Talking with the Enemy
The real power centres in Pakistan have to be addressed directly if India wants results

Should India talk with Pakistan’s chief of army staff (COAS)? While most in Delhi will dismiss this idea as asinine, the US nearly pulled this rabbit out of the hat in December 2010.

Writing in his recent book, The Dispensable Nation, Vali Nasr, who was senior advisor to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, says that “Holbrooke had persuaded General Kayani to agree in principle to talks with India over Afghanistan and Afghanistan only.” With this assurance, Holbrooke met the Indian diplomat (unnamed) over dinner in the US on 6 December 2010. According to Nasr, the Indian diplomat took this message to Delhi, and “shortly thereafter, a message came from Delhi that Singh (Prime Minister Manmohan Singh) had given the green light”. The meeting never took place as Holbrooke died within a week.

This is not all. According to Nasr, the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India that awaits clearance of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has its origin in the Transit Trade Agreement (TTA) signed between Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2010. Once Holbrooke realised that Afghan goods were popular in India, he, with difficulty, persuaded the civilian governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to sign the TTA; he convinced Pakistanis that transit of trade between Afghanistan and India through their territory would benefit them as well.

Nasr writes: “That he (Holbrooke) got the Pakistan military to give its okay was a mighty achievement.” He further writes that: “The TTA had given both India and Pakistan reason to expand beyond the Afghan trade connecting the two countries. Pakistan now saw it was possible to trade with antagonist neighbour. Pakistan would grant India MFN trade status; Pakistan and India literally lifted entire clauses and passages out of the TTA to craft their own trade agreement.” Probably, the reason why the MFN has got stuck is that a clearance of the Pakistan COAS has not yet been taken, or more likely, he has not agreed to it.

The above narrative establishes that Pakistan COAS’s nod is essential for Pakistan’s India policy even beyond security and defence matters. The Nasr narrative is about Pakistan COAS talking with India on Afghanistan; the reason this could not include Kashmir and other bilateral issues is because India would not be agreeable to US’ intervention. Regarding bilateral talks, the unprecedented Pakistan Army action of reaching out to India is worth mentioning. In 2009, the Pakistani ISI chief, Lt General Shuja Pasha had floated the idea of opening parallel talks with the Pakistan Army to all three Indian defence services’ advisors at the Indian high commission in Islamabad during the iftar party. India did not respond and the matter ended. Thus, it can be said that Kayani was willing to open separate talks with India in 2009-2010. This was a period, it could be argued, that Kayani’s position was weak: after Musharraf’s era, the Pakistan Army was discredited and had decided to take a back-seat; President Zardari and his civilian government had goodwill of the people; the recent 26/11 terrorists attacks has painted the ISI as a rogue establishment; and maybe, Kayani, the protégé of Musharraf, still believed that the Musharraf formula for Kashmir resolution was doable.

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