Small men occupying big offices: Is this new for India? – Najma Minhas

Managing Editor Global Village Space offers a historical perspective on why Imran Khan's offer of peace towards India was never going to be accepted.


Kautilya’s ‘the Arthashastra’, was penned centuries before Machiavelli was born; Kautilya is thought to be the pen name for Chanakya, minister to Chandragupta Maurya (reign: 321–297 BCE), the founder of the Mauryan Empire. A classic treatise that – like Machiavelli’s The Prince – lays out the time-tested rules for successfully running a state and conducting international relations.

Many believe that “Arthashastra” is a work of wisdom, a study of political philosophy, that has been read upside down, swallowed and absorbed by the Indian political establishment and is a book that PM Imran Khan – new player on South Asian power board – should be a hafiz of – not for waging wars but for peace.

Because in matters of war and peace collective consciousness, historic memories and deep-seated fears and prejudices all matter. But this is not the view of Pakistan foreign Office or GHQ; in his book ‘World Order’ which is an examination of global power dynamics, Henry Kissinger too speaks of the ancient Indian treatise, Arthashastra, as laying out all that is necessary to retain and exercise power.

Perhaps, after the events of the last few weeks, it should by now be clear to PM Imran Khan that ideals alone will not take him anywhere. He wants “peace with dignity” then he needs to take time away from Dale Carnegie and Vincnet Peale and absorb the wisdom of “The Prince” or “Arthashastra”

On July 26 2018, PM Imran Khan, after a historic victory for PTI in Pakistan’s general elections – the first time a new organic political party came into power after almost 50 years – laid out his government’s vision in a speech to the nation.

Surprising his critics – liberals in Islamabad and hawks in Delhi and Washington – he set the tone by openly desiring better relations with India. Stating that if “they (India) took one step forward, we (Pakistan) will take two.” It was audacious given the vitriolic coverage PTI had received at the hands of the Indian media that announced Pakistani election results with epithets that “Taliban, terrorist lovers and enemies of India” had taken control of Islamabad.

Khan’s initiative was surprising even more so since India was one of the last countries to congratulate Imran Khan on his victory and they were guarded to say the least. Earlier Indian media and political commentators remained extremely sympathetic to Khan’s erstwhile enemy: Nawaz Sharif. However, Skipper Imran opened his executive innings with the message that Pakistan wants better relations with India.

He invited couple of old Indian friends from his cricket playing years to his inauguration; Navjot Singh Sidhu the only one who came – all others found excuses not to attend – ended up creating a storm back home for hugging Pakistan’s Army Chief, Gen. Qamar Bajwa. The political climate in two neighboring countries could not have been more different in character.

Read more: India & Pakistan: The Pataakhas Continue

Pakistanis: From Short Lived Excitement to Anger & Disappointment

PM Imran Khan did as he promised during his first speech to the nation and boldly took two steps forward to meet India, regrettably as he did so they left him hanging in the air, facing opprobrium of the opposition leaders, media and erstwhile liberals now turned hawks blaming him for being desperate, unwise, too hasty and all that.

In response to Modi’s congratulatory letter Imran Khan wrote back on September 14, calling for ‘constructive engagement’ and suggested a meeting of the foreign ministers on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly. India first agreed on September 20 but less than 24 hours had a strategic rethink.

But covering its guilt under a hastily assembled list of excuses that turned ugly – as it levelled ridiculous charges laced in unbelievably caustic language. 24 hours – before Raveesh Kumar’s acidic words appeared – had seen Pakistanis in celebratory mode over positive prospects of better relations with an upbeat media and civil society expressing new found hope that the nations may start afresh.

On Friday 21st September, India’s official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Dr Raveesh Kumar retracted India’s offer of talks and said that “unclean intentions” were behind overtures to “make a fresh beginning, the evil agenda of Pakistan stands exposed, and the true face of the new Prime Minister of Pakistan has been revealed to the world.”

But sadly it was a prelude to another snakes and ladders game – a term used by Mani Shankar Aiyer in a recent piece for Global Village Space – that has long been played between India and Pakistan. A game that has left South Asia the least integrated regional trade block; less than five percent of trade is done intra-region within SAARC, the lowest among all regional trade blocks.

