India has to wind up from Afghanistan
The historic meeting between Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and his Indian counterpart Dr Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the NAM Summit at Sharm-el Sheikh on 16th July 2009 was being viewed as a moral victory for Pakistan's point of view as the joint statement issued afterwards de-linked the issue of terrorism from the dialogue process and for the first time there was a clear mention of situation in Balochistan in the context of India's blatant interference there. But the positive environment generated at Sharm-el Sheikh was shaken the very next day when the Indian media, with one voice, came out with shrieking headlines of Manmohan Singh's “sell out” of Indian interests at the summit. This reflected the Indian media's mindset vis-a-vis Pakistan. The Indian Prime Minister backtracked from the written statement and gave a different interpretation in the Lok Sabha when came under hard criticism not only from the Opposition BJP but also by stalwarts of his own Congress Party.
What I want to highlight is that understanding at Sharam-el Sheikh notwithstanding, India was not willing to come to the negotiating table and instead continued harping on the same tune that there could be no talks till culprits of Mumbai attack were brought to justice. In this perspective what forced India for an apparent major shift in its policy in offering talks to Pakistan? According to my information, during interaction at the London Conference on Afghanistan on 28th January 2010 Pakistan superbly and strongly presented its point of view opposing any Indian role in Afghanistan as it was not a neighbouring country. It seemed that for the first time in recent times the authorities concerned prepared Pakistan's case diligently and presented it in a persuasive manner. At the same time, Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani had a plain talking during his address to NATO's military committee in Brussels on January 27 emphasizing the need to enhance Pakistan's role in solution of the Afghan conflict. He also had fruitful exchange of views in this regard during informal discussions with defence chiefs of 42 countries attending the moot.
The outcome of the London Conference was an eye-opener for India and its leadership understandably realized that New Delhi was being ignored and sidelined from the regional affairs particularly in the evolving situation in Afghanistan and the main reason was Pakistan's opposition which was also endorsed by the Foreign Ministers of Iran and Afghanistan during their meeting in Islamabad. India also got a clear message that the world community doesn't see any role for New Delhi in Afghanistan when it was left out at the important meeting of six plus one (Afghanistan's immediate neighbours) held in Istanbul on January 26. India reportedly lodged a protest with the Turkish Government for not being invited to the moot. Also on January 27, Washington also conveyed the right kind of message to New Delhi when spokesman Geoff Morrell of the Defence Department uged India to be transparent regarding its activities in Afghanistan with Pakistan asking New Delhi to spell out its role in Afghan policy. He also pointed out that in his recent visit to India, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and the Indian leaders had discussed the need of transparency in its undertakings on Afghanistan. This obviously meant that India should address Pakistan's concerns about New Delhi's interference in the internal affairs from Afghan soil including disturbances in Balochistan and FATA. That was a clear message from Washington that unless and until India changes its attitude towards Pakistan it should not expect any role in Afghanistan.
Keen Indian desire to be a partner with NATO and US in Afghan situation was abundantly clear from day one when soon after 9/11 it offered its facilities to US for launching attacks against Taliban and at a later date was ready to provide troops for ISAF.
What I mentioned above is not secret. India is hell-bent for establishing its stronghold in Afghanistan to cordon off Pakistan from the Western side of the border, having access to markets of the Central Asian Republics for its goods and by pacifying Pakistan, it expects to get transit trade facility to Afghanistan through Wagah border. At the same time, the Indians also know that the day the US and NATO troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan, they would have no ground to hold there for the attainment of their long-term interests without having a working relationship with Pakistan and Taliban. Policy makers and strategists in Islamabad and Rawalpindi are fully aware of this emerging scenario. New Delhi had not anticipated this situation when it unilaterally called off the dialogue process and started giving threatening statements against Pakistan after 26/11 incident. Now it has been forced by the circumstances and some pressure from the United States and Western countries that the best way for it is to enter into negotiations with Islamabad as New Delhi's disengagement has now reached the point of diminishing returns. Among other things, it could lead to India being sidelined vis-a-vis the evolving Afghanistan situation. Given the growing consensus between the US and Pakistan on how to approach that problem, New Delhi is all-out to find a way to work with Islamabad to safeguard its interests.
I am of the firm belief that while the doors for negotiations should always be open between the two countries, Islamabad should not be over anxious to enter into dialogue. It should first determine the agenda keeping in view our own foreign policy, security and strategic interests, and above all serious dialogue to resolve the lingering disputes of Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek and water issues. Secondly I have been emphasizing for the last many years that Pakistan should urge India to set a deadline for these talks.
The situation as far as Afghanistan is concerned has reached to a point that the international community has recognized Pakistan's vital role in the region and its viewpoint is getting due credence. This is because of dozens of factors but the top among them is that unless Pakistan's input is given due weightage, there would be no durable peace. Pakistan's geographic position and religious and cultural ties with Afghanistan are very important. So in the given situation, there is a little bit of relief for the policy makers in Islamabad. India is desperate to have a foothold in Afghanistan and that is not possible unless Pakistan softens its strong opposition to any Indian role. My understanding is that India would exploit the ploy of dialogue to derive undue benefits vis-à-vis its role in Afghanistan as it did in the case of so-called CBMs sans any meaningful progress towards resolution of core issues.
Another reason that India has agreed to talks is that there is a realization in New Delhi about the resurgence of freedom movement in occupied Kashmir and to pacify the situation, it wants to give the impression as if it was serious in the resolution of the decades old dispute. It is not true.
Therefore, in my opinion the whole Indian exercise in the first round of forthcoming talks will be on terrorism and it would try to pressurize Pakistan more on this issue to get some concessions for itself. I think the present leadership in New Delhi is dwarf and lacks capacity of decision-making, as it is fearful of a strong backlash from hawkish elements in BJP and of the likes of Shiv Sena on core issues like Kashmir. Therefore, the proposed talks, I doubt, would not lead to any tangible result but are just aimed at sending a signal to the international community that New Delhi was sincere to resolve the disputes with Pakistan for peace and stability in the region.
A word of caution. There should be no over-enthusiasm on the Indian offer as it is beyond the capacity of Indian leadership including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and even Sonia Gandhi who is criticized by the Opposition as a foreigner, to take major decisions on Kashmir and other contentious issues. Pakistan must, at the very beginning, press for an immediate end to Indian interference in Balochistan and FATA, resolution of water dispute and a time frame to resolve the core issue of Kashmir as well as Siachen and Sir Creek. Otherwise, it would amount to complementing the Indian public-relations exercise.