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With Pak, it's better to 'verify, then trust'

With Pak, it's better to 'verify, then trust'

Author: Shankar Roychowdhury
Publication: Asian Age
Date: August 11, 2009
URL: http://www.asianage.com/presentation/leftnavigation/opinion/opinion/with-pak,-it's-better-to-'verify,-then-trust'.aspx

Is Pakistan's next "26/11" already under way?

Even as the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan were meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh on July 16, Pakistan opened another front in its proxy war with a sustained economic offensive on India's financial and commercial infrastructure, with large volumes of high-quality forged currency infiltrated into the Indian market through armies of couriers. The new assault, routed through Dubai and Nepal, has an enormous potential for long-term damage, perhaps even greater than the devastating but episodic acts of terror witnessed so far.

"Doveryai no proveryai" - the Russian original of Ronald Reagan's favourite aphorism - "trust, but verify" - which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh resurrected in his reply to the parliamentary debate on the Indo-Pakistan joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh, is attributed to Felix Dzerzhinski, the founder of Cheka, the forerunner of the KGB. President Reagan was a resolute practitioner of cold war confrontation, who ultimately wore down and demolished the Soviet Union, causing its eclipse as a world power. His adversary, Mikhail Gorbachev, pursued peace through unilateral concessions which ultimately broke up Soviet Russia, for which he was rewarded with a Nobel Prize for Peace by a triumphant West. Is there some kind of a lesson for India in all this?

Indo-Pakistan relations also remain essentially in a cold war mode, primarily because Pakistan's India policy is formulated primarily by the general headquarters of the Pakistan Army even when an elected civilian government is in place. Indo-Pak diplomacy has as a result been a spectator sport, watched almost as keenly as hockey or cricket between the two countries, arousing the same intensities of emotion and passion. It is thus natural that public opinion in India is seething over the sudden gush of sentimental bonhomie at Sharm el-Sheikh that brushed aside rational realities in framing the "badly drafted" joint statement and gifted the gratuitous self-goal of Balochistan. Even Pakistanis must have been taken aback at this sudden windfall. The Prime Minister propounded his vision of extreme and unilateral reconciliation with Pakistan to a stormy Lok Sabha, delinking action against terrorism from progress in dialogue. The ambience was uneasily reminiscent of the "bhai-bhai" enthusiasm whipped up during Jawaharlal Nehru's Chinese honeymoon in the 1960s, which all ended in 1962 on the windswept slopes of Rezangla and the Sela Pass. Meanwhile, almost in counterpoint to the Prime Minister's surrealistic idealism, the Pakistan military delivered a quick reality check through the Chief of the Pakistan Air Force, Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman, one of the "big three" in that country, who declared in an interview to a foreign newspaper: "Of course there is a real threat from India".

So when the Prime Minister of India enunciates "trust, but verify" as the operative precept of India's Pakistan policy, the question that naturally arises is: who is to be the object of that trust in Pakistan? Elected civilian governments that reign, but do not rule? Or the pathologically hostile Pakistan military and its covert agencies, who are the de facto principals? Do we have the capabilities to monitor and verify Pakistan's intentions?

Successive failures in Kargil in 1999, Mumbai on 26/11 and now with the economic jihad have demonstrated to a sceptical nation the inadequacy and indeed inefficiency of our intelligence capabilities. The Indian leadership shrinks from promoting foreign relations through military power centres and looks to civilian interlocutors to achieve its objectives, but the Pakistan Army has sent a clear and unequivocal message through Lt. Gen. Shuja Pasha, director-general of Inter-Services Intelligence, during his interaction with Indian defence attaches in Pakistan: that if any substantial issues are to be discussed, the Pakistani military would have to be part of the dialogue between the two countries. So in this context, the smiling Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan posing for photographs at Sharm el-Sheikh are perhaps of less significance than the unsmiling impassivity of Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani in Islamabad. Does this deafening silence indicate disapproval of excessive civilian bonhomie? The Pakistan military is a totally unknown entity to the Indian political class and civilian diplomats, who have little or no worthwhile contact, let alone influence, with the source of ultimate authority in Pakistan. The Indian military too is not much better off in this respect, having been totally sequestered by the government from the policy planning process, other than routine contacts at the departmental level between the directors-general of military operations of the two armies. But regardless of the communication gap, the time might perhaps have come to seriously "Know your Army" - in this case the Pakistan Army - if the Indo-Pak composite dialogue is to be nursed along. One thing for sure - it will not be easy for our mandarins to adjust to the Pakistani military mind. The Indian defence forces are aware of the mental processes of their long-time adversaries, with whom they share some commonalities of backgrounds and attitudes, even though adverse. But given a chance, the Indian military can contribute fruitfully to any Indo-Pak discussions.

Kashmir will undoubtedly remain the core issue in any bilateral dialogue in the foreseeable future, to which Balochistan will now surely be added, given the triumphal reactions in Pakistan to the joint statement. A state of constant confrontation in all spheres for over six decades have machined Indo-Pak relations into their present shape, and only radical surgery or broad spectrum antibiotics which leave Pakistan with a sense of vindication can have any curative effects at this stage.

To the Pakistan Army, this of course implies victory in Kashmir, which it equates with revenge for Bangladesh. Is India prepared to accommodate a Gorbachevian approach on this issue? Highly unlikely! Conversely, can any elected "bhai-bhai" government in Pakistan be capable of terminating the Pakistan Army's proxy war against India? Equally unlikely!

Many questions, few answers. "Trust, but verify?" The portents are certainly not propitious. Perhaps "Verify, then trust" might be more appropriate under these circumstances.

- Gen. Shankar Roychowdhury (Retd) is a former Chief of Army Staff and a former Member of Parliament

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