The World Bank published (on September 25, 2018) a study on Pakistan-India, “A Glass Half Full: The Promise of Regional Trade in South Asia”, which shows potential trade of $37 bn exists between the two countries. Study pointed out that over 70% of all malnourished children live in Asia, and nearly 1 billion people defecate outside and don’t have access to toilets – in India the number is 1 in 2 people.

The dire need for both countries to work jointly on issues is illustrated amply by concerns over climate change which has meant more floods, more draughts and food shortages for both countries.

Mutual paranoia has grown to such levels that the recent flood discharge by India upstream (during heavy rains in Punjab and Haryana) was perceived and declared as “water terrorism” by Pakistani media and statements of clarification by Pakistan’s Federal Flood Commission (FFC) were conveniently ignored.

Read more: Kashmir Conundrum: Can India Craft it’s Pakistan Policy? – Subhajit Naskar

Modi Regime: Struggling to Find a Half Decent Excuse?

The ostensible reason cited by the Modi government for canceling the Foreign Ministers meeting was the issuing of postal stamps which showcased Burhan Wani and other Kashmiri victims of atrocities by Indian forces and the killing of policemen in Indian held Kashmir allegedly by militants supported by Pakistan.

Both excuses were fake if not outright ridiculous. The stamps were issued, by an interim government, on July 24, before general elections, and the Indian border guards and policemen had died (for whatever reasons) before even the acceptance by India of Pakistani proposal of meeting at the sidelines of UNGA.

It was obvious that Indian political establishment was standing on one leg to find an excuse worthy enough to fool the world – more importantly, its own public and media raised on a strict diet of fear and paranoia over the past few decades. At the same time the Indian Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat – who has apparently been pushed, by an overbearing Modi regime, into the unenviable role of Squealer from George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ – was continuously making statements to create a war hysteria.

Disappointment at the actions of the Indian government was immediately expressed by the Pakistani foreign office, foreign minister, DG ISPR and the Prime minister himself who also went overboard with his famous tweet about the arrogance displayed by the Indian government and his epithet of “small men and big offices”.

He was reportedly telling Indian news channels that the country needs to take “stern action to avenge the barbarism” being carried out by both Pakistani terrorists and army troops. “It’s time to give it back to them in the same coin,” Rawat said. “The other side must also feel the same pain.” Modi government also decided to celebrate, on September 28, the second anniversary of their so-called ‘surgical strikes’.

Many wondered in Pakistan, why they did not celebrate the first anniversary in 2017? (and had to wait for Imran Khan’s offer of a meeting) Rawat’s statements– in service of a right-wing fundamentalist Hindutva regime in Delhi – can be dismissed as “cheap political theatre” but coming from a professional army officer in an India (and not Nazi Germany) that boosts – and rightly so – of a world-class intelligentsia should be a disturbing moment for the descendants of Gandhi and Nehru, and perhaps for the whole world.

This went viral, has been retweeted over 30,000 times and got over 100,000 likes. Back to square one – status quo position: where India wants discussion over cross-border terrorism and Pakistan wants India to stop killing Kashmiris and stop supporting state (Kulbhushan Yadav) and non-state actors (TTP, Baluch insurgents and MQM militants) to create havoc inside Pakistan.

Read more: Imran Khan might be a populist, but he is no Donald…

Why India Avoids Sustainable Dialogue with Pakistan?

Sympathizers of peace between the two countries and other voices have stated that Imran should have been sensible, cautious, wise and should have waited till the environment was more conducive between the two countries. The argument is that it was known that Modi was at the beginning of an election cycle and had to play an anti-Pakistan card – to his right-wing supporters.

And as an afterthought, it is being said that Imran should have known that Modi needed to create domestically a distraction from the huge billion dollar Rafael deal corruption scandal that was afflicting his government. Apologists – on both sides of the divide – have all the reasons, excuses, wise reflections etc to explain why Modi’s government would not sit down for talks – not at this stage.

This is the narrative Indian political establishment – whether its BJP or Congress – needs to deal with Pakistan. This is something they have invested into for the past almost three decades and allowing an Imran Khan and PTI to defeat this, to expose this is something New Delhi is not prepared to handle – certainly not at this stage.

One wise and sober diplomat, from the Indian side, was found arguing that Pakistani and Indian foreign ministers should have met, unannounced, undeclared, just as a chance accident. Others have told this scribe that even during the track-two dialogues in recent past, Indian interlocutors had often requested Pakistani counterparts not to make it public to let them avoid backlash at home.

