Charm offensives are all very well, but the situation on the ground hasn’t changed.
Faced with a hostile Mao-Nixon Axis as tensions over Bangladesh grew in 1971, Indira Gandhi responded by concluding a Treaty of “Peace, Friendship and Cooperation” with Moscow in August 1971. The Treaty, coming soon after the Sino-Soviet clashes along the Ussuri River, effectively deterred any Chinese adventurism, during the Bangladesh conflict.
In October 1973 Leonid Brezhnev visited India and sought support for his plans for “Collective Security in Asia — a move for containment of China. New Delhi correctly declined to endorse the Soviet proposal. Interestingly, just after Gorbachev assumed power, the Soviets moved to mend fences with China. In a world of shifting alliances, it is only prudent for India not to get involved in current US-China rivalries.
This does not mean that India should not collaborate with the US in moves which build an inclusive structure for cooperation in Asia. Balancing Chinese power requires building its own defence partnerships with countries surrounding China like Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia, together with expanding defence cooperation and military exercises with the US and others. The Defence Minister, Mr A.K. Antony, advocated such an approach in the “Shangri la Dialogue” in Singapore, where he spoke of the need to “avoid conflict and build consensus” on differences over the South China Sea. If China proclaims that the Indian Ocean is not “India’s Ocean,” India and China’s other neighbours should insist that the South China Sea is not “China’s Sea” and that China must respect the principle of Freedom of Navigation, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. Actions like building our own defence potential and expanding military cooperation with countries like Vietnam through the supply of potent weapons like Cruise missiles, send a far stronger and clearer message to China, than moves which are seen as our acting at someone else’s behest.
The Defence Minister clearly spelt out his stand on handling the Siachen issue when he told Parliament that India stood by its position on the need for “authentication” of actual ground positions as an imperative first step, in any dialogue on the Siachen issue.
He said: “The two sides have first to agree to authentication of respective ground positions, on the 110 kilometre of the actual Ground Position Line along the Saltoro Ridge, then delineation on map and ground and finally demarcation of the agreed border”. Cautioning against excessive optimism on an “early breakthrough”“ in talks with Pakistan, Mr Antony added: “Don’t expect any dramatic results from the next round of talks. It is a complicated issue”.
Following Mr. Antony’s statement in Parliament, there have been leaks of highly classified documents to a national daily, evidently from influential sources in the South Block, which claim that India had virtually reached agreement with Pakistan on withdrawing its forces to positions held during the Simla Agreement of 1972, in exchange for Pakistan marking actual ground positions in separate document and not in the main agreement on disengagement.
Let us get the record straight. I was told by the Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, in 1989 that an official who had spoken about having reached an agreement with Pakistan on withdrawal from Siachen, had spoken out of turn, and that he could not contemplate withdrawals being sought by Pakistan, after Indian soldiers had shed their blood to prevent a Pakistani incursion into areas we had legitimately claimed.
In 1992, the Prime Minister, Mr Narasimha Rao, had only approved the conduct of negotiations. He had told his officials not to conclude any agreement on withdrawal.
In 1998 the NDA Government authorised the then Defence Secretary, Mr Ajit Kumar, to hold talks confined to authentication of the Line of Control. The question that arises is whether moves are being initiated to dilute Mr Antony’s assurances in Parliament, in order to “manufacture” a “breakthrough” in India-Pakistan relations.
Even though the 1949 Agreement declared that beyond the Shyok river in Kargil, the Line of Control proceeds “North to the Glaciers”, Pakistan depicted the LoC moving eastwards to the Karakoram Pass. This would enable a link-up between Pakistan and China north of Ladakh — a link that can threaten our security, especially given the existing Chinese presence in the Shaksgam Valley and also in Gilgit-Baltistan.
We also cannot forget that in Kargil, Pakistan crossed the LoC, asserting that it had not violated the Simla Agreement. Moreover, a former ISI chief, General Ziauddin, has revealed that in 1999 Pakistan asked the then Taliban “President,” Mullah Rabbani, for 20,000-30,000 volunteers for jihad in Kashmir.
Most importantly, it needs to be borne in mind that should the Pakistanis move into positions currently held by us along the hilltops of the Saltoro Ridge, it will be impossible for us to retake these positions. Should all these facts be disregarded in the quest for an imaginary “breakthrough” with Pakistan?
The motivated leaks of classified documents have interestingly come when Pakistan has launched a charm offensive inviting selected Indian scribes and “bleeding hearts” to shed tears about money “wasted” in deploying soldiers on the heights of the Karakoram. This conveniently ignores that fact that it was Pakistan that modified its maps to show that the LoC moving “east to the Karakoram Pass” beyond the Kargil sector and not “North to the Glaciers” as agreed to in 1949.
There are indications that the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, will respond positively to invitations he has received from Pakistan’s leaders to visit Pakistan. Exchanges of visits between leaders of neighbouring countries certainly help in promoting understanding, contacts and cooperation. But, it would be a folly to believe, as some of our perennial optimists advocate, that the Pakistan army has had a “change of heart” and can be trusted to keep its word.
This, at a time when it continues to arm and train the Haqqani network in Afghanistan, protects Mr Hafiz Mohammed Saeed and his cohorts from prosecution, revives the Web site of the Jamat ud Dawa, and encourages its proxies in Pakistan to spew venom against India.
(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)