Pakistan/India: How politicians from across the border wine and dine for mutual interests

Last Updated: Fri, Dec 22, 2017 11:06 hrs
PM Modi and former PM Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands with former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at an event marking the Hindu festival Dussehra in New Delhi. Images: AP

At a moment when the Gujarat assembly election was the talk of the town, the timing of a meeting between some Indian stalwarts and their Pakistanis counterparts in New Delhi was intriguing.

The Indians comprised a former Vice President, a former Prime Minister, a former Cabinet Minister, a former Army Chief, former diplomats and a selection of journalists. One common trait or proclivity of most Indian stalwarts in attendance in the seminar and later at the dinner hosted by a former diplomat and Cabinet Minister, known for making acerbic expressions, was the hostility, rather enmity, towards the incumbent Prime Minister.

This acerbic diplomat-politician must take inspiration from his senior colleague Natwar Singh’s assessment of Pakistani diplomats. Singh, who also attended the dinner, writes in his book One Life Is Not Enough: “The quality of Pakistani diplomats cannot be questioned. For some Pakistani diplomats, the Foreign Service was both a cause and a career and for a handful, it was a crusade. Keeping the Kashmir question alive on the international agenda for so long needed determination and skill. Even greater was their achievement in maintaining excellent relations with China and the US, at India’s expense.”

Sadly, many Indian stalwarts have also thrived on political and diplomatic capital of Pakistan and at India’s expense.

The Pakistani side, amongst others, had the former Foreign Minister of Pakistan Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri and the serving High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood. The post-event posturing of the participants neither inspires confidence nor reassurance as to intent of the meet. That the meeting was attended by two highly regarded nationalists does not insulate it from the machinations of anti-India Indo-Pak collaborators.

At a seminar in Lucknow, where I was invited, another participant, a Kashmiri youth leader utilised the occasion to slip off with Abdul Basit, the then Pak High Commissioner only to reappear at the very end of the program. In fact, seminars and dinners such as these are perfect ruse for intelligence operatives.

As far as the Indian participants are concerned, were not some of these people feverishly advocating de-militarisation of Siachen thereby suggesting that India withdraw troops from there? They did not even care to know that there are no Pakistani troops on the glacier. They are deployed on the other side of the Saltoro Ridge