31 March 2019

Netanyahu way or Helsinki?

Vappala Balachandran

When ISI Director-General Hamid Gul met RAW chief AK Verma in 1988, the first such meeting between the two spy agencies, he expressed the same fears about India as Gen Ayub Khan had made 35 years earlier. In 1953, Ayub Khan had made a theatrical offer to the US: ‘Our army can be your army if you want us.’ He was not authorised to make any such offer, as he was in Washington DC only to prepare for Governor-General Ghulam Mohammed’s visit. But this pleased Secretary of State John Foster Dulles who was disappointed with India not joining his anti-communist alliance, Middle East Defense Organization (MEDO). Pakistan was thus able to steal a march over India and get US security guarantees. 

Gul’s dialogue with Verma was equally jaunty by frankly admitting that Pakistan was backing terrorism as it was afraid of India’s size. He offered to stop supporting terrorism if India initiated adequate confidence-building measures (CBMs). He displayed flamboyance with his offer, pushing out a small group of the 1st battalion Sikh regiment that had crossed over to Pakistan. 

US diplomat Dennis Kux, who had written two seminal works on US ties with India and Pakistan, had said: ‘US and Pakistan’s interests and policies have been at odds almost as often as they have been in phase.’ History tells us that Pakistan had succeeded in slithering into advantageous position with the US by dexterous foreign-military diplomacy, alternating between bluster, blackmail, acquiescence, submission, concessions and perfidy. Despite suffering maximum US ‘sanctions’, it had used every crisis with the US as an opportunity to gain more American dependence on them, the latest being peace talks with the Afghan Taliban for US withdrawal. 

In 1971, it facilitated President Richard Nixon’s topmost foreign policy priority of ‘opening up’ to China. Henry Kissinger had approached France, Poland, Romania and Pakistan, but only President Yahya Khan’s efforts succeeded, although he was immersed with the East Bengal crisis. Kissinger’s secret preparatory visit to Beijing via Pakistan materialised in July 1971 followed by Nixon’s path-breaking visit in February 1972, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was the President.

Having achieved the ‘dependable ally’ status, Pakistan sailed through its policy distortions like its pursuit of clandestine N-bomb, Zia’s embrace of religious extremism, and finally terrorism. The US was found tolerant even when its embassy in Islamabad was burnt down by a Jamiat-e-Islami mob in 1979 on a rumour that US-Israel were behind the Mecca Grand Mosque incident. It was a pre-planned attack. The police took four hours to send rescue teams when they were just 30 minutes away. Steve Coll says that Zia took full advantage of this incident a month later to wrest concessions from the US during the Mujahideen wars (1979-1989) against the Soviets who had invaded Afghanistan in 1979.

Thus Pakistan was not unduly worried about Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s warning in 1993 that it would be designated as a ‘terrorist sponsoring’ nation. The only time it was genuinely nervous, as admitted by President Musharraf in his autobiography, was when Richard Armitage, then Deputy Secretary of State, warned him that the US would ‘bomb Pakistan to stone age’ if it did not cooperate in fighting the Al-Qaeda after 9/11. 

After the Pulwama attack, we were gratified to hear an unidentified US spokesperson announcing that Pakistan should take ‘sustained, verifiable and irreversible’ action against terrorist groups. But the very next day, President Trump overruled him, saying that he would be meeting Pakistan’s leaders as ‘our relationship right now is very good with Pakistan’.

How then do we stop Pakistan from using terrorism as a coercive weapon? Bombing or ‘surgical strikes’ do not have lasting effect. Threats like ‘You may lose Balochistan’ have not worked since 2014. Turning India into a ‘national security’ state might work for an election win, but not solve the problem. So, are the self-delusional predictions like an RSS leader’s speech in Mumbai that Indians could own properties in Pakistan by 2025 in a ‘Bharatiya Union of Akhand Bharat’. 

We have two options: The Netanyahu way or the ‘Helsinki’ option. Many in our government are admirers of Israel’s ‘muscular’ response to terrorism. Unfortunately, the hard-line strategy has not made Israeli citizens any safer. Hamas, which has no air force or N-weapons and which continuously suffers Israeli air attacks, had rained 347 rockets on Israel in 2018, causing panic and injuries. This year, even Tel Aviv was hit on March 14 for the first time. Another one on Tel Aviv on March 25 made Netanyahu return home, cutting short his US visit after receiving President Trump’s election eve gift of recognising Israeli sovereignty over Golan Heights. 

The second is the Helsinki process. Former CIA chief Robert Gates, who worked closely with seven US Presidents, says that Helsinki process ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and not Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’. Ironically, the European Security was first proposed by the Soviet Union in the 1950s, but Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter turned it into a rights campaign which ‘kindled widespread resistance to communist authority’. 

Why can’t we nurture a ‘peace constituency’ in Pakistan, comprising journalists, sportspersons, artists, writers, rights activists, actors and traders to act as a pressure group? Western Europe did it by unilateral concessions to the communist block by giving visas, facilities for medical and technical education, cultural, sports and film delegations. A guide how to achieve this can be found in Jairam Ramesh’s book on PN Haksar and GBS Sidhu’s book on Sikkim, on how the late RN Kao had connected with such people for guarding our security under Indira Gandhi’s guidance.

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