Friday, July 31, 2009


Shashi Tharoor may have said that it was just a piece of paper and not a legal document. Shiv Shankar Menon may have said that it was a case of bad drafting. Many analysts and all opposition parties may have accused Dr Manmohan Singh of selling out mindlessly. The Congress party may have been stunned into silence. The Pakistanis may have been gloating that they had defeated Indians on the negotiating table once again, with such ease. General Kiyani may have been emboldened to ask India to stop messing around in Baluchistan.

Whatever may have been the noise, was there any way that Dr Manmohan Singh was going to admit to the world that he had indeed blundered at Sharm-el-Sheikh? Or that the famous Baluch Blunder that everybody is talking about actually is much bigger because it covers the whole of Pakistan?

The Congress party, Shashi Tharoor included, is now singing a different tune and is backing the Prime Minister for the Joint Statement that he and Pakistan Prime Minister Gilani issued after the recent NAM summit. That stance is born out of a compulsion to prevent those who are leading this nation from looking like amateur fools who have learnt nothing from history and who have in 62 years not been able to formulate well defined foreign policy and security objectives for their country.

Does India know what is the minimum it expects from Pakistan or its other neighbours who fall in its sphere of influence? Are their any "Lakshman Rekhas" demarcated by it that it will not allow Pakistan, Bangladesh or other nations to cross without reacting with punitive force? Has any thought been given to how India expects its neighbours, including China, to interact with it 25 years from now, when India will undoubtedly be a super power? Is their any implementable integrated plan that visualises the active deployment of all instruments available to the state, if required, to make India secure against terrorism ? Has the option of recourse to use of force up to and including war been completely ruled out no matter what the provocation by any country as long as it is short of a full fledged military attack or invasion, at which point there is no real decision left to be made?

Clearly, there are no real answers available to the aforementioned questions and a few more. In fact it is evident that a serious thought has not been given to them structurally and in a professional manner. Had that been done, then there would have been by now visible efforts to develop strategies, capabilities and professional structures to ensure that the country's expectations are known to all concerned along with the fact it has the ability and, above all, the indomitable will to ensure that India's concerns are not ignored humiliatingly by some nations as they have been till now.

When the US says that India is an "absent" power or that it needs to start behaving like the big power that it is, you should know that they know that India is almost ashamed of becoming the power that its size dictates it must become. When analysts and those guys in the government who have made sure that India still does not know what it wants to be and where it wants to go as a nation, say that India is a "status quo" power, be in no doubt that this is not a carefully thought out positioning; it is the manifestation of the confused and directionless mess that India has got into, thanks to a strategy blind political leadership and a stifling generalist bureaucracy for whom status quo is the oxygen without which it will be found to be as useful for formulating national objectives, and strategies to achieve them, as a poisonous fly is in a critical ointment.

Such fundamental proactive preparations are vital for this soon-to-be super power that wants to influence world affairs by becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council. It is bewildering that this elementary fact continues to escape our leaders who seem to have perfected the art of getting caught petrified on the back foot all the time. They want that seat in the UNSC out of goodwill of the big powers already there. Sucking up to them comes easily without embarrassment; standing up manfully to be counted as a big power and claim that seat by right is what they find embarrassing. Is that the way to get India ready to assume its global responsibility? Can a nation that has consistently displayed a disturbing paralysis in exerting its influence even in its immediate neighborhood be considered fit to assume the global role that it asking for, that is there for the asking the moment it is ready?

