Last weekend President Musharraf gave another peace proposal which was promptly rejected by our government. Musharraf complained: "I keep giving ideas but there is no response from India." He was right. India never gives a counter-proposal.
Does our government know what it wants? Or is it simply going through the motions to satisfy international opinion?
The government needs a strategy for peace. To formulate it three aspects command attention. First, what is the Indian foreign policy goal? Secondly, what are the prevailing ground realities in India's neighborhood? And finally, what needs to be done to convert the present reality into our desired goal? Consider these three aspects in that order.
The vision of a future India should be compatible with both a future world order and its own past. Keeping both in mind the aim to reunite the subcontinent into a European style union is desirable and feasible. The peoples of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Afghanistan share history and geography. If the governments that rule these peoples recognized this truth this goal could be realized to immensely benefit all their nations. As in Europe, this change would imply a minor dilution of sovereignty. The two subjects of defence and economic tariffs would be decided collectively. Abolition of visas and free movement of labor and capital in this region could transform it into one of the world's powerful economies. Joint defence would secure its peace. And its plurality would make it one of the most attractive and influential cultural poles in the world. All nations, including India, would have to make some sacrifice to adhere to the discipline of collective decision-making. But the gains of accepting such discipline would far outweigh its disadvantages. Is this goal practical? To assess that consider the conditions prevalent in the region.
India's relations with Bangladesh are under considerable stress. India's relations with Nepal are uneasy. India has good relations with Afghanistan's government. India has good relations with the Sri Lankan government. However, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are destabilized by internal insurgencies. Bangladesh is becoming a hub of Islamic fundamentalism and haven for Al Qaeda activists. China has close links with the insurgents of Sri Lanka. Responsible intelligence reports have confirmed Chinese arms and training for LTTE cadres in the past. China has good relations with both the King of Nepal and the Maoists who oppose him. China has a defence understanding with Bangladesh and supplies it arms and equipment. China had nurtured close links with the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and those links survive till today. It is fair to infer therefore that the hostility towards India by the Maoists of Nepal, the jihadis of Bangladesh, and the Taliban in Afghanistan is encouraged by China while it seeks for itself a solution to its border problems with India.
The Kashmir issue is a bone of serious contention between India and Pakistan. Among all its neighbors Pakistan is the most crucial nation for India's future. There are two reasons for this. First, as the only other nuclear power in South Asia, Pakistan's cooperation is essential for successfully establishing a future South Asian community. Secondly, despite the spread of China's hostile influence towards India in South Asia, Pakistan remains China's strategic lynchpin in this region. To apprise the prospects of Indo-Pakistan peace the internal conditions of Pakistan need to be understood.
Some blunt truths need to be stated. Pakistan is an unnatural state. It was created artificially following the Partition conceived by a departing colonial power which was pursuing its post-war global interests. The Indo-Pakistan boundary delineated by the Radcliffe Award was totally irrational and defied all norms of nationhood. The majority of people inhabiting what is now Pakistan were opposed to Partition. It was a Congress-Akali-Unionist party coalition that governed Punjab. The dominant voice in NWFP was Abdul Ghaffar Khan. He wanted to join India. After the Congress party refused his request he sought independence.
Baluchistan's largest province, Kalat, remained independent for a full year after Partition. Pakistan eventually annexed it through force. The Khan of Kalat also wanted to join India but Congress refused. The lack of contiguous borders was the reason offered by Congress for its refusal. The violation of this principle in accepting East Bengal as part of Pakistan did not trouble the Congress.
Pakistan has been a sovereign state over half a century. It is in India's interest that it should prosper. But will it? It is in deep turmoil. There is resentment in all provinces against Punjab. Punjab is economically much better placed than the rest of Pakistan. But the civilian population of that province is as sick of military rule as the rest of the country. The Punjab military even before Partition drew its recruits preponderantly from a relatively small community known as Janjuas who inhabit the area around Jhelum. This community has a stranglehold on the army which in turn has Pakistan under its jackboot. Departing from its British tradition the Pakistan army has gone into business like China's PLA. Its senior cadres are enormously wealthy. They have developed a deep vested interest in the status quo. They exploit a permanent crisis with India to perpetuate army rule. The Pakistan army and ISI aid and abet terrorism to ensure continued hostility with India. This policy suits China which openly supports them.
Pakistan nevertheless is floundering. The government sponsored Kalabagh Dam has aroused the fury of NWFP, Baluchistan and Sind. Baluchistan is witnessing its most serious insurgency in decades. When the Indian government advised restraint to the Pakistan army in repressing the Baluch rebellion, President Musharraf said Indian advice was intriguing. He said he knew who was arming and aiding the Baluchistan rebellion. People thought he meant India. Musharraf knows India is not logistically situated to help Baluchistan. He probably meant Hamid Karzai's Afghan government. That in turn is aided by America. The bulk of the Taliban insurgents of Afghanistan aided by China are also located in Baluchistan. Baluchistan therefore, thanks to the strategic Gwadar port being constructed by Chinese engineers, is developing into a battleground between proxies of America and China. The completed Gwadar port would give easy access to China's Xingjian region for energy supplies from Central Asia. The Baluchistan crisis therefore will probably escalate. Already nervous politicians and commentators in Pakistan are urging an end to military repression. Memories of Bangladesh's separation are recalled. President Musharraf therefore must act, and act fast. He cannot appease indefinitely the jihadis and the extremists in his army. Ultimately he must choose between India and China. Time is running out for him.
In this situation should India support President Musharraf? The Prime Minister should bluntly ask him if he is prepared to partner India in creating a South Asian community having joint defence including nuclear weapons. If Musharraf agrees, his proposals on a self-administered Kashmir should be taken up. If he demurs, India should simply distance itself and wait for Pakistan to fall apart. Unless it helps create a South Asian Community Pakistan will become a failed state. The jihadis will destroy it.
Meanwhile India must put on hold any settlement with China. It cannot afford to settle with China before the foundation of a South Asian Union is established. Otherwise India will legitimize China's hegemonic influence in South Asia and forever consign itself to the role of a vassal state. What is crucial for India regarding China is not the border dispute but the termination of China's hostile interference in South Asian affairs.
This is one roadmap. Does the government have an alternate roadmap? If so, it should publicize it. People have the right to know. Those days are gone when foreign affairs needed to rely on intrigue and conspiracy. The world has entered the information era. People seek transparency. Policy planning will not succeed because of secrecy but because it conforms to the laws of nature. To formulate policy that anticipates history is the essence of statesmanship.