Engaging the Generals

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As India and Pakistan restart diplomatic engagements, with both countries agreeing to discuss all issues of concern including terrorism and Jammu & Kashmir, experts are keeping fingers crossed and even advising the government to engage Pakistan army directly for the sake of success of these engagements. They believe that India’s policy of developing people-to-people contacts and reposing too much faith in the civilian government has failed.

It is believed that Pakistan army itself had made overtures to deal directly with Indian establishment. Unconfirmed reports from Islamabad said that Indian high commissioner in Islamabad Sharat Sabarwal had met the Pakistan army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani ahead of foreign secretaries of both countries agreed on resumption of talks in the Bhutanese capital of Thimpu.  The ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha has also met the Indian armed forces’ representatives posted in the High Commission in Islamabad and is believed to have conveyed to them that India needs to talk directly with the Pakistan army.

Pasha had earlier for the first time attended an Iftar party thrown by the Indian High Commissioner. The ISI had also hosted farewell parties for some Indian defence advisors who were returning to India after completing their tenures in Islamabad. Over past few months, the Indian defence advisors were also invited to attend the passing out parade at the Pakistan Military Academy in Kakul. For its part, the Indian establishment has been reciprocating the gestures from the Pakistan military establishment and has invited the head of the National Defence University in Islamabad, a serving Lt. Gen., to India. Reciprocating, India had also invited Pakistan High Commissioner in India to address its military officers at the National Defence College.

Sushant Sareen, a key Pakistan expert at India’s premier strategic think-tank Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) believes that a credible engagement with Pakistan’s power, military, will only bring peace in the region. He even ridicules dependence on the so-called civil society of Pakistan for raising a constituency of peace. For one, what goes as civil society in Pakistan is really a fringe group and constitutes around 1000 people, and if you want to be very charitable then the number can be raised to 5000, says Sareen. This is not to belittle the commitment, conviction and courage of some of the members of civil society in promoting and propagating the cause of normalisation of relations with India.

“The manner in which the progress made on the people-to-people front between 2004 and 2008 was practically overnight reduced to nothing after the 26/11 terrorist strike in Mumbai should be proof enough that when it comes to India-Pakistan relations, the people tend to follow the line set by their establishments. In other words, people-to-people relations flower when the establishment allows them, and they wither away when the establishment shuts the door on them,” says Sareen.

To instutionalise an engagement with Pakistan army, Sareen suggests a multi-track mechanism as Indian army was not in the same position in the power structure. “One way out of this is to adopt a multi-track approach, a sort of ‘composite back-channel’ in which the intelligence agencies comprise one track, the military leaders another track in which they discuss military and security related matters, while a third track can discuss larger strategic perceptions, outlooks and assessments. All these various tracks can then provide inputs to the political back-channel. To start with, the discussions in these various tracks can be unstructured and, if necessary, can be held in some third country,” he maintains.

Meanwhile, a top US strategist who has championed nuclear risk-reduction measures has cautioned that mere military steps would never reduce nuclear dangers in the region. Micheal Krepon, co-founder of Stimson Centre advocates a robust trade between India and Pakistan to maintain nuclear stability. Explaining his theory, he said a robust trade has helped to stabilise relations between India and China despite frequent tensions.

Addressing Indian strategic community at New Delhi, he believed that game changer between the two countries could be a robust trade only. “What could be a game changer is vast level of trade between the two countries. Pakistan is in dire economic straits. It (the trade) is worth trying,” he said, Blaming Indian bureaucracy for the failure of bilateral trade, Krepon called for robust steps to boost trade. “Incremental steps on issues like trade and economics does not hold good. It needs robust and vigorous steps and leave onus on entrepreneurs and that will also give credibility to India’s claim that it was ready to move more than half-way to give Pakistan a decent life,” he added.

The American strategist also disapproved Indian statements that if Pakistan exercises its first use option, India will respond by wiping out it (Pakistan) as functional state. “There will be no winners in nuclear war. They will seek to destroy you as much to wipe you out as functional state,” said Krepon, whose centre is constantly in touch with Pakistan’s Strategic Policy Division (SPD) manning country’s nuclear assets.

Allaying fears, that Pakistan nuclear assets may fall in the hands of non-state actors or terrorists, he said that 10,000 selected guards were looking after nuclear infrastructure and they are knowledgeable, balanced and serious bunch of individuals. “It seems SPD in Pakistan is capable and includes high quality officers,” he said, adding that there has been significant improvement since the days of defamed nuclear scientist A Q Khan. He, however, warned that in the event of severe crisis, there is unlikely to be a secure and reliable line of command and control in Pakistan, if current trend of political instability continues.

He said the US has confined its role to prevent any escalation in the region, but suspected, if it will work again in the event of another Mumbai like incident in India. He cautioned that in the event of an India-Pakistan clash, American interests in Afghanistan will be severely affected and shall have repercussions as well.

Arguing Pakistan has kept the military balance vis-?-vis India by acquiring nuclear weapons and indulging in sub-conventional warfare, the expert said they (Pakistanis) felt they could not compete with India at conventional level. Further, the more and more multi-billion dollar acquisitions by India were also helping Pakistan’s idea of increasing its deterrence capability. He maintained that US offer of a missile defence to India would also make things much worse, as Pakistan will opt to go for extra-capability.
 
(The author is a senior
staffer at Tehelka.com)

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