Delhi via Lahore


New York: Few months back, when my Pakistani friend Raza Habib Raja, told me that they expect a lot from Modi ji because they have seen Vajpayee Ji, I wrote an article for Pak Tea House and Huff Post, “What Modi the Crusader can Learn from Vajpayee the Philosopher. And, when I heard about Modi ji’s surprise visit to Lahore, I felt myself being answered on the said question, demonstrating right on Vajpayee Ji’s birthday what he learned from the grand old sire. One couldn’t have even imagined a better birthday present to the poet and politician Vajpayee Ji.

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Perhaps, it’s the best time to pick up the threads from where Vajpayee Ji left for a plethora of reasons. Firstly, Modi has the mandate and majority. Unlike Vajpayee ji, he is not heading a coalition government where one has to spend a huge amount of time and resources in convincing the coalition partners. Secondly, he has the strong legacy of Vajpayee Ji and Advani Ji who almost clinched a political solution for Kashmir, and in Pakistan also, once again we have Nawaj Sahab with his love and sincerity and a sensible general who has already displayed his resilience against terrorism. Thirdly, there are no elections in any of the states of India now so there are no electoral compulsions for BJP, to take an aggressive mantle.

Fourthly, contrary to what policy experts and opposition parties think i.e. BJP’s U-turn, I feel that it is a great strategic move in terms of timing and intent. As the grandsire of Mahabharata, Bhishma said, that in diplomacy there are no permanent friend and foes. It is always a continuous effort to maintain peace in a mutually beneficial arrangement while attempting to secure the best possible deal for one’s national interests. Hence, a good diplomacy involves negotiations, calling them off, resuming them and muscle flexing, but all in a strategically calculated manner. It seems that the policy of no-talks or “measured indifference” has paid off well. Over the last one year, all instances of ceasefire violation by Pakistan have been dealt with strongly and the message of zero-tolerance for terrorism has been conveyed in a firm but principled manner. In fact, for the first time, it seems that India’s image of a ‘soft state’ built over the years has changed and Pakistan seems to be taking India seriously. To top it all, over the last one and a half year, India has emerged as a strong nation with a tremendous potential to be a global player, under Modi’s leadership.

Fifthly, after 26/11 Pakistan’s complicity in sheltering and supporting global terrorism has become known to the western powers. Off late the Pakistan has come to be regarded as a highly radicalized society which is extremely dangerous for minorities and, a fertile ground for all sorts of transnational terrorist outfits. In the wake of the rise of ISIS and its deadly killing spree, there is no sympathy left for any kind of terrorism. Hence, Pakistan is hard-pressed to show its commitment and sincerity in its fight against terrorism and in such a scenario another Kargil or 26/11 is absolutely unthinkable or rather it will be suicidal. In fact, I would go on to the extent of saying that terrorism and using proxies as a tool to further its interests has lost its utility for Pakistan. Further, the unrest in POK, minority killings and the atrocities in Baluchistan have made a huge dent in Pakistan’s image among the world community. It has lost a moral credibility and as a result, its stakes in the success of talks are high, if it wants the world community to have some faith in it as a nation.

Thirdly, over the years, democratic foundations in Kashmir have been strengthened. Today, the state has the government of BJP and PDP, something which could not even be imagined in the Kashmiri Intifada of 1980s or 90s. Moreover, even in POK the unrest against the Pakistani possession has become stronger and gained world community’s attention.

Fifthly, in the wake of the assassination of New Taliban leader in Kuchlak, Pakistan’s covert assets in Afghanistan have weakened. There is a lot of infighting going on in Taliban and the old Pashtunwali sentiments are rearing their head again, which can be seen in the fact that higher Gilzais, Ishaqzais condemn upon Haqqani network which is the only bankable shadow organization left for Pak, in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Indians enjoy great respect and love among the Afghans owing to the post-conflict reconstruction work done by India over the last decade. This development strikes a dent in Zia’s theory of using Afghanistan as its strategic corridor that could be used for retreat of the Pak army in case of Indo-Pak war. Hence, Pakistan realizes it full well that it is futile to engage India in a conventional war.

Hence, the ground is fertile for moving ahead from Lahore declaration and working out a political solution for Kashmir, but for any such mega-effort humility, honesty, trust and mutual respect are the watch words.

What can the two countries do?

Well, it will be unrealistic to expect an overnight solution of Kashmir and other territorial disputes or to imagine a scenario where Pakistan, in a Bollywood style drama, will come and surrender Hafiz Saed and Dawood Ibrahim, from these talks, even for those who have the most basic understanding of geo-politics. Today, the world faces the gravest threat in the form of Islamic extremism and terrorist violence. ISIS and its mission of global caliphate is a threat to entire human civilization and its legacy of democracy, freedom of expression, philosophy and art. Religious extremism has also come up with its brutal violence and bloodshed in Pakistan and in fact, entire South Asia. In the last decade, Pakistan itself has been the worst victim of terrorist violence.

Hence, these two countries must set up a joint counter-terrorism center/task force with an immediate effect. It must have a strategy based on the continuous cooperation and exchange of intelligence between the secret services of these countries. And, in fact, the other South Asian countries can also be the part of this initiative. In fact, it can model itself on the UN Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF) in terms of working groups, agenda, structure and, counter-terrorism projects focusing on terrorism financing, de-radicalization, capacity building and cyber-terrorism. Since the two countries have immense experience in dealing with terrorism, this agency can be a great asset in the world’s fight against terrorism. This will lead to a continuous dialogue and interaction on various fronts between the intelligence agencies of the two countries, or entire South Asia.

As former RAW chief Dulat mentions in his book, “Kashmir: Vajpayee Years”, that Indian and Pakistani intelligence agencies hardly communicate and this leads to mutual suspicion and misunderstanding. The communication channels between the intelligence agencies must remain open. Even in the worst days of Cuban missile crises, CIA and KGB never stopped talking. After all, it’s all about talking and communicating, (once again quoting Dulat). He informs that timely intelligence provided by RAW saved Musharraf’s life. Hence, this is exactly, what we need: continuous dialogue and engagement on various fronts in a professional and mature manner leaving aside the emotional baggage. Hopefully, as a result of the mutual trust and goodwill generated from this endeavor, India-Pak can come to a political solution of Kashmir in future. As regards Kashmir, it is the right time to begin with Musharraf’s four-point plan of making borders irrelevant and establishing joint management systems in the state.

Simultaneously, without waiting for long-term issues like Kashmir and Siyachin, the trade and visa liberalization must begin. Once it starts, rest of the things can be taken care of by “Aman ki Asha” brigade, cricket, Bollywood and, of course, Ghulam Ali Sahab.

“Takeaways” for the future
Vajpayee Sahab rightly wrote in his visit to Minar-e-Pakistan that a peaceful, stable, strong and prosperous Pakistan is in India’s interest. We have the choice of rewriting the history but we, certainly, cannot change the geography. This message of Vajpayee sahib must be conveyed firmly to Pakistan. And, it is high time Pakistan also realized that its future lays in democratic and pluralist society where minorities are safe and human rights are respected, therefore nurturing transnational extremist outfits to be used as covert assets against India or Afghanistan is absolutely futile now. Leveraging the shared culture and trade, both the nations can immensely benefit in economic development.

Last but not least, I propose that along with the democratic forces, India should also engage Pakistani military establishment, in a “wise” and “guarded” manner. Since in Pakistan, it is military that call the shots and off late we have seen its ability in flushing out Tahreek-e-Taliban terrorists, so realpolitik demands that we must not ignore or engage with the military in a hateful manner. Blindly treading on an over-idealistic path of supporting democratic forces at the expense of military, might not be feasible. It would rather lead to distrust, animosity and mutual suspicions. Hence, engaging the military in a wise and cautious manner (realizing its compulsions of officially keeping a rigid anti-India stance) is the need of the hour. As former CIA chief George Tenet told Delhi, that, “I guess, you guys can do business with Musharraf”. When US, the citadel of democracy could, why not we do the business with military, for the sake of realpolitik, some peace, and some diplomacy……

To conclude, I would say that it’s not always about diplomatic protocols and bureaucratic procedures. The political conundrums like Kashmir require hard-nosed common sense and a strong political. Such political will and shrewd understanding of diplomacy can only come from statesmen like Modi, Sharif and Vajpayee. Only Modi ji with his rustic touch could be imagined of as touching Nawaz Sahab’s mother’s feet and only Vajpayee ji could be thought of as taking a bus to Lahore with Dev Anand and serenading, “Geet Naya Gaata Hoon”.

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