Cosmetic Diplomacy

How many times have we seen Indian and Pakistani leaders meet, say nice things, pledge their efforts to peace, and witness little change on the ground? There is cricket diplomacy initiated by Gen. Zia-ul-Haq in the mid-1980s when he invited himself to an India-Pakistan Test match in Jaipur and during the lunch period had a chat with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Last year Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani watched the World Cup India-Pakistan semi-finals in Chandigarh and had an hour with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Now President Asif Ali Zardari and son Bilawal conducted “dargah diplomacy” — a pilgrimage to Ajmer Sharif with a lunch break in Delhi with the Indian Prime Minister. Despite all the good intentions, these informal meetings have produced little and the Delhi detour on April 8 by the Zardaris will go down as another instance of cosmetic diplomacy that looked good, achieved little. The supposedly new wrinkle of allowing bilateral trade and economic cooperation to take off even as the more contentious issues, such as Kashmir, are dealt with at a more deliberate pace in negotiations by diplomats trained to work at snail speed, is not new. This is the path India and China have taken, and Delhi has been trying to push Islamabad towards it for over a decade, finally with some success. It is fortuitous that Beijing, worried about the ring-fencing of China by many Asian states in cooperation with the United States, is eager to distance Delhi from Washington by incentivising non-involvement in such a containment scheme. And for this purpose is encouraging Islamabad to establish an economic nexus with India. Whatever the motivations, Pakistan has decided to confer the Most Favoured Nation status on India, a privilege Delhi had accorded Pakistan in 1996, which the latter did not have the wit to exploit. The question is if Kashmir — a core issue for Pakistan — is sought to be set aside, is Delhi’s main concern — Pakistan-based terrorist gangs operating without any official hindrance — also to receive the same treatment? A sometime press adviser to the Prime Minister, Sanjaya Baru, has written about how Dr Singh got many things right in terms of symbolism and friendly gestures in his attempts to rev up the rapprochement process with Gen. Pervez Musharraf-led Pakistan during 2004-07. But he stopped short of revealing just why Dr Singh, on the cusp of ushering in enduring peace in the subcontinent on the basis of a Kashmir accord he had negotiated with Gen. Musharraf in 2006, got cold feet, refused to sign the deal and squandered a great opportunity that may never come again. Gen. Musharraf was desperate for that agreement, as it would have strengthened his hold on the Pakistani state, bolstered his political standing at home, kept at bay those asking him to surrender his position as Pakistan’s Army chief and impressed the Pakistani people with his achievement of getting India, for the first time, to concede a slight role to Pakistan in overseeing the affairs of Jammu and Kashmir. Gen. Musharraf was satisfied because he craved some such role, however hollow. A unique mix of tactical finesse, strategic blindness and political opportunism, Gen. Musharraf, as head of state, Army Chief and virtual dictator of the country, would have committed Pakistan to a treaty the Pakistani military could not have easily wriggled out of. Dealing with a one-point source of power is always easier. But as a Musharraf-type of phenomenon is unlikely to recur in Pakistan any time soon, India will be compelled to deal with an elected government in Islamabad, which will always act with the inevitable veto by the Pakistan Army in mind. In the event, the dispute will continue to simmer, and occasionally come to a boil. The Indian government’s concern with Pakistan’s “internal political dynamic” and the desire to settle outstanding disputes only with an elected government in Islamabad is, as I have repeatedly argued over the last 20-odd years, the cross this country has had to bear at a progressively higher strategic cost. Whether Pakistan is a democracy or not is the Pakistani people’s business. But the sooner Delhi gives up the idea that a democratically-elected government in Islamabad is somehow better, more amenable, from the point of view of shutting down terrorist activity than a military regime, the better it will be in terms of acknowledging the basic reality in Pakistan, and adjusting to it. An unpacified neighbour who has discovered the joys of brandishing the terrorist stick against India, moreover, is like a child playing with fire — fascinated by its heat and light rather than thinking about how it could burn down his own home. Retaliation against Pakistan in response to terrorist acts, according to national security adviser (NSA) Shivshankar Menon, is unnecessary because, as he stated at an event sometime back, “Why kill a man who is committing suicide?” The trouble is there’s no certainty that Pakistan, an ostensibly failed state, will actually implode as a very large part of the Indian establishment believes will happen, for purely self-serving reasons. It helps the Indian government stay with status quo-ist policies that everybody’s got used to. In any case, whatever the nature of the dispensation in Islamabad, India will have to think up some imaginative ways to get the Pakistan Army off its terrorism hobby horse. All that the official and unofficial Indian squawking and bellyaching about Hafeez Saeed does is raise the nuisance value of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba for the Pakistani generals. This is elementary stuff but it is something the Indian government, led by the ministries of external affairs and defence, finds hard to wrap its head around. So Delhi keeps missing opportunities and Indian diplomats and the military brass keep huffing and puffing about the threat ostensibly posed by Pakistan. But, to turn the NSA’s logic around, how’s a man bent on suicide a danger to you?

[Published in the Asian Age and the Deccan Chronicle April 12, 2012, at]

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, Indian Politics, Terrorism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Cosmetic Diplomacy

  1. Jagdish says:

    Does this mean 26/11 could have been avoided?

    • Yes, if the tiered maritime defence system had worked as it was supposed to.

      • Jagdish says:

        Let me elaborate on my question. I wrote that in context of the article, i.e. if the Musharraf-MMS pact had come through by 07′. The 26/11/08 event may not have occurred as then Musharraf would have reined in the Lashkar?

    • Yes, again, because in the wake of the final Kashmir accord the 2006 engagement would have resulted in, the Pakistan army would have had too much to lose by either deploying the terrorists to Mumbai or not deterring the LeT before the event. If, in case, the LeT had independently mounted the 08 operation anyway, then the Pakistan military brass would have simply come down too hard for that outfit to survive in any meaningful sort of way.

  2. shamanth says:

    Do you think that there will be a radical change in our policy towards pakistan and china if Narendra Modi becomes the Prime Ministers?(especially in regard to border issue)

    • Hard to say. But considering Modi is such a quick study on most matters, his political instincts will tell him to target Pakistan less and China more, especially if he has PM ambitions.

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