This mindset is not of recent origin. It has marked almost all our dealings with our neighbours since 1947, to India's great detriment. Starting from Nehru, India's leaders have been more than willing to walk more than half the distance unilaterally, without even bothering to look that the one they are walking towards is not only not stationery but is reacting by walking backwards to increase the gap, not reduce it, so that eventually he can get a settlement that initially even he did not believe was possible. Here are some glaring examples:
  • In 1948, Nehru stopped the Indian Army from marching to Muzaffarabad when it was poised to, rejecting professional advise, and rushed to the United Nations to internationalise Kashmir. He was more keen to show to the whole world how reasonable India was and how clean its hands were rather than allow its military to consolidate its victory in a manner that would have, at the very least, made it immensely more difficult for Pakistan to create the mess that it has in Kashmir since then.
  • In the fifties, Nehru kept walking gullibly into the arms of the deceitful Chinese even after there was little doubt left about their intentions about Tibet, Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. To compound that blunder, he ignored the advise of General Thimmaya to raise the strength of the Army and increase the defence budget so that Indian troops would be in a position to take on the Chinese Army in the event of a war that looked very much on. Nehru showed greater faith in Chou En Lai and Panchsheel and blindly walked more than half the way. As a result, he was given a knock out "Punch-sheel" in 1962, from which neither he nor India recovered.
  • In 1965, General Ayub Khan launched a war on India with the boast that he would have his evening tea in Delhi. India almost won the war. But in Tashkent, it was Lal Bahadur Shastri who walked more than half way and handed back to Pakistan the strategic Haji Pir pass that Indian troops had captured. Pakistan was not made to pay any price whatsoever for its misadventure that could have had an even more damaging result for India than the 1962 blunder.
  • In 1971, India's armed forces created Bangladesh. Within four months, Indian troops were out of that country and Indira Gandhi walked almost all the way to trustingly leave the course of relations between the two countries solely in the hands of Mujibur Rehman who was grateful to India for helping him become the first President of Bangladesh. When everything changed dramatically after he was assassinated in 1975, India was found helplessly watching that country become increasingly anti-Indian. Today Bangladesh fearlessly shows India the middle finger, openly harbours Indian militants and blatantly allows the ISI to export terror to India from its soil.
  • In 1972, Indira Gandhi returned 97,000 Pakistani soldiers who had been taken prisoner by the Indian Army without getting anything in return out of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. She decided again that it was more important to walk more than half the distance even as he was deviously outsmarting her to keep Kashmir and other outstanding issues alive to be exploited at an appropriate time.
  • In 1999, Atal Bihari Vajpayee bussed more than half the distance to Pakistan and got Kargil in return within a few months. But he still did not learn the right lesson. When the architect of Kargil took over Pakistan after a coup, Vajpayee embraced him and got the attack on Parliament in return. Even that did not dissuade him from taking another long and disastrous walk in which he is reported to have trustingly made unprecedented concessions on Kashmir. That "bold gesture" has now been more than trashed with a resounding slap by the Kargil commando. In a recent interview to Karan Thapar, Musharraf has openly said that India was forced to start talking about Kashmir only because of the war he launched in Kargil which, therefore, was a great victory for Pakistan. Vajpayee's statesmanlike move to befriend Pakistan has, in one deathly stroke, been reduced to a "majboori", a helpless reaction forced out by the panic and fear created by the Kargil war. That is also what the Kashmir Deal that Manmohan Singh nearly got trapped into agreeing by walking more than half the distance has been reduced to by that statement.
  • In 2008, Pakistan launched another Kargil, an urban one, in Mumbai. Eight months after that, a resigned Dr Manmohan Singh told the world that India had no choice but to talk to Pakistan (aur koi chara nahin hai), and walked more than half the distance yet again to sign another disastrous joint statement with a country that has never taken a single friendly step forward willingly and, as everyone except perhaps those in the Indian establishment knows, never will. What do you think Pakistanis are going to say some years down the line? They will claim a la Musharraf that 26/11 was a great success, just like Kargil was, because it got the India to start admitting its role in promoting terror not just in Baluchistan but in all other parts of Pakistan too, and also scared them into de-linking terror from talk.
Let us face the truth: Indian leaders are scared to death by even the thought of war. And they have somehow concluded that the only way to avoid it is by taking that famous long walk. Pakistan knows all this better than all of us do. Look at the irony. It actually should be Pakistan that should be scared of war but it is India that publicly admits that it is even more scared. Pakistan is very scared too, because after 1971 debacle, its generals know that they cannot win the next war. But you will never catch any of them ever say anything that even remotely gives their fear away.

