Monday, January 4, 2016

For Modiplomacy to succeed, ....... Power & Politics /The Sunday Standard/ January 03, 2016

For Modiplomacy to Succeed, PM Should Either Include Pak Army in Talks or Neutralise  It

Narendra Modi with Nawaz Sharif (left)

Trust without verification invariably proves fatal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be ruing the day he was persuaded to trust Pakistan’s political establishment led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. To give innovative diplomacy a chance, Modi forgot the historical truth about the Indo-Pak peace dialogue. It keeps alternating between farce and tragedy in the space between one terror attack and another. In a blood-stained New Year message, Pak-supported terrorists massacred the budding friendship between the two leaders by attacking the airforce base station in Pathankot.  Coming barely a week after Modi’s bold landing in Lahore for Sharif’s birthday celebrations, the fidayeen attacks reinforced the harsh reality that the Pakistani political runway is obstructed by India-baiters whose only objective is to let its mammoth neighbour bleed. These saboteurs project the four meetings between Modi and Sharif in the past 20 months as a mere exchange of social pleasantries. They ignore the intent and content of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s discussions with Sharif during her Pakistan visit in December 2015. The movers and shakers of Pakistan’s parallel establishment have treated the decisions taken at a meeting between the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of the two countries in Bangkok as needless notebooks meant for waste paper basket. Above all, the images of Sharif and Modi holding hands in Lahore or whispering in each other’s ears in Paris are acts of betrayal of their idea of fundamentalist Islam. They have returned every handshake with hand grenades and gunfire, killing Indian security personnel and civilians. For the blood-thirsty jihadists, the survival of a fundamentalist Pakistan depends on promoting terror and not adopting good economics. Terror is their most lucrative business. It gets them weapons and women, money and mosques, and the authority to dictate terms to a democratically elected government. Cocking a snook at the growing bonhomie between the two PMs, the terrorists have slain over 50 Indian defence personnel in the past year.

It would be facetious to expect any element of surprise over the weekend’s terror attacks. For Modi, such an ugly response to his gestures couldn’t have come at a worse time. He has already defied his core constituency, which wants war and not words with Pakistan. He has sent clear signals to his ministers and diplomats that they should walk the extra mile to give dialogue a chance; like Atal Bihari Vajpayee had done even after being betrayed umpteen times. From all indications, it is clear that both domestic and external interlocutors had assured Modi that Sharif was capable of ensuring the successful continuation of a comprehensive Indo-Pak dialogue. Successive Indian Prime Ministers have been given similar assurances by the powerful US, which treats Pakistan as its crony colony and its ambivalent army as ally against any selective terrorism aimed at America. No Pakistani leader, however, could deliver on any of the promises made to India. In 2004, the duplicitous Pervez Musharraf gave a written assurance to Vajpayee that terrorists wouldn’t be allowed to use any part of the Pakistan-controlled territory to operate against India. It was a mockery since more attacks, including the devastating Mumbai strike, continued to happen. According to diplomatic sources, Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz, a confidant of Pak Army chief General Raheel Sharif, gave his word to the Indian NSA Ajit Doval in Bangkok that the Army will tame all home-based terrorists and cripple their capacity to damage India. The assurance was repeated during Swaraj’s Islamabad visit. It was in this atmosphere of accord that Modi decided to land in Lahore and strengthen Sharif’s capability to rally the Pak Army behind him.

Peril in Pathankot has not only diminished Modi’s resolve to dismantle the tangled skein of Indo-Pak relations, but has also proved again that Sharif is not the appropriate person as he doesn’t enjoy full authority and command over the armed forces. He doesn’t have a comfortable political majority in Parliament. He is perceived by the people as a symbol of the aristocracy, the elite and big business interests. Since he comes from Punjab, which is emotionally closer to India than the rest of Pakistan, Sharif doesn’t inspire much support in other regions, except among the rich and mighty in Lahore. During his earlier stint in power, he was effortlessly ousted by a military coup because he and his party were considered ineffective and slaves to the US. During the past four years, he hasn’t been able to contain the ever-growing influence of fundamentalist forces in Pakistan. The number of terror attacks has risen substantially during his tenure because he doesn’t have the army’s full support. Those opposed to dialogue argue that Sharif, who has failed to control jihadis in his own country, cannot be trusted to dismantle the terror establishment whose aim is to damage India.

For Modi the dove, however, hardly any escape routes are left to fly away to peaceful skies. He has too much at stake and can’t afford the rhythm of dialogue he has initiated to break at this stage. Peaceniks and ill-liberals will clamour that any interruption in talks will only strengthen the radicals. Modi will also be under pressure to disclose the content and contours of the dialogue, which he and his team have been holding with Pak leaders since the past few months. Since Modi practices unconventional politics, he will have to connect with the real power holders in Pakistan to take his mission forward. So far, all previous Indian leaders have stuck to conformist mediation by involving just diplomats and civil servants in engaging Pakistan. Perhaps, the time has come for the PM to co-opt Pakistan’s defence establishment, too, in open speak. India cannot ignore the reality that it is the Pakistan army, which dictates decisions in that country. If Modiplomacy has to succeed, Modi should either include the Pak Army in the formal dialogue process or neutralise it if it refuses to fall in line. After all, it is the Indian Army, which has borne the brunt of Pak-sponsored terror, along with innocent citizens. The presence of uniformed officers of both countries, sitting along with political leaders from both sides, will provide more than a photo-op and yield better results. So far, only meetings between the two unequals, Modi and Sharif, have taken place. While Modi represents the mandate of the Indian people and the might of the government, Sharif is merely the face, and not the force, of the government in Pakistan. Modi must verify Sharif’s credibility and clarity before reposing trust in him again. Follow me  on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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