South Asia has been treated to a meaningless charade of a peace dialogue between India and Pakistan being indulged in by two improbable partners, namely, General Musharraf, the military dictator of Pakistan and Dr Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India who assumed this august office on the dictates of the Congress Party President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.
Though the Composite Dialogue between the two countries commenced or was resumed in the time of Prime Minister Vajpayee after the Islamabad Declaration in January 2004, the present Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh seems to have gone overboard in terms of his approaches to General Musharraf. And here I make a distinction between the people of Pakistan and their military ruler General Musharraf who usurped power by overthrowing a constitutionally elected civilian government in Pakistan. No military dictator of Pakistan has been lavished with so much praise and treated with so much effusive warmth as has been bestowed on General Musharraf by Dr Manmohan Singh. He has gone to the extent of publicly declaring that he trusts General Musharraf and can do business with him.
The Indian Prime Minister's reading of General Musharraf's character is in marked contrast to the estimates of General Musharraf's trustworthiness by India's strategic community barring a couple of analysts noted for toeing the American line and selling their agenda in South Asia. They are constantly advocating that Dr Manmohan Singh should visit Pakistan and offer concessions on Siachen, in other words make a sellout of Siachen to keep General Musharraf in power in Pakistan. And that prompts one to question as to in whose interest is this peace dialogue being pursued when it is abundantly clear that there can be no substantial outcome in view of the traditional hatred of the Pakistan Army of India, and that General Musharraf though a self-styled President of Pakistan is effectively the head of the Pakistan Army and is sustained in power as a military dictator of Pakistan by the Pakistan Army which still itches to avenge the military debacle that it suffered in 1971 leading to the second partition of Pakistan.
Once again, it needs to be reiterated that the peoples of both India and Pakistan yearn for a durable peace between the two countries, but it is certainly not the end objective of the Pakistan Army.
The current peace dialogue between the two improbable partners at the helm is at the prodding of the United States and both General Musharraf and Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh take their cues from Washington , notwithstanding the assertions of both to the contrary. Hence, the use of the word charade in the heading of this topic. A charade in essence implies play acting by actors solely relying on cues and prompting from off-stage as their heart and soul is not in the play.
This essentially is what is taking place in South Asia today in the peace dialogue between India and Pakistan and between General Musharraf and Dr Manmohan Singh. Continuance in power in Pakistan of General Musharraf was a strategic imperative of the United States. Continuance in power of General Musharraf in power was not in India's national security interests. Then why has India under the Congress Government so assiduously pursued this charade of a peace dialogue with Pakistan under military rule of General Musharraf when it is not a national security imperative of India. On the contrary as I have written elsewhere, it is a strategic imperative of India to assist the Pakistani people in their struggle for restoration of democracy in Pakistan. It is with a duly elected civilian government in Pakistan with which India should negotiate a durable peace between the two countries.
India's deviation from its national security interests is obviously prompted by taking cues from Washington. India would like to know from its Prime Minister as to what impels his Government to take cues from Washington on its policy approaches to Pakistan. It also opens up India to charges of double standards on the principles and calls for democracy elsewhere, more recently in Nepal.
The charade is appearing more ludicrous now that the United States is delivering ultimatums to General Musharraf on accusations of not delivering on his pledges to curb the terror of the Taliban (remember that this was India's constant refrain against Musharraf until the soft approaches of the present Indian Government), an Indian delegation was recently sitting in Islamabad negotiating Joint Terror Mechanisms with Pakistan and all to no avail. In its wake there were left more bickerings.
It is high time that India ends this charade of a peace dialogue with Pakistan's military ruler, especially now that Washington seems to be sending out different cues to General Musharraf which in effect signals that in United States policy establishment, mistrust of General Musharraf is intensifying. And, it is not that General Musharraf is not aware of the consequences. If he goes, then India's current policies towards Pakistan and all the out of the box solutions so eagerly lapped up by India would all get thrown out of the window. And, so would the ill-advised ' back channel diplomacy', a subterfuge for India's appeasement policies.
India should await and work for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan before resuming a peace dialogue with a duly elected civilian government in Pakistan. Political and strategic prudence call for it.