Highlighting the futility of engaging Pakistan’s civilian officials is a good thing
“(People) on the Indian side need to ask” writes Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu “what the home secretary hoped to achieve by saying the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate of the Pakistan army had been involved in 26/11 “from the beginning till the end.”” To Mr Varadarajan it is neither the outrageousness of the Pakistani negotiating line nor the obnoxiousness of the Pakistani foreign minister’s behaviour that is the problem—it is India’s refusal to set aside Pakistan’s complicity and stonewalling on 26/11 and “indulge Pakistan’s desire for official talks on Kashmir, Siachen and other ‘core issues’”.
It is generally a good thing that the Indian media has the space to present alternative viewpoints. That said, Mr Varadarajan’s criticism has a fundamental flaw. It is no longer tenable—as he contends—that talking to the motley bunch of smug, self-important men who occupy offices in Islamabad will somehow strengthen the “civilian government” of Pakistan. There was a time between the time when the PPP’s election victory in early 2008 and the terrorist attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 when the argument would have made sense. But 26/11 was an effective coup against the Asif Ali Zardari’s seemingly conciliatory policies [See Kayani wins this round]. Since then it is the Pakistani army that controls the foreign & security policies—as evidenced by the fact that the United States directly deals with General Kayani on these subjects.
In the face of this reality, is Mr Varadarajan seriously saying that handing an odd, inconsequential lollipop to Shah Mahmood Qureshi will so much as make a dent in the military establishment’s hold on power? As a corollary, is strengthening Pakistan’s civilian government so much in India’s interests as to make substantive concessions on bilateral issues? Clearly, not.
Therein lies the answer to Mr Varadarajan’s question on what G K Pillai’s remarks achieved. Unless it is Mr Varadarajan’s case that talks between India & Pakistan must be held while keeping the Indian citizen in the dark, then Mr Pillai’s revelation had the important effect of tempering expectations. Had he remained silent on this vital bit of information, he would have been unfair to the External Affairs Minister who would have been expected to get Pakistan’s impotent civilian officials to take on people connected to the ISI. [See Please change the channel]
The genuineness of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s commitment to leave a legacy of improved relations with Pakistan is without doubt. The problem is he does not have a counterpart on the other side who shares the same vision. Given this objective reality, Dr Singh should pause and put his project in cold storage. For him to move forward in the face of a firmly entrenched military-jihadi complex is likely to result in an entirely different sort of legacy…one that he wouldn’t want to be associated with.