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Starting Anew, From a Lowered Bar
Dr. Subodh Atal
Pakistan welcomed the new Congress-led Indian government with a bang – nearly three dozen military personnel, and their wives and children were killed a few days ago in an attack by Pakistan-supported terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. The incident sets the stage for the further progress of the “peace process” initiated by the previous NDA government. The question now is how will the Congress-led government of Manmohan Singh, controlled from behind the scenes by Sonia Gandhi and her advisors, follow through in negotiations with Pakistan over the Kashmir issue.
Should the new government continue the pace and direction of negotiations that Vajpayee’s government had set, or should it go back to the drawing board and revisit the entire “peace process” with a country that is exporting terror even as it whines about lack of progress on peace. Some have suggested “staying on course” in the interest of maintaining continuity in foreign policy. But does the concept of continuity in foreign policy override national security interests? If the previous government was heading over a cliff, should the new government stick to the same line and pace just so it gets good marks from the “international community” for maintaining continuity in policies?
A look back at the NDA government’s history on Jammu and Kashmir during the past six years reveals a long road full of lost opportunities, false starts and embarrassing cave-ins that have put India on a path on which it is forced to negotiate at gunpoint. Let’s list a few of these low points in the contemporary history of the subcontinent:
Lahore, 1999 – Vajpayee initiated the Lahore visit, which flopped miserably as Musharraf’s military was busy occupying the Kargil heights even as Vajpayee was spreading unwanted love in Lahore.
Kargil, 1999 – India fought off Pakistani invaders but unilaterally and firmly established the concept that it had no will to even put a toe across the LOC.
Indian Airlines hijacking, 2000 – India confirmed its status as a soft state when it caved in to the hijackers’ demands and handed over three of the most dangerous Pakistani terrorist leaders. The number of Indians killed since then by the activities of those three terrorists far outstrips the number of passengers saved. One of the terrorist leaders, Sheikh Omar, went on to fund the lead WTC hijacker, Mohammed Atta.
Unilateral ceasefire, 2000 winter – This novel tactic was another miserable failure conceived by the NDA government. The Indian military in Jammu and Kashmir was forced to tie its hands behind its backs while the Pakistani terrorists continued and accelerated their killing spree and re-established their hold across large parts of the state.
Agra summit, summer 2001 – PM Vajpayee refused to learn from mistakes and this time invited Musharraf to Agra. Instead of falling in love with India in the romantic environment of the Taj Mahal, Musharraf went on an anti-India tirade during a media event, and had to be unceremoniously transported back to Pakistan.
J&K Assembly and Parliament attacks, Oct. and Dec. 2001 – India missed a clear window to launch punitive attacks on Pakistan in the permissible 9/11 atmosphere where the world was finally more concerned about terrorists than about maintaining the India-Pakistan “balance”. The incidents, and India's non-response, made it clear to Pakistan that India did not have the willpower to fight back under attack, and reinforced beliefs within the US leadership that India was not ready for a strategic partnership role.
Summer 2002 – As Pakistan brazenly turned up the terrorist tap into India with the Bush administration ignoring it while working on its Iraq conquering agenda, India again caved in and allowed Pakistan to yet again get away with murder.
Dec. 2003 – March 2004 – Instead of pointing out that the nuclear proliferation by Pakistan, which was on the entire world’s radar, was the biggest international and regional threat, PM Vajpayee made yet another “last attempt” at peace with Pakistan. Perhaps significant portions of the Indian electorate saw through the "India Shining" slogan and realized that while the NDA was making progress in the economic sector, India had done little to shine in defending itself against the 15-year terrorist onslaught from Pakistan during the past six years.
So the Congress government comes in at a point where the bar in dealing with Pakistan has been lowered by several magnitudes. After all, the “Hindu nationalist” BJP-led NDA government caved in time and again and eventually agreed to negotiate with Pakistan, while the latter continues to support terrorism. There will thus be little reason to blame the Congress government if it takes the path set by the previous government to its logical conclusion and surrenders Jammu and Kashmir, or significant portions of the state, to a Taliban-like fate. However, if the new government acts boldly to start from scratch with Pakistan, and manages to stay anywhere over the bar set by the NDA, consider that an unexpected bonus.