In 1948 and 1965, Pakistanis thought they could win, so they did not think twice about thrusting war on India. In 1971, Pakistan knew it was going to be mauled in East Pakistan, and indeed was - and much faster than it had even dreamt - but was left with no choice but to fight. It is the fear generated by that humiliating and confidence-breaking defeat that forced Pakistan start a covert proxy war in 1989 to wrest Kashmir; it is that fear that made Musharraf do Kargil and save himself and Pakistan from a full fledged war by pretending that it was the mujahideen and not Pakistani troops who were responsible for it. It is that fear that made its Army and the ISI do Mumbai 26/11 and pretend that it was the work of "non-state actors" and say that no one in the mainstream establishment was involved. It is that very fear that makes Pakistan resort to nuclear blackmail whenever there is even a whisper of war for the Indian side.

Pakistan's generals are mortally scared of facing Indians forces on the battle field. The fear of defeat has got deep into their bones. They know better than anyone else that any future defeat will destroy the vast military empire that they have carefully built in Pakistan. That is why they do not want a war under any circumstances. This is a chink that an alert India should have exploited to the hilt. But what we have done is exactly the opposite. Our political leaders have brainlessly allowed Pakistan to exploit the fact that they are even more scared of war than the Pakistanis.

An Indian leadership that refuses to do anything that leaves Pakistan with no choice but to behave, that hugs Pakistan tighter after every attack on India, that keeps saying one way or another that war or anything even resembling it is simply not an option available to India, no matter what Pakistan does or allows to be done on its soil, is just the tonic that Pakistan needs to fire up its jehadi and other elements that have been deployed to bleed India to death through a thousand cuts, by telling them and the world that India is cracking under the relentless pressure that they have generated.

There is another malaise that has afflicted Indian Prime Ministers starting from Nehru: the desire to create history and leave behind indelible imprints of greatness grounded in "peace" and magnanimity. Atal Bihari Vajpayee too was driven by visions of being remembered as a great Indian leader who "solved" the long standing Kashmir problem with Pakistan. That is what drove him almost unthinkingly into the arms of commando Musharraf who was more than overjoyed at being naively given the opportunity of entering history books too as the only Pakistani leader who inflicted a humiliating defeat on India on the negotiating table by making it agree to start the irreversible process of handing over control of Indian Kashmir to Pakistan, all thanks to what he believes was a masterstroke in Kargil, and the follow up pressure generated by subsequent terror attacks.

The mild Dr Manmohan Singh is also, despite his erudition, manifestly driven by a strong desire to be remembered as a great PM, quite in the mould of Nehru, minus his Himalayan blunders. When he signed the Nuclear Agreement with George Bush in 2005, the first words that he spoke after coming out from that meeting were: "We have made history today". Regionally, he has nostalgically spoken of his dream to have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul, just like his ancestors used to in the good old times.

In some ways, therefore, he is even more motivated than Vajpayee was to strike a deal with Pakistan. Like Vajpayee he also unrealistically believes that Pakistan is also being driven, or can be, by the same noble motivation. On that belief alone rests his dream of a new and durable era of peace, friendship and brotherhood in the sub continent. Like Nehru, he too is mindlessly hurrying towards the creation of a new mess in Kashmir for which India will, in future, wind up paying with much more of the same blood that he is scared of shedding today.

The latest joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh is, thus, the fundamentally flawed outcome of Dr Manmohan Singh's total aversion to the idea of responding with force to repeated overt and covert acts of war by Pakistan, coupled with use of the repeatedly failed Indian tactic of unilaterally walking much more than half way and showing India's clean hands to get Pakistan to give up a policy that has become almost central to the existence, orientation and enormous power of its military establishment.