But all of these are apologist arguments designed to cover the unpalatable reality that Indian public, politics and media are in the grip of a frenzy, an unending emotional turbulence, uncontrolled hatred and contempt, unleashed mostly by Hindutva linked media – but now Congress also playing into the galleries like Mr. Tiwari, supporter of “uninterrupted dialogue” was found tweeting against the Sushma/Qureshi meeting – that connects Pakistan, its army, intelligence and now even Imran Khan and PTI with a thousand-year-old wound of Muslim invasions from across Central Asia.

Navjot Singh Sindhu hugging Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa – August 21, 2018

This is apparent to anyone who cares to read and examine the rhetoric of Indian politicians and media and even the contemporary political literature that is emanating from mainstream India. While this pathology now exists in full blown fashion, it remains undiagnosed – and unpalatable – for the Indian intelligentsia that continues to sell the dark theme of unbridled Jihadis, Mullahs of all sorts aligned with a GHQ that controls all living beings and political entities in Pakistan and is against peace and dialogue with India.

Imran Khan’s sudden offer had thus created a challenge for this “national” and “globalized” narrative. It took 24 hours for Indian establishment to cook up some sort of excuses – however ridiculous they may sound – to wriggle out of an uncomfortable situation. Its imperative for Indian political establishment to define Imran Khan as “Taliban Khan” or “spineless creation of GHQ” and PTI – the most popular and organic political force in Pakistan – as an extension of the Pakistan army.

Read more: Pakistan at a crossroads as Imran Khan is sworn in -James…

Dream of Uninterrupted Indo-Pakistani Dialogue?

We cannot blame the world for not understanding New Delhi’s strategic paradigm – for even most Pakistanis are not aware of the history of talks between the two countries. Since 1947, Pakistan and India, who have been to war four times, of which 3 times were over Kashmir, have never had what you call an ‘“uninterrupted and uninterruptible dialogue” as Mani Shankar Aiyer and later Manish Tiwari have described it.

But both stop short of analyzing as to who is responsible for not letting such talks happen or reach a conclusion. The longest period of talks as both Mani Shankar and Manish Tewari, national spokesperson for Indian National Congress, pointed out in the pages of this magazine (August & September 2018 issues) was during 1962-1963, with the Swaran Singh-Bhutto discussions.

These talks as CIA declassified papers reveal were under Anglo-American pressure on India, when India was at its weakest – and most vulnerable moment – after its defeat in the Sino-India 1962 war and Pakistan (East & West Pakistan) was still a one unit large influential Muslim country, straddling across Central, South and East Asia and was being encouraged by Communist China to settle its own scores in Kashmir in 1962.

Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto & Swaran Singh at the Simla Summit 1972

The American’s decided – because they wanted to bring India on board in their fight against communism in East Asia, Laos and Cambodia – the best way to strengthen India whilst keeping Pakistan happy as their partner in SEATO/CENTO was to resolve enmity between Pakistan and India over Kashmir.

During, these one year long talks India offered to modify the line of ceasefire such that Pakistan would get another 1500 square miles and this would then become the international boundary. This proposal was rejected by a disappointed Pakistan, that insisted upon holding a referendum in the whole state (but would have settled for something more serious from New Delhi, like the Kashmir Valley, forgetting Jammu and Ladakh).

Failure of Bhutto/Swaran Singh Talks set the stage for the 1965 Indo-Pakistani war. Following Tashkent, a wounded and internally divided Pakistan lost interest in Kashmir; the 1971 war was an Indian design and Shimla Agreement relied upon Indian triumph, and moment of India’s absolute security and mastery – something (theoretically speaking) Indian decision-makers may again be looking for to settle newer challenges that arose post 1989 Kashmiri insurgency and 1998 nuclear balancing in South Asia but which slips out of their hands.

Read more: Will Imran Khan be assassinated?

On September 15 1981, Pakistan offered India a non-aggression pact in a statement in which it simultaneously announced the acceptance of US military aid; talks were proposed to which in December 1981, India agreed saying that the Shimla Agreement would form the basis on which these talks would continue. Agha Shahi, Pakistan’s minister of state for foreign affairs, arrived in New Delhi in January 1982 with a draft of the non-aggression deal.

