G Parthasarathy

How not to engage with Pakistan

G Parthasarathy | Updated on October 03, 2018 Published on October 03, 2018

Pakistan must show that it is serious about greater economic integration of South Asia   -  iStockphoto

It is important to call Pakistan’s bluff on many counts. But resorting to personal attacks is certainly not the best approach

The External Affairs Ministry’s Spokesman announced on September 20 that: “In response to the spirit reflected in letters from the Prime Minster and Foreign Minister of Pakistan”, India had agreed to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s proposal for a meeting between Foreign Ministers of the two countries in New York, during the UN General Assembly session.

The very next day, following the killing of three J&K Police personnel, the same MEA Spokesman sang a different tune, asserting: “It is obvious that behind Pakistan’s proposal for talks to make a fresh beginning, the evil agenda of Pakistan stands exposed and the true face of the new Prime Minister of Pakistan has been revealed to the world, in his first few months in the office.”

While a change in New Delhi’s approach to the dialogue because of the killing of J&K Police personnel was understandable, there are serious misgivings about the crude, undiplomatic references to Pakistan’s Prime Minister, in the statement.

The statement, personally critical of Prime Minister Imran Khan, was contrary to established norms of sober diplomatic practice. Despite provocations, we have sensibly never personally criticised the Head of Government of a neighbouring country, in such terms. Such references have invariably been sober and never personal, while dealing with governments headed by both military rulers like Zia-ul-Haq and Pervez Musharraf, or ”democratic” ones, like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

A close aide of Nawaz Sharif approached me during the Kargil conflict, to request Vajpayee, who would naturally be angered at what had transpired, to not personally criticise his counterpart. The astute Vajpayee acceded to the request. What followed was a stand-off between Sharif and Musharraf that ended with the coup that led to Sharif’s ouster and exile to Saudi Arabia.

A similar approach was adopted during provocative postures by Musharraf during the Agra Summit and the Jaish-e-Mohammed attack on our Parliament. Interestingly, it was the same Musharraf, who thereafter, solemnly declared on January 4, 2004 that “territory under Pakistan’s control” would not be used for terrorism against India. Musharraf abided by that commitment as long as he was in direct control of the army, for around three years. Thus, while personal criticism of Imran Khan and General Bajwa are best avoided, there need be no bar on scathing attacks on Pakistan’s government and military, for acts of omission and commission.

Imran’s background has been one of rise to power on the shoulders of the Army. The notorious former Islamist ISI Chief, Lt. General Hamid Gul, was a dominant founding member of Imran’s party. Imran was elected as Prime Minister, primarily because of the army’s determination to get rid of Nawaz Sharif. We should, therefore, have no doubt that at least in the near future, Imran will be “guided” primarily by the military, on relations with India, Afghanistan, the US and China. But Pakistan’s policies are shaped by circumstances and not consistency, or principles.

Engage diplomatically

Moreover, rather than pouring cold water over his calls for dialogue, India would be well advised to agree to engage Pakistan diplomatically, to assess its sincerity on addressing issues of cross-border terrorism, his espousal of closer economic ties, and his desire to host the SAARC Summit, which has been opposed by Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India, duly backed by Bhutan.

Given the fact that Imran Khan has chosen not to appoint a National Security Adviser (NSA), a meeting between NSAs is ruled out. In any case, our experience has been that the only two NSAs that Pakistan has had — Major General Mehmood Durrani and Lt. General Nasser Khan Janjua — were bereft of any real decision making powers. In Pakistan, foreign policy and terrorist infrastructure, are controlled by the army chief. Talks between Directors General of Military Operations to prevent support for cross border terrorism and dismantling of terrorist infrastructure on and across the border, are meaningless, as the Pakistani DGMO is a junior two star Major General, with little or no discretionary authority. The three Star Chief of General Staff (CGS) wields real Authority in the GHQ in Rawalpindi.

Thus, to seriously and meaningfully address issues of cross border terrorism, talks between the Head of India’s R&AW and the DG (ISI), on the one hand, and between Pakistan’s CGS and the Indian Army’s Vice Chief, on the other, are imperative.

It is also time to call Imran Khan’s bluff on his professed desire for greater trade and economic relations. India and Pakistan are signatories to the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA), which came into force on January 1, 2006. Pakistan is the only country in South Asia, which has not implemented this agreement. It continues to ban the import a massive range of Indian products. This discriminatory ban, contrary to the provisions of SAFTA, needs to be removed by Imran Khan, if he is serious about trade and economic relations with India. Moreover, Pakistan agreed to the schedule set in 2004, for South Asian countries to establish a South Asian Customs Union and thereafter a South Asian Economic Union, by 2020.

Stalling on SAFTA

Pakistan remains the sole country, stalling movement on economic integration in South Asia. Imran Khan is keen on having an early SAARC Summit in Islamabad. But, the reality is that it is not just India, but Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Bhutan, who have felt uneasy about having a SAARC Summit, in a country sponsoring terrorism across South Asia. Pakistan will have to address these concerns, before people will be comfortable attending a SAARC Summit in Islamabad.

It will also have to call a halt to its constant propaganda for its all weather friend China, which like other non-South Asian countries is an observer in SAARC meetings, to be made a full member of SAARC. China just does not qualify for such membership.

It is also time Pakistan realised that after India invited BIMSTEC and not SAARC members, to attend the Goa BRICS Summit, the importance of SAARC is secondary to BIMSTEC, which is a grouping set to link South and South-East Asia, with better connectivity, free trade and investment and even enhanced military ties.

Moreover, denial of connectivity between India and Afghanistan by Pakistan constitutes a gross violation of the SAARC Free Trade Agreement with the commissioning of Iran’s Chabahar Port, Pakistan will be a major loser in economic integration, across India’s western borders.

Published on October 03, 2018
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