Getting into a political deal of "peace and friendship" with Pakistan is not like getting a straight forward nuclear deal from the US. That exception was made by the US for India only because it began to realise that a strong strategic relationship with India was in its supreme national interest. George Bush, for all his faults, was not clouded by a desire to create history.

There is not even an iota of evidence to suggest that there has been any similar change in the aggressive and offensive military mindset that runs Pakistan. A few tactical changes have been forced on it only due to the presence of US troops in Afghanistan. The admission about 26/11 has also been reluctantly made only because of the capture of Ajmal Kasab and the irrefutable evidence picked up by the US and given to it.

Look at the irony. It is the much weaker Pakistan that should be saying what our PM is: there is no alternative to talks (aur koi chara nahin hai). But what do we have? Musharraf threatening India, in New Delhi, with more Kargils if Kashmir is not settled, and other Pakistani leaders repeating ad nauseum that terrorism will not stop unless that is done, obviously in Pakistan's favour. This unending blackmail is the result of the inexplicable fear and guilt, and the resultant inability, of India's leaders to even think of making Pakistan pay back in the only currency that its military leadership understands, has used and threatens to keep using, to bring India's leaders literally to their knees.

Mulayam Singh Yadav spoke a buried and forgotten harsh truth the other day in Parliament when he said that "We always win in a war with Pakistan but always lose on the negotiating table". Why does that happen? Pakistan loses in war because on those battlefields it is dealing with superior minds that are on the same page. But when it comes to the wars fought on tables, it scores easy victories all the time because on those battlefields, it confronts totally different and hopelessly foggy minds that are unforgivably ill equipped to understand and defeat offensive military minds that are completely focused on achieving clearly laid down and understood national objectives.

The near capitulation on Kashmir that Vajpayee was negotiating with Pakistan through back channels was willingly taken forward by the Manmohan Singh government in its first tenure. In fact, had Musharraf not been forced to quit, we might have seen the face of that sell out deal by now. To top it, Dr Manmohan Singh has further accelerated that process, despite 26/11, by caving in even more, manifestly because he is desperate to strike that mirage of a historic deal before his term ends.

The sudden and unprecedented giveaway to Pakistan at Sharm-el Sheikh is the result of that personal urgency. And it is going to prove hugely costly to India in the long run. The only saving grace is that, unlike at the time of Nehru when decisions taken by the PM were barely questioned, the India of today is not going to let any PM sell away the interests of the country easily.

Dr Manmohan Singh needs to hit the pause button and consider, at great length once again, all developments post 1947, in consultation with guys who know who India is dealing with. Once he does that, the disastrous consequences for India as a result of any "magnanimous" deal that he strikes with Pakistan, will dawn on him and prevent him from proceeding further downhill on the slippery slope that looks invitingly smooth today.

Dr Manmohan Singh will also do well to remember that it actually is time for India to get Pakistan to walk more than half the distance towards India to prove that it has honestly metamorphosed and is ready to embrace with an open heart his Amritsar to Kabul dream. There is absolutely no evidence yet to suggest that it is willing to consider even a lunch in Lahore because for that it will have to shed the very basis on which it rejected India as its country, the hate-filled mindset that is based wholly on that position, and the theocratic angle that is integral to it.

There is, therefore, near zero possibility that, in its present form, Pakistan's establishment, particularly the military one that runs the country, will ever even consider turning its foundational fundamentals on their heads. Given that harsh reality, any amount of one way walking towards Pakistan is not going to yield the dividend that the PM sincerely wants to get for India.

The mentality of readily and repeatedly giving away vital ground during negotiations primarily on the basis of small promises dishonestly made, has to be discarded firmly once and for all. To be able to do that, Dr Manmohan Singh and India's other political leaders have to learn how to get inside the military mind that represents Pakistan. Till they do that, they are going to keep facing defeat after defeat in negotiations. It may not matter much to them. But India cannot afford such defeats.