Bottomline | End the Status Quo

Continuity may be good, but it is not in national interest

Pravin SawhneyPravin Sawhney

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has decided to maintain continuity in relations with Pakistan and China in 2007. This will not be an easy task if India decides to uphold and further its national interests with them; Pakistan will continue to be an aggressive non-status quo power, and China will remain unwilling to discuss three issues with India: quick resolution of the border dispute, India’s nuclear weapon status, and China’s proliferation to Pakistan. Let’s take Pakistan first.
Contrary to most analysts, General Pervez Musharraf has positioned himself in a comfortable position that will get cosier through the year. He will remain the army chief and a powerful head of state after Pakistan’s elections this year because both his army commanders and President George W. Bush support him. The army commanders have little to complain as Pakistan’s economy is doing well, his army is being looked after, sophisticated weapons are pouring in from the United States and China, and both President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are undecided on what to do with Pakistan: despite Pakistan’s gains by covert means in Afghanistan and Kashmir, both governments have little choice but to continue maintaining good relations with Islamabad. Karzai is simply helpless and can do little except throw occasional tantrums or complain to Bush who is his own worst enemy.

Bush’s outgoing intelligence chief, John Negroponte, and now the number two man at the state department has clearly said that al Qaeda’s core leadership is hiding in secure places in Pakistan. The respected New York Times newspaper has gone further. Its correspondent in Afghanistan was recently physically assaulted in Quetta, her hotel room was ransacked and her computer notes were destroyed by Pakistani intelligence people once they suspected that she was trying to uncover the nexus straddling the Durand Line that Musharraf glibly denies. Her report unequivocally says that Quetta is a rear base of the Taliban and Pakistani authorities are encouraging and sponsoring cross border insurgency. Alarmed by Musharraf’s brazenness, the US Congress intends bringing a law wherein Bush will have to certify annually in writing that Pakistan is not supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan before Islamabad can be rewarded with military and economic goodies for his supposed support in the global war on terror. (Pakistan today after Israel and Egypt is the third largest recipient of US foreign aid). Ironically, the Bush administration is working hard to ensure that the US Congress does not succeed. The US deputy assistant secretary of state, John Gastright has said that, ‘the president can certify that. The issue is, he should not have to.’ Instead, the US intends to pump in nearly USD 10 billion over two years in Afghanistan mostly for the training of Afghanistan security forces. What is needed instead is the economic well-being of the Afghan people especially Pashtuns so that they so not swell the ranks of the Taliban. It is evident that Musharraf will continue to gain more ground in Afghanistan through friendly Taliban. Neither India nor Iran can be happy about this, as Musharraf will control the land routes through Afghanistan.

India is not as helpless as Karzai, but it has its own compulsions vis-à-vis Kashmir where Musharraf continues to support the proxy war. India’s political leadership believes that a conventional war makes little sense with a nuclear-armed Pakistan. Moreover, the nuclear deal with the US is so close to being realised that heightened tensions with Pakistan may prevent Bush from arguing the 123 Agreement well with the US Congress. The composite dialogue with Pakistan continues but Musharraf is not happy about this. He wants faster action towards conflict resolution something that India cannot do. The way out being discussed furtively through the back-channel talks and fully supported by the US is to settle the Siachen issue; Musharraf can then tell his nation that his Kargil adventure was not a misfire. The positions of various involved players in India is well known: the army oppose the thinking that without a formal authentication of respective troops’ positions any withdrawal should be done, the defence minister supports the army’s stand, the foreign minister is undecided, but the prime minister’s office feels that the issue can be resolved without being dogged. Probably, the understanding being sought with Pakistan is that once Siachen is resolved, Musharraf will focus less on the Kashmir resolution. This, of course, is wishful thinking. India has to understand that it is not as helpless as the Bush administration is.

Similarly, regarding China, the need is to mutually agree to the 4,056km long Line of Actual Control, if not resolve the border dispute. The latter is not possible even in the foreseeable future as India cannot give away what China wants: the Tawang Tract in Arunachal Pradesh. But what prevents the Chinese to decide how the LAC runs on the ground and maps that according to the 1993 Border Peace and Tranquillity Treaty will be non-prejudicial to mutual positions? India, unfortunately, is dwelling on the border resolution that is impossible now. Moreover, instead on pressing the Chinese on the LAC resolution, India is contend with peace and tranquillity on what is an undefined military line. This does not portend well for India’s national security.


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