VP Vaidik is a media busy-body; an acquaintance as he frequents CPR’s annual get-togethers. He seeks to impress by listing the high political personages he says he often consults with. One has to take him at his word, or not. The present contretemps is around Vaidik’s meeting with Hafeez Sayeed, emir of the terrorist outfit Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) and its social welfare arm, Jammat ud-Dawa (JuD), in Lahore.The Indian media has delved less on what this media gadfly was reprehensibly exploring with Sayeed — the possibility of India and Pakistan giving up control of their respective parts of Jammu & Kashmir to help an independent state of Kashmir to emerge, and more on who Vaidik’s patrons are — whether in the Congress Party and the ruling BJP, and whether he was meeting the LeT supremo at Modi government’s suggestion, how this meeting was facilitated, etc.
First things first, Vaidik does get around Lutyen’s Delhi. And, it appears he used his proximity to Baba Ramdev to get an audience with the PM, and so on. But whether this led to his being officially anointed an offline interlocuter to gauge Sayeed’s position and, by extension, that of his minders — supposedly the ISI, is less certain. The Govt has disavowed Vaidik and distanced itself completely from his carryings-on in Pakistan. The skeptics will say that this is par for the course in terms of plausible deniability once the garrulousness of the interlocuter intent on self-promotion skewed the utility of this exercise. That a govt hand seems unlikely is because the Modi regime has so far shown itself as nothing if not extremely cautious and a little too wedded to the status quo to risk tasking Vaidik — an unguided missile — to realize so important an aim as establishing contact with Sayeed. But there’s no doubt about Vaidik being helped by the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and the Pakistan govt in securing the meeting with Sayeed, who is under Pakistan Army protection.
So how’s it possible that without Delhi being aware of it, Vaidik is assisted by the Indian High Commission? There’s a simple explanation. Vaidik was in Pakistan to partake of one those talkathons for obtaining good India-Pakistan relations, a regular feature in non-war time along with Congress Party leaders Mani Shankar Aiyar and Salman Khurshid, erstwhile Foreign Minister in the Manmohan Singh regime. Vaidik with his personal grandiose agenda of unifying the subcontinent must have asked Aiyar and Khurshid to help both in securing the Indian High Commission’s assistance and Islamabad’s consent to arranging a meeting with Sayeed. Why would the Indian envoys in Islamabad help in such an enterprise — absent formal instructions from South Block to this effect? Primarily because of Aiyar’s old IFS ties, and only secondarily because of Khurshid’s exalted rank as former Foreign Minister. Have personally experienced how Aiyar (and ex- Foreign Secretary Lalit Mansingh) were treated in Washington by the Indian Embassy — with embassy cars at their disposal, etc. when I was there along with them at an international conference at George Washington University two years back and I can vouch for how such a thing can happen. The IFS looks after its own very well. As to why Aiyar would go the extra mile in putting in a word with the Indian Ambassador, TCA Raghavan, and the Pakistan government (who perceive Aiyar as among Pakistan’s best friends in India) on Vaidik’s behalf — I would speculate because of two reasons: (1) Aiyar and Khurshid may have reasoned that Vaidik’s consultations with Sayeed — considered a major sticking point in relations by New Delhi, couldn’t but help no matter what transpired between them because Vaidik’s grand notions resonated with Aiyar’s own belief in restoring warmth to relations with Pakistan, and (2) that if the incident blew up — as it conveniently has — it would embarrass the BJP government riding high in the wake of its successful gambit of inviting Nawaz Sharif to Modi’s investiture.
With the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj asking for a full report from the country’s emissary in Islamabad, Raghavan may have some explaining to do, and could be in trouble, if it turns out he went out of his way to accommodate his ex-IFS senior, without informing Delhi.
The most reprehensible aspect in this entire episode is, of course, Vaidik’s madcap proposal for an independent Kashmir comprising Indian J&K plus Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. This grand scheme must have intrigued Sayeed (and his ISI and Pakistan govt minders) who must have wanted to see how much traction this nonsense actually had in Delhi, played him along, with Sayeed becoming so bold as to suggest that Vaidik not only arrange a trip for him to India but also a public meeting where he’d hold forth, which Vaidik, in turn, promised he could manage even without a passport necessary for his travel to this side of the border!
So Vaidik was refloating Maharaja Hari Singh’s concept from 1947 of an independent Kashmir as “the Switzerland of Asia” and buffer between India and Pakistan. Whatever prompted him to propagate this view to Sayeed, for Pakistan, it may seem a better option than India having the Srinagar Valley and two-thirds of that erstwhile Princely state. It is another matter that Vaidik, in his excitement about midwifing a reordered South Asia, didn’t see the harm it would do to India’s national security interests. It is bad enough that Pakistan controls not just the Baltistan border with China and has allowed large numbers of Chinese PLA troops (as road construction workers) into this area, but also the strategic Wakhan Corridor with Afghanistan. An independent Kashmir would be a plaything of the great powers — the US, China and Russia, and a source of unending political and military mischief directed at India.