Friday, April 30, 2010

INDO-PAK TALKS: 'NOBEL' THOUGHTS

It is time for the mild Dr Manmohan Singh to realise that when, as the leader of a nation you try too hard to earn a place for yourself in the pages of history, you often wind up doing things that you would have not even thought of if your faculties had not been clouded by that desire. Nehru tried it in Kashmir and then with China - possibly with both eyes on the Nobel - and left behind a humiliated nation and a mess that has only got messier, no solution in sight. Vajpayee attempted something similar with Kashmir via Pakistan, but the bus which he thought would take him to Oslo landed up in Kargil instead. Fortunately for India, both he and Musharraf, the commando who almost got him to sign the lease deed effectively handing over Kashmir to Pakistan, were removed from the scene before India's interests could be sold for a piece of Scandinavian metal.

'Summit' meetings between Indian and Pakistani leaders always generate a frenzy in India, with much talk of pappis and jhappis etc Unfortunately, they always also have little to do either with substance or reality. All that they do is provide an opportunity to blokes in the Foreign Office to be in the limelight for a few days and pretend that they are working hard to earn their salaries, so what if they have managed to not move forward even an inch in decades to secure India's interests and cut Pakistan to its real size. As far as the media is concerned, it provides them with an easy story, the worn out script of which they know by heart but can keep re-selling to Indians, without putting in any effort, as a new one that is almost as exciting as the IPL and its scandals.

Part of the problem that India is unsuccessfully grappling with arises from the fact that a lot of influential Indians, led by Mani Shankar Aiyar and including my namesake from Hindustan Times, and many more, seem to be afflicted by the 'Madhuri Gupta syndrome' in varying degrees. Focused Pakistanis have learnt that being terrific hosts and talking with a forked tongue works wonders in winning over some Indians who are ever ready to trust Pakistan - even when the guns are blazing - with the same intensity that they despise and mistrust Indian politicians whose views are not aligned with theirs. Then there are those who simply say and write what they are told to; the old trick has got them into positions of power, with a Padma thrown in as a reward.

The net result is that instead of getting Pakistan to yield even a micron - semantics apart - from any of its known positions, every time this lot of Indians - sounding all warm and friendly and honest - manages to generate breaking pressure on a weak Prime Minister who may be a good economist but has manifestly little clue about matters concerning the nuts and bolts of the strategy, military and civil, that is needed to deal with a nation that, in conception and subsequent actions, remains ideologically hostile to India on the basis of religion alone.

India also tends to forget that Pakistan is not Britain. The strategy of non-violence that Mahatma Gandhi employed with success against the British succeeded only because he rightly calculated that as a nation they would not, given the state of civilisational development they were in then, respond to non-violent and passive resistance with wanton violence or go to the extent of physically eliminating him without a thought. Pakistan is a different beast altogether. As the Taliban experience in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the sometimes inhuman treatment meted out to captured Indian soldiers has shown again and again, if an opportunity presents itself, a Gandhi of today will most likely not be given time to re-tune his non-violent strategy against Pakistan; he will probably meet a fate similar to the one that Guru Teg Bahadur did, before he gets a second chance. Dr Manmohan Singh, of all the people, should know that better than anyone else. But it seems that he believes that Pakistan has moved on.

Then there is the Pakistan military, the institution that runs Pakistan and that has successfully prevented it from dissolving into history. If there were no India, there would be virtually no Pakistani military. Its power, both military and political, comes from the fact that 'enemy' India is a neighbour. Pakistan's civilian leadership, as I and some others never tire of saying, is no more than a proxy as far as Pakistan's India policy is concerned. When the media wax eloquently, with a generous touch of heart-tugging sentiment, about Indian and Pakistan Prime Ministers walking together into the sunset, all I see is a Prime Minister taking a walk with a poodle whose leash is held by someone India's leaders neither understand nor have a desire to talk to. That is one reason why, cadre jealousies apart, there is no one in the top rung of the hierarchy who understands their language. Walking with and talking to a poodle may excite the media, but is of little significance and cannot benefit India in any manner.

There is talk of talk again. Dr Manmohan Singh appears determined to yield some more - Sharm-el-Sheikh has been forgotten already, its chief drafter is the NSA now - so that before he demits office, he has some sort of an accord to show. Pakistan is dexterously blowing hot and cold, even taunting the PM by calling him a good man and asking the Congress party to support him, smelling as it does a real opportunity to get a non-retractable and fatal-for-India concession from him, the soft Sardar who knows his economics but is now playing with and trying to shape history without having studied it.

India has been unilaterally offering olive branches to Pakistan for decades. How many more decades and lives is it going to take for it to realise that the only olive branch that Pakistan has is Olive Green? And that, as everyone knows, will remain implacably hostile to India as long as Pakistan remains in its present political shape. So, as India gets ready to go through another round of talks - its non-strategy to defeat Pakistan's proxy war tragically begins and ends there - it will be good to view them as little more than chai-pakora gup-shups from which nothing will emerge.

When one guy is unarmed and the other puts an AK47 on the table and says 'it's a non-state actor, let's talk', an agreement is possible only if the former yields serious ground to his nation's detriment. That, as history tells us, breeds not durable peace but war and destruction. Any individual prize of the moment, no matter how prestigious, that anyone gets because of it, eventually gets stained with blood.

Hope the Nobel does not corrupt your noble thoughts, Dr Manmohan Singh. The destiny of an ancient nation and a billion plus citizens is in your hands.
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Related reading:
1. No price is too high, just 'love Pakistan'
2. A year after 26/11, calls for a strong Pakistan
3. Don't " beggar-my-buggering-neighbour"; strengthen him
4. Musharraf's shockers on terror, Kashmir and Indian Muslims
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