A Times London report indicating secret talks between Indian side and Pakistan Army particularly with aides of Army Chief General Kiyani has once again stirred the Indo Pak engagement pot brewing a steamy stew particularly after the Mohali meet between the two Prime Ministers Dr Man Mohan Singh and Mr Yousaf Raza Gillani. As always there are two views, first whether the talks were actually held or not or were a figment of imagination of the writers who have been writing for long on the region. The second issue is whether talking to the Pakistan Army is appropriate when a civilian government is in power.
The possibility of some channels having been opened to the Pakistan Army from the Indian side remains strong. While officially India has a military attaché in Islamabad a sufficiently senior officer generally specially selected for this key assignment who is in any case in touch with the Pakistan armed forces, this is a normative engagement which would not lead to any outreach of the type that has been talked about of a special envoy who has the confidence of the Prime Minister himself.
Given Dr Man Mohan Singh’s commitment to Indo Pakistan peace and the need to think out of the box may indicate the possibility of talks having been undertaken even though the move has been denied by the Prime Minister’s Office. The logic of such talks arises from the impression that inasmuch as India Pakistan relations it is General Kiyani and not President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani who have been calling the shots. More over the Americans, British or others have all been engaging the Pakistan Army and even encouraging India to do so. In the last fortnight three key American commander the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Commander of the Central Command and the Chief of Staff of the Army were all in Pakistan for direct one on one with the Army Chief.
That the story is being leaked from London may indicate that the British who have been in close touch with the leadership in Pakistan including a recent visit of the Prime Minister Mr David Cameroon may have played a role in this interaction if it has happened. In the strategic dialogue between UK and Pakistan, General Kiyani was sitting next to the Prime Minister indicating the hierarchy in the country. So talks from the Indian side should not be unusual.
The second issue of appropriateness of such secret talks is more serious. While the opinion on the same has been divided in India with some seeking a direct engagement with the Army to achieve a breakthrough, the more dominant view is that engaging General Kiyani when an elected civil government is in power undermines the position of Mr Zardari and Gillani propping up the Army and adding to the overall clout of the, “Deep State.” On the other hand those who are proposing talks have cited other countries who are having a some what dual relationship on parallel tracks with Pakistan, a political economic one with the elected leadership and a strategic one with the military.
So far while India has engaged military leaders in Pakistan, it has been only when they were either martial law administrators or defacto Presidents as Zia ul Haque and Pervez Musharraf have been. A lesson for India from these encounters would reveal that these engagements did not lead to lasting understanding or peace and stability in the relationship with Pakistan however they provided much legitimacy to these two Army Chiefs then. Dr Man Mohan Singh who had been the initiator of the dialogue with Pervez Musharraf may have learnt the lesson or may not depending on whether there is a secret channel open with the Pakistan Army leadership today.
The lesson from the past engagements has been that of failure. Both military dictators were removed from power rather suddenly one in an air accident and another through a street side agitation led by civil society. While the generals may be the holders of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal and country’s national security interest in the eyes of the Pakistani people they lack the legitimacy of being natural leaders of the country.
So where do these secret talks lead the Indo Pakistan leadership? It would be merely a tactical feel good for all sides concerned, Indian Prime Minister following his pet agenda, the Pakistan Army showing off clout with India, US and UK who have been calling for such an engagement for long with hopes of a change in the situation across the Durand Line with some relief for NATO. Perhaps for Dr Man Mohan Singh as well as General Kiyani tactics may be dictating the strategy?
In as much as lasting stability in Indo Pakistan relations is concerned, this has to be led by a civil government representing the people of Pakistan. Conditions for the same may not be right for now or may not come about in the years to come but both sides need to work through patiently. Till then, even if the, ‘secret’ talks have been held these are unlikely to be the light at the end of the Indo Pakistan tunnel.