Pakistan needs to “keep India caged in” till it secures Afghanistan for itself


Rajiv Dogra

The 26/11 massacre took place in the iconic hotels of Mumbai; a case where Pakistan has stonewalled all Indian requests for cooperation. Ironically, Pakistan’s foreign minister for the first ministerial level talks after 26/11 in New Delhi is a hotel management graduate.

That’s not her only connection with history. Ms Khar belongs to a clan known widely for her uncle Ghulam Mustafa Khar’s peculiar treatment of his wife. It is difficult to get past even the first 50 pages of My Feudal Lord without cringing and throwing up in disgust. Such was the level of his violence against his wife Tehmina Durrani, the author of that book.

At 34, waiflike Hina Khar must be one of the youngest foreign ministers in the world. But her age and her delicate frame are no handicap. She is backed by one of the most formidable realpolitik combination in the world today. She is the army’s chosen one; selected to do their precise bidding. And holding her hand in India is the caustic quip-a-minute foreign secretary Salman Bashir and the perpetually scowling Pakistani high commissioner Shahid Malik.

Still, if you insist on holding her age against her, let it be recorded that Babur was younger when he conquered India and established the Mughal Dynasty. Ms Khar has conducted herself with confidence and surety in her public interactions in India. She knew her priorities too. Within minutes of her arrival she had put India on notice. Her first meetings were with the anti-Indian duo of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Mirwaiz Umer Farooq.

It is surprising that Geelani could escape from his house arrest in Srinagar and fly all the way to Delhi to meet Ms Khar; unless, of course, his visit and the meeting were facilitated by the government. Then the question to be asked is whether an Indian foreign minister visiting Pakistan can dare to meet a separatist leader from Baluchistan or Sindh.

Minister SM Krishna, on his part, was gracious to Ms Khar in his opening remarks and seemed genuinely pleased to be shaking her hand rather than that of her feral predecessor SM Quereshi. He also said that he wished to see a stable, peaceful and prosperous Pakistan. There is nothing new to these remarks; Indian leaders have invariably expressed these sentiments, and have meant them sincerely.

But as any realistic assessment of the power equations in Pakistan would reveal, it is not in the realm of their power to do anything that would effectively change the dynamics within Pakistan. Can they, for example, hope to change the mindset of the army and the ISI, which are mainly responsible for running and ruining Pakistan?

In sharp contrast to our good wishes, Pakistani actions, sadly, speak louder than words, and they are not directed towards India’s peace, prosperity or stability.

The joint statement issued after the talks confirms what had been suspected; that despite 26/11, it is back to business. A composite dialogue is on and as usual Pakistan is not the one giving concessions. It was futile to expect any great movement forward.

In fact the timing of the talks was ill-advised.

India is in the midst of multiple domestic woes; that position of weakness would surely be known to the Pakistani establishment. They can hardly be expected to make any significant gesture of conciliation to a weak government.

Moreover what was sacrosanct about July 27? Why were the talks scheduled just two working days before Nirupama Rao was to retire as foreign secretary? Couldn’t we have waited a little to allow the new foreign secretary to settle in; after all it is he who would be expected to carry the decisions forward.

Alas, arbitrariness has marked our decisions in the past as well. For instance, there is hardly any other example in history where a handful of people decided to amputate a country; resulting eventually in a million deaths. It is exactly that kind of arbitrariness in decision making that people’s anguish is about.

For the common man, the challenge in dealing with Pakistan is finding an effective response to its terror machine. Policy paralysis on that score is hardly reassuring to people.

Currently, Pakistan needs to keep India caged in till it secures Afghanistan for itself. Ms Khar’s honeyed statements must be viewed in that context. She has charmingly achieved her establishment’s objectives. We were once again defeated by our expectations.

A former ambassador, the writer was also India’s last Consul General in Karachi

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