By K Natwar Singh
Charles Maurice de Talleyrand was the greatest French diplomat of the 18th and 19th centuries. His advice to budding diplomats was, “Surtout, messieurs, point de zele” (Above all, gentlemen, not the slightest zeal). Similarly, we should resist zeal, especially in our dealings with Pakistan.
I claim a vested interest in having close and good neighbourly relations with Pakistan. I have parleyed with the highest levels of Pakistani leadership since 1980 when I was Ambassador to Pakistan and then as Minister of State and Foreign Minister.
My experience tells me that three fundamental truths should be borne in mind whenever officials and leaders meet to tackle relations between our two countries. 1) These are accident-prone. 2) In certain areas, the future of Indo-Pak relations lies in the past. C) No Government of India or Pakistan can make substantial compromise or concessions on Jammu and Kashmir.
On the highways and byways of India and Pakistan, red lights appear more often than green ones. Unfortunately, the wings of angels do not flap over the Indo-Pak terrain. Too often history has taken the wrong turn. Indo-Pak landscapes are littered with the debris of unimplemented joint statements, joint commissions, working groups, no-war pacts, agreements etc.
President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh spent 40 minutes together. All subjects including Sir Creek, Siachen, trade, terrorism, the visa regime on both sides, MFN status, the composite dialogue...even 26/11 and Hafiz Saeed...also Kashmir were “discussed”. Indeed an impressive list.
Many of these issues have been on the table for decades. Yet, even modest progress is deserves respect. The atmosphere was friendly, cordial and relaxed.
President Zardari is an ebullient extrovert. Dr Manmohan Singh a dedicated introvert. In diplomacy, at times, opposites get on well. The Pakistani President timed his religious-cum-diplomatic visit well. He did not put a foot wrong, neither did the Indian Prime Minister.
The invitation to Manmohan Singh to visit the land of his birth was expected. Prime Ministers Nehru, Rajiv Gandhi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee were received in Pakistan with greater warmth. In each case, the goodwill evaporated rapidly.
Will Manmohan’s visit materialise? I hope it does. It will be a risky undertaking. On a number of occasions, the Indo-Pak diplomatic weather has improved, but the climate has never changed.
The Prime Minister is no doubt aware that he would be taking a calculated risk. Terrorism is a horrifying menace. However, it is not a permanent feature. It will abate, as it has in other parts of the world. So will state terrorism.
Both countries are nuclear-weapons powers. India has a nuclear doctrine - no first use. Pakistan does not. Will the Prime Minister convince his hosts to alter their nuclear policy?
Finally to Kashmir. For almost 65 years, a broad national consensus has existed.
One does not associate anything romantic or sentimental in Dr Manmohan Singh’s character. But he has a chink in his armour, as we all do. He sincerely believes that destiny has chosen him to solve this intractable problem. Alas! Dr Manmohan Singh and President Zardari are in office, but neither is in command.
The speculation that he might be in Islamabad by September is, in my judgement, premature. The PM has declared on a number of occasions that he would undertake his journey when something substantial is assured. So, between now and September, much will have to be done.
Our government should work out its priorities. It must proceed empirically. The less-important issues - Sir Creek, Siachen are ready to be resolved.
First, the composite dialogue must be immediately set into motion. External Affairs Minister SM Krishna will no doubt go well prepared when he visit Islamabad. He will, by now, have become familiar of the intricacies and complexities of the bilateral relationship. He should keep in mind that the geo-political and security concerns of the two countries are not similar.
An incoherent internal situation in Pakistan will make it difficult for M/s Zardari and Gilani to give in their geo-political and security interests, unless the ISI and the army give their consent.
Pakistan has its hands full in Afghanistan. It does not feel comfortable with India’s rightful involvement in Afghanistan. A common Indo-Pak policy on Afghanistan is not conceivable.
By the time the Prime Minister goes to Pakistan, he will have worked out his Kashmir policy. How far can he go, and how far will coalition dharma allow him a free hand has to be seen. Reduction of our forces is an option, but here too he will require the consent of Opposition parties.
Zardari suggested that the India should improve relations between the two nations. I had suggested this to our Pakistani friends several times. At the time, there were no takers. If Zardari could put Kashmir on the back burner, as China and India have done with the border question, much all-round progress can be made.
Can Zardari deliver? There exists a strong and fanatical anti-India lobby in Pakistan. Even the forward-looking Imran Khan has a very rigid stance on Kashmir. He talks of self-determination. There are other forces too who have a similar agenda.
Zardari’s pilgrimage to Ajmer carries its own message of goodwill. His visit has, in a limited way, caused a break in the dark clouds hovering over the Indo-Pak firmament. For this, we must thank him. His passage to India was well-timed. Let us pray that Dr Manmohan Singh’s passage to Pakistan will be rewarding.
The author is a former Minister for External Affairs of India