In May 1982, K. Natwar Singh came to Islamabad as India’s special envoy and was given a draft of the ‘non-war’ treaty. In June 1982, M.K. Rasgotra arrived in Pakistan with India’s draft treaty on the same issue but in which it had introduced 2 new clauses, of utmost import: (1) there should be no alliances and bases on their soils to ‘any great power’ and (2) that bilateral talks would be ‘exclusive’.

Both conditions torpedoed the treaty- Indians had known very well- that Pakistan aligned with the USA, since the 1950’s, and certainly at the time locked in a joint struggle with the United States to throw out the Soviets from Afghanistan could not agree to such terms.

Fast forward: On 14 July 2001, President Pervez Musharraf arrived for the much hyped Agra Summit – where he announced that he was ‘cautiously optimistic’ and was coming with an ‘open mind’. Several rounds of talks were held to resolve long standing issues – Kashmir, cross-border terrorism, reduction in nuclear arsenal and prisoners of war, but ultimately no agreement was attained and President Musharraf left India without being given even a ceremonial sendoff.

Much has been made of Vajpayee not trusting Musharraf because he was a military man or not trusting that Pakistan would keep its word over cross-border infiltrations or the over audacious, unwise breakfast interview held by Musharraf with Indian TV anchors (compare the excuses of the unwise untimely offer of FM meetings by Imran Khan) But the talks were torpedoed by L.K Advani, India’s deputy Prime minister.

In his book ‘My Country My Life’ he admits as much and states he did so because the joint draft that had been created by the foreign ministers of both countries (Jaswant Singh and Abdul Sattar), did not include reference to ‘cross-border terrorism’. However, RAW Chief A.S. Dulat in his book, ‘Vajpayee Years’, in 2015, claimed that L.K. Advani deliberately derailed the Agra summit for internal politics, as he brought up the issue of Dawood Ibrahim in an underhand manner, during a dinner party held for President Musharraf on the eve of the Agra summit.

Read more: Can Imran Khan bring Pakistan in from the diplomatic cold?

With hindsight, this is one of the many great missed opportunities to improve India-Pakistan relations. But is it really? Let’s examine more before reaching any conclusions.

Through WikiLeaks in 2009 we learnt that President Musharraf and PM Manmohan Singh working through ‘back channels’ in 2007 were close to a deal over Kashmir, which fell through as President Musharraf was weakened domestically after the lawyer’s movement and Benazir Bhutto’s death – the Indians felt they should not go through with it with him, a regret it is said that Manmohan carries with him to this day.

The agreement was along the lines of what is known as “Musharraf’s 4-Point Agenda” about which Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, in his book ‘Neither a Hawk nor a Dove’, claimed that ‘the solution to Kashmir was in the grasp of both governments.’ And so they continue not to tango till date. And who will make them?

Engaging Pakistan is not in Indian strategic interest?

In the last decade, or 15 years, India’s desire and need for peace in the region has precipitously dropped, the reasons for which do not start nor end with Mumbai attacks. The Pakistani state suffered tremendously since 9/11; it lost over $130bn in trade, lost almost 100,000 of its men and women – including more than 10,000 officers and soldiers – in a war from neighboring Afghanistan that was brought inside its territory, and affected its population, urban centers, economy, sports, education, sovereignty, international standing and self-esteem.

India on the other hand – along with Israel – emerged as the largest beneficiary of the events post 9/11. While Pakistanis died like worthless insects due to the American war against terrorism, India – that did not fire a bullet or sacrifice a goat for the US – emerged as United States’ strategic partner benefitting from economic opportunities and technological transfers.

Atal Behari Vajpayee meets Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at Agra in 2001

As the US government got bogged down deeper and deeper into wars that its people no longer understand and do not know how to get out off; its biggest competitor, China, carried on silently trading, developing its economy and expanding its footprint across the world. Since the beginning of this decade, finally, the awakened US and the implementation of its China’s containment policy created a tsunami in South Asian realpolitik.

In 2010 President Obama announced to the joint session of the Indian parliament that India was the US’s ‘defining relationship’ of the twenty-first century and later what was known as the Pacific region suddenly became reiterated again and again in articles and US think tanks as the Indo-Pacific region. Who better than the Americans and the Indians to understand the power of the narrative.

