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Covert diplomacy, overt results

When India became nuclear so did Pakistan and it came on par with us. We lost the advantage of our superiority in conventional warfare, writes Romesh Bhandari.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2009 22:13 IST

We are entering into the sixth week after the Mumbai carnage and a New Year has come. There have been belied expectations leading to frustration. There was a point when war seemed a real possibility. Thanks to a firm assurance by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, that war is not an option, the climate is relatively cool.

There are four pillars that delineate the parameters within which we must conduct our efforts. War is no solution and as such must not be waged. Terrorism has to be rooted out from Pakistani soil. Democracy in Pakistan has to get firmly established for military takeovers to become history. It is now time to bring permanent peace and stability there. As far as war is concerned, irrespective of what some hawks may demand, war cannot be an option. When India became nuclear so did Pakistan and it came on par with us. We lost the advantage of our superiority in conventional warfare.

Terrorism is the seminal issue that has to be addressed. It has become an international demand. Even the Pakistanis are victims of it. We should make it the focal issue at present and give it the highest priority. India cannot do this individually. It has to be a collective, international effort. Mumbai has paid a very heavy price. The sacrifices of Mumbaikars have brought into sharp relief the imperativeness of completely destroying terrorism emanating from Pakistan.

The US, Britain, Russia, the European Union and the UN Security Council have all taken this up with the Pakistani authorities. In this regard, even China has come on board, though on Indo-Pak matters it has clearly been soft on Pakistan.

We have to keep up a relentless effort to see that other matters do not distract the major powers and the Security Council.

Pakistan has to be made to act. The civilian government is committed to it. It is clear that the army alone can deliver in Pakistan. Without their genuine involvement nothing will happen. It is here that ultimatums need to be given. Pakistan should show some tangible results. It should abandon its withdrawal mode.

This is where the US, Britain and the UN can be most effective as they have the requisite levers. Covert diplomatic pressures should be given more space. They are working and results, meagre as they may be, are emerging. However, if nothing happens in the near future, there are two lethal levers that would need to be applied. The first is the economic one. Even the apartheid regime in South Africa had to succumb to this. The second is the military one. Supplies of arms aid, spares and new military supplies might need to be suspended. There is, as such, no shortage of measures.

Our past experience has been that civilian governments are invariably more difficult to deal with. A dictator could deliver. Times have changed. I believe that democracy is now our best bet. The elected reflect public opinion. And public opinion is now in favour of the end of confrontation and resorting to cooperation. As one young Pakistani journalist told me when I visited Pakistan as Foreign Secretary several years ago, “Pakistanis are taught in schools that India is an enemy. Books preach hatred. We have been fighting wars against each other. Why can we not set aside guns and bullets and wage a war between us as to who is able to build more cement plants and factories? Who provides more employment, more schools, more hospitals?” This was rare at that time, but today it is a sentiment shared by the majority. Further, it is not in anyone’s interest to see a splintered Pakistan. We want unity and stability in Pakistan. We want a responsible
government in Pakistan. Both want to work for providing our people a better quality of life.

The time has now come to take some bold steps with respect to Kashmir. No magic solution can be found. Let us look into the past. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had signed an agreement in Shimla after the 1971 war. There is a government in Delhi led by Mrs Gandhi’s party. The President of Pakistan is the son-in-law of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Let both governments jointly commit themselves to irrevocably adhere to the letter and spirit of the Simla agreement. This should be noted and endorsed by the UN Security Council in a resolution.

We have come a long way in our confidence-building measures. Let the Line of Control become a border of peace and tranquillity. Let the people of Jammu and Kashmir interact with each other freely. Let us not have any more of hostile acts, lives lost and property destroyed. The people of J&K have a right to start enjoying the three Ps — a life of Peace, Progress and Prosperity. This will itself remove a major motivator for acts of terror. It would suit the interests of the US and Britain as Pakistan could then concentrate, without distraction, on the problem of Afghanistan. This is what would be historic, a precursor to the type of 21st century we would like to see our future generations live in.

(Romesh Bhandari is a former Foreign Secretary)