Instead of bureaucratic parleys, India should talk to the Pakistan Army
It is a foregone conclusion that formal talks between Indian and Pakistani bureaucrats slated to begin on March 28 in Delhi will be meaningless; instead of yielding a roadmap for resolving bilateral issues including Kashmir, both sides will seek brownie points and blame the other for cussedness. Indications exist that India will demand voice samples of the 26/11 accused and give evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in last summer’s violence in Kashmir. Pakistan will demand its judicial commission visit India for the 26/11 attack probe, and ask for an update on the Samjhauta Express investigations. While it will be tit for tat, procrastination in reaching out usefully to one another will harm India more than Pakistan. And this is the rub.
India has agreed to resume talks under US pressure which worries that the Pakistan Army otherwise will not devote itself to a satisfactory Afghanistan resolution. What Washington should do is urge India to follow its example and start direct talks with the Pakistan Army. The latter would welcome them. Pakistan ISI chief, Lt Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, a former Director General Military Operations and close confidante of the Army Chief, General Pervez Kayani had himself reportedly suggested this approach in 2009 to the Indian military advisor in Islamabad. He obviously was hinting at backchannel talks, the format that begot meaningful progress on Kashmir resolution in 2004-2007 during President Musharraf’s regime. Is it surprising that the Indian interlocutor to those secret talks, Satinder Lambah laments that Islamabad now is disinclined to such parleys (because it excludes the Pakistan Army). The dual channel talks worked then because Musharraf was both head of the army and the state; progress on backchannel ensured a controlled terrorist infiltration into J&K and civility if not progress on composite dialogues. Not talking with the Pakistan Army is tantamount to ignoring ground realities; the urgent need is to both seek the Kashmir resolution picking up the threads from earlier talks, and start arms control negotiations under the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Lahore Declaration on 21 February 1999.
The Kashmir issue is getting complicated. By reneging on the 2,000km long border with India in Kashmir, China has signalled that Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) belongs to Pakistan, while the Indian Kashmir is disputed. If the Indian Army were to cross the Line of Control into POK in a crisis with Pakistan, it will need to contend with PLA troops fighting alongside Pakistani regular and irregular forces, and not merely providing arms and ammunition to its strategic ally. Not for nothing, Chinese presence has increased in POK; familiarising PLA forces with POK is the covert part of building infrastructure there. In a masterly move, Kayani has raised stakes for India; China has emerged as a partisan stakeholder for Kashmir resolution which over time will replace the non-partisan US involvement. Sensing the changing reality, separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq has sought Chinese involvement for Kashmir resolution. Not to be outdone, in order to put pressure on Delhi, mainline political leader, Mehbooba Mufti omitted POK and Aksai Chin from the J&K map in a recent power point presentation. While the bilateral understanding between India and Pakistan backchannel talks that borders cannot be redrawn but can be made irrelevant will remain the cornerstone for Kashmir resolution, future negotiations which involve India, Pakistan and the people of two Kashmirs, under the looming Chinese shadow for an honourable solution will become difficult for India.
Things are hardly better on the strategic weapons front. The Pakistan Army has neutralised real or perceived advantages that may have accrued from the bilateral civil nuclear understanding between India and US. Brushing aside international obligations, China will now build two new nuclear reactors for Pakistan. The latter reportedly has more than 100 nuclear warheads and fissile material for 100 additional weapons. Pakistan is blocking negotiations on global ban on fissile material. According to Indian intelligence, Pakistan has tactical nukes as well.
Why is Pakistan inciting a nuclear arms race? Its reply is to counter Indian Army’s Cold Start doctrine, and DRDO’s ballistic missile defence capabilities. The reality is that the Cold Start is more hype than real, and the DRDO boasts more than it delivers. This is not all. The Pakistan Army is seeking ways to neutralise India’s sea-based deterrence. There are reports that it has sought Chinese nuclear powered submarine on lease. The need is for the two militaries to start talking to lessen dangers of a nuclear war.
But Indian politicians will not allow this. They oppose a policy-making role for the Indian military fearing a military takeover of the country. Talking with the Pakistan Army when there is a civilian dispensation in Islamabad is anathema to them. They worry that this may incite demands for enhanced Indian military profile. Such demand will not come from the Indian military leadership which is subservient, harmless and content playing second fiddle. Perhaps, they are not even capable of matching Pakistan Army leadership’s strategic insights. It is the powerful Indian media that will go into overdrive asking for a greater say of the military in security matters. And that is precisely what is needed to make India secure.