The PMO’s repudiation of the London Times report of back channel parleys initiated by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Pakistan army chief General Kayani may be literally correct. However, in substance without the PM initiating any such dialogue it is likely that some mechanism for eliciting the views of the Pakistan army would have been deployed. Contrary to fears that this disclosure would irritate Pakistan’s civilian government, very likely any contact made by New Delhi with General Kayani would have been with the knowledge and blessing of President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani. There are clear signs that some genuine effort to reach accommodation is underway between New Delhi and Islamabad. And implicit in this effort is recognition that peace in the subcontinent is indivisible. Pakistan’s acceptance of Indian presence in the forthcoming talks in Turkey to discuss Afghanistan indicates this.
The biggest hurdle in softening Pakistan army’s attitude towards India would be its unflinching commitment to China. While the US has showered billions of dollars to Pakistan to buy arms it is China which has helped create Pakistan’s formidable nuclear and missile power. Rawalpindi’s loyalty and gratitude to Beijing should not be underestimated. To surmount this obstacle New Delhi would have to formulate a peace package that satisfies its core interests without upsetting either China or the Pakistan army. What might that be?
For a start New Delhi would have to indicate its own minimum core demands without which peace in the subcontinent is unachievable. Clearly terrorism must end. For that, coordinated action by India and Pakistan would be imperative. And a stable arrangement that guarantees peace and security for all of South Asia would be best ensured by the creation of a South Asian Treaty Organization (SATO) modeled on NATO. The Pakistan army would strongly resist any arrangement that alters its present relationship with China’s Peoples’ Liberation Army. That is where Indian interlocutors would have to show ingenuity and tact. To envisage SATO would be unthinkable without first settling the Kashmir dispute. And it is the peace package that addresses this issue which would have to be sold to the Pakistan army. The only peace package that suggests itself is of course a security and trade arrangement which might defuse tensions in both Kabul and Kashmir without altering international borders. In other words, it would have to be the creation of some sort of South Asian community.
Beijing would oppose this if it were perceived as an arrangement to contain China. In fact were such an arrangement established it would not in any way impede China’s present relationship with Islamabad but instead extend that cordiality to entire South Asia. China’s effort to muscle into SAARC is ill conceived. One should take a leaf from the experience of the faltering European Union to realize that giving precedence to trade by ignoring cultural nationalism just does not work. However friendly, China is not part of South Asian culture. Today China needs stability to continue its spectacular economic growth. That would be assured if China could defuse tensions within its own sphere by addressing problems in Tibet, Xingjian and Taiwan. The signs for achieving that are bright if the leaders in Beijing would shed paranoid sense of insecurity.
The Dalai Lama is the best bet to strike a stable agreement with Beijing. He wants autonomy to preserve Tibetan culture and identity within the People’s Republic of China, nothing more. What prevents Beijing to respond? The younger Tibetans who might succeed the Dalai Lama could prolong a festering crisis. There is no legal impediment to China's granting any quantum of autonomy to either Tibet or Xingjian. Article 31 of the constitution of the People's Republic of China says: "The state may establish special administrative regions where necessary. The systems to be instituted in special administrative regions shall be prescribed by law enacted by the National People's Congress in the light of the specific conditions."
All that is required is for both the Pakistan army and Beijing to recognize the changing mood of the world. The time has come to divert astronomical resources used for building military strength to meeting the economic aspirations of a generation that wants peace. Both Asia and the world deserve nothing less.