on May 11 and 13, Advani threatened “hot pursuit” across the LoC and spoke of a “qualitative new stage in Indo-Pak relations, particularly in finding a lasting solution to the Kashmir problem”. Its existence was admitted; but the ‘solution’ was to be based on superior force. And the people of the state mattered not. Pakistan’s tests followed on May 28 and 30, 1998.

The UNSC passed on June 6, 1998, Resolution 1172, urging the two countries “to find mutually acceptable solutions that address the root causes of those tensions, including Kashmir”. Its last substantive Resolution (211) on Kashmir, passed on September 20, 1965, had a weaker formulation — “a settlement of the political problem underlying the present conflict”. The harsher 1998 formulation was based on the P-5’s joint statement on June 4 and was adopted by the G-8 on June 12, 1998. This was the BJP’s first ‘achievement’ after it came to power in March 1998.

Thrown off balance, Jaswant Singh was instructed to offer an accord on the basis of the LoC; not to Pakistan but to the US. The Shimla commitment to bilateralism was abandoned. It was offered to US Deputy Secretary Strobe Talbott on July 9, 1998, repeated to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Manila on July 26 and at the State Department the next month.

Vajpayee met PM Nawaz Sharif in New York on September 24, 1998, and agreed on “operationalising” the 1997 mechanism for a composite dialogue, which he himself had wrecked. Accordingly, foreign and defence secretaries met in New Delhi in November, when, abandoning the basis accepted by both sides for over a decade, the BJP regime rejected the agreed principle of withdrawal of troops from Siachen. The Lahore summit, conceived in New York, was held on February 21, 1999. Officials were rushed to Lahore to drum up accords. A hilarious back channel was set up — Niaz Naik and R.K. Mishra. Kargil followed. Vajpayee rightly told Sharif on June 13, “You withdraw your troops and we are prepared for talks.” Pakistan’s troops quit but New Delhi refused to hold direct talks. It suppressed from the public the US’ active mediation and the ‘Kashmir-centric’ talks in the back channel even while Pakistan’s troops were in Kargil.

Keep counting the zigzags. On July 24, 2000, the Hizbul Mujahideen declared a unilateral ceasefire in Kashmir, which India accepted immediately. Called off on August 8 by the HM, Vajpayee nonetheless offered “non-initiation of combat operations” on November 19, 2000. He ended it six months later. On May 24, 2001, he suddenly invited Musharraf for talks though he had ruled out talks with Pakistan the year before. Documents of the Agra summit in July 2001, published in 2005, exposed the falsehoods the BJP had retailed in Parliament. On July 17, 2001, the public was told that the “threads” would be picked up from where they were left. As in 1999, the very next day, the government insisted on a total end to “cross-border terrorism”.

Capitalising on the US mood after 9/11, it launched Operation Para-kram on December 18, 2001, only to call it off on October 16, 2002. Vajpayee told the three service chiefs on December 18, when they asked for a directive, “Woh baad mein batayengey” (that will be told later). It cost Rs 8,000 crore, 387 lives and colossal damage to equipment. It was intended to pressure the US to put pressure on Pakistan. Paramvir Das, former DG, Defence Planning Staff, criticised the “vested political interests sadly using the armed forces as a conventional pawn”.

The Opposition, like the Democrats in the US, hesitated to censure, fearing the charge of ‘unpatriotic’ behaviour. To his credit, Pranab Mukherjee publicly censured the operation at its height: “We are not in 1914... They shouldn’t have created this war hysteria. Both India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon States”.

As before, the West chipped in. “We don’t want to go through this again,” the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said in June 2002. His Deputy Richard Armitage said on June 10, “The recent crisis has put Kashmir on the international agenda in a way it has never been before.” Another BJP achievement.

On March 27, 2003, the US and Britain laid down a roadmap in a public statement that Vajpayee followed — “a ceasefire and... active steps to reduce tension, including moves within the Saarc context”. Vajpayee attended the Saarc summit in Pakistan, after a ceasefire went into force on November 25, 2003, on the LoC, the international border and in Siachen.

The Vajpayee-Musharraf joint statement of January 6, 2004, after the Saarc summit, revived the composite dialogue and recorded Musharraf’s assurance not to “permit” Pakistan’s territory “to be used to support terrorism in any manner”, a formulation Musharraf had offered two years earlier. But Vajpayee dropped his condition — “wind up terrorist camps”.

Defeat in the May 2004 polls and progress in the talks since have unsettled the BJP. Advani is desperate. The year 2009 will be the gambler’s last throw. He will try to wreck the talks consistently with the BJP’s incompetent and insincere Pakistan policy. But the country is aware that for the first time in the six-decade-old dispute, Kashmir can now be settled in a manner acceptable to all — India, Pakistan and the people of the state.

It is also aware of the fact that while on New Year’s Day, 2001, Vajpayee promised to depart from “the beaten track of the past”, not once
did he make any creative proposal. He could not. The RSS would never let its child, the BJP, settle with Pakistan. Unable to deliver, he
decided to leave. A Mumbai phrase aptly describes his technique — Haath par chand batana (show the moon in the hollow of the palm).

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