British India – an imperial construct of mere 90 years – we are told was like a nation from Khyber to Kanya Kumari that went back thousands of years as one dominion, one people joined by a shared history.

This great nation, this one country one people, was divided by the communalist politics of Jinnah and Muslims – narrative that most educated aware citizens of the world are supposed to believe in. India, in the new narrative, was to be the bulwark against China’s growth in South/Central Asia and in the Pacific.

So whereas previously India was under tiny weeny pressure from the western countries to show that it was making moves towards peace, now it is Pakistan that has been told to play ball, so that the Americans can have what they want – in this case- a pliant South Asian neighbourhood in which India is the regional hegemon – that can play the role of standing up to China as per American demands.

So when after India backed out of talks on 21st September, it was not India that the US censured but rather amazingly the Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia Alice Wells gave a BBC interview, and – as if not aware of what had happened – made a statement saying she ‘would encourage Pakistan to work for peace in South Asia’.

If there is one thing that Americans are known for, even when they have the best of intentions, it is for being a bull in a china shop. Now as a bull in a China shop, they are encouraging the Indian policy of intransigence.

India has, for all practical purposes, hijacked US foreign policy on South Asia – in a fashion similar to the Israeli/Palestinian issue; now the US has lost all ability to act as a neutral broker in any South Asian conflict or show any real understanding of issues. The recent Putin-Modi summit (Oct 2018) that resulted in Indian agreements to buy S-400 missiles ignoring any possible repercussions of CAATSA (new US law; Aug 2017) testifies – if any evidence was still needed – that the Indo-US relations are driven totally by New Delhi.

The US – like its relations with Israel since 1967 – has now no real control on this equation. American strategy in South Asia is now determined by Indian interests. Pakistan, which is at the receiving end since 9/11, contrary to the perception created by Indo-US media machine, is extremely keen on peace with India.

Read more: PM Imran Khan decides to amend laws to curb money laundering

Pakistani decision-makers, at all levels, realize their vulnerability like India realized its in 1962 when it engaged in Bhutto/Swaran Singh Talks. So despite the thousands of Kashmiris that have been killed by Indian forces in the past 2 decades – many of whom have relatives in Pakistan – and despite Pakistani memories of Indian aggression in 1971, and despite conviction that India had unleashed a direct (through its agencies) and indirect (through proxies like TTP, Baluch insurgents and MQM militants) war against it, Pakistan desires peace with India.

Pakistanis have however demonstrated one thing: their societal and institutional resilience and ability to overcome multiple crises. The kind of horizontal and vertical pressures generated, post-9/11, by the American war in the region could have demolished the very basis of the Pakistani state.

By the middle of 2009, Pakistan was facing a full blown rebellion in its tribal areas, it had lost control over SWAT valley, faced insurgency in several districts of Baluchistan, had an urban insurgency in its largest city, Karachi, and was under attack in all its cities; all across its highways, cantonments, ports, airports, naval and air bases. Pages of international journals were full of speculative accounts of the ultimate collapse and disintegration of the Pakistani state.

But while many in the region and the world had written its obituary, Pakistani state had the institutional strength to fight back. By the beginning of 2016 it had broken the back of insurgencies across tribal areas, pacified Swat and most of Baluchistan and broken the back of urban – MQM driven – warfare in Karachi.

Nations are created through a combination of tragedy and triumph; Pakistan’s struggle against this war has contributed to the kind of political consciousness that has brought someone like Imran Khan to power on the back of a middle-class movement that seeks peace, prosperity and dignified relations with the world outside.

It will take a while before Indian political establishment and intelligentsia realize that its strategic paradigm of dealing with Pakistan is not working –and it will not get a moment like 1971/72 to settle matters in another Shimla Agreement.

That will be the beginning of an uninterrupted, uninterruptible dialogue between India and Pakistan. Imran Khan needs to focus on speedy completion of CPEC and economic reforms to help India change its mind.

“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes to make it possible.”

— T.E. Lawrence

Najma Minhas is Managing Editor of Global Village Space. She has previously worked as a management consultant with National Economic Research Associates in New York, with
Lehman Brothers in London and Standard Chartered Bank in Pakistan. She has studied at Columbia University, New York and London School of Economics & Political Science. 

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