| Back to square one
Four years ago, this month, television crews were jostling with each other at the Wagah border to record the entry of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee into Pakistan aboard a bus decorated with fresh marigold. There was hope and excitement in the air; those who had witnessed Partition were crying with joy at this historic journey. But they were celebrating a false dawn.
Nothing could have signified this more dramatically than the return of the Indian charge d’affaires in Islamabad, Sudhir Vyas, earlier this week through the same wrought iron gates at Wagah. He had been expelled in a reciprocal action after his counterpart was sent back by New Delhi for allegedly directly funding Kashmiri militant groups. Television crews were once again at hand to record this new low in India-Pakistan relations.
When Vyas was asked about the high point of his tenure in Islamabad, he said that it was the sighting of the rare crimson sunbird. The crimson sunbird is not listed as a local inhabitant of Pakistan either in T.J. Roberts’s seminal work, The Birds of Pakistan, or in S.D. Ripley’s A Synopsis of the Birds of India and Pakistan. It is normally found in the Himalayan foothills, east of Kangra and in other parts of north-eastern, central and western India. So excited was Vyas that he reported his sighting in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (“Sight records of crimson sunbird Aethopyga siparaja in Islamabad, Pakistan”, JBNHS, August 2002).
Four years after the promise of Lahore, all that India and Pakistan had to show for their relationship was a bird that slips into Pakistan in winter. Such is the hostility between the two neighbours that it is surprising that official crimson sunbird-hunters have not been deployed on both sides of the border and Islamabad has not accused India of ornithological warfare. What is not surprising, however, is the way in which the India-Pakistan relationship has come back to square one. Trade between the two countries is virtually non-existent. There are no cultural exchanges. The visa regime has been tightened so much that there is no people-to-people contact.
Foreign office mandarins in Delhi wryly remark that even with their reduced strength, the missions are far too big for such little work. The diplomatic link between the two countries may be heading for a break. How has this come about'
New Delhi is now firmly of the opinion that there is an inherent contradiction between a dialogue-process and war. It believes that Pakistan’s support for militant Islamic organizations which indulge in terrorist activities in India is nothing but a form of war. And as long as this continues, any dialogue with Pakistan will be pointless.
Even a couple of years ago, there was a desire among Indian leaders to continue talking to Pakistan even while it indulged in what amounted to a war against India. That is why Vajpayee embarked on the Lahore journey of February 1999. Little did he realize that Kargil was already on. One of the first acts of General Pervez Musharraf after being appointed army chief in October 1998 was to order his men into the Indian portion of Kashmir in Kargil. Now it turns out that one of the first Pakistani soldiers to die in Kargil was Haider Khan of the Northern Light Infantry. His body was returned to his family as early as October 13, 1998, without specifying where he had died. He was later declared dead in the Kargil campaign by the Pakistan army. In the first six weeks of 1999, Pakistani soldiers had crossed into Indian Kashmir, set up logistics bases and were waiting for the weather to clear.
The point is that when Vajpayee was travelling to Lahore, Pakistani regulars had already slipped into Indian Kashmir to make a mockery of the Lahore Declaration. This duplicity by the Pakistani leadership had disastrous consequences — a military coup catapulted the architect of Kargil, General Pervez Musharraf, into power.
India tried to open the political space in Jammu and Kashmir by reciprocating positively to the ceasefire offer by the largest indigenous Kashmiri militant group, the Hizb-ul Mujahideen. But the minders of the Hizb-ul leaders would have nothing of that sort — the cease-fire was revoked in a press conference from Islamabad. Despite being fully aware of the general’s role in Kargil and in subsequent developments, New Delhi invited him to Agra in July 2001. Agra came to nothing.
A car bomb was set off at the legislative assembly in Srinagar on October 1, 2001, the Indian Parliament was attacked on December 13, and innocent family members of armymen in the Kaluchak camp were gunned down.
After the attack on Parliament, India amassed troops on the border and threatened a war. Musharraf, clearly under international pressure, banned terrorist groups engaged in disruptive activities in India — Lashkar-e-Toiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad. He came out clearly agai- nst religious fundamentalists and several of their leaders were arrested. At the meeting of the south Asian association for regional cooperation in Kathmandu in January 2002, the general made the dramatic gesture of shaking Vajpayee’s hand. But India did not relent and neither did Pakistan.
A year later, the banned organizations have repackaged themselves, their leaders have been freed and their membership is increasing. Today, Lashkar-e-Toiba calls itself Jamaat-al-Dawa and, along with other Islamic militant organizations, continues to use Pakistan, in the words of the Ame- rican ambassador to Islamabad, Nancy Powell, “as a platform of terrorism”.
Is it any surprise then that India refuses to talk to Pakistan' Islamabad is being too clever by half in offering an unconditional dialogue with India. What this means is that India should not lay down the pre-condition of Islamabad ending cross-border terrorism before a dialogue can begin. This is no longer possible.
The second significant judgment that India seems to have reached after burning its fingers in Agra is that there is no point talking to a military regime in Pakistan. The Pakistani army, New Delhi believes, has a vested interest in keeping Kashmir on the boil to ensure its self-appointed role as the keeper of national interest, to ensure adequate defence expenditure and to maintain the status and perks enjoyed by the military elite.
There is no doubt in India that the religious extremists remain allies of the military. Musharraf’s unwillingness to control the armed irregulars of these outfits is only one example of this. Does the doctrine of state responsibility apply to Pakistan or not' And if Musharraf cannot control the activities of these armed irregulars directed against India, why should New Delhi talk to him'
For once, New Delhi believes that it would be wiser to wait for a democratic government in Pakistan. The script of the relations between generals who declare themselves president, and their political stooges is written into the genetic profile of Pakistani coups. Mir Zafarullah Jamali is bound to fall out with the general. It is only a matter of time before a new political dynamic begins unfolding. It may take a considerable amount of time before a representative government assumes power in Islamabad, but India has decided to wait. In an election year, this suits the Bharatiya Janata Party eminently. Meanwhile, diplomats can do little more than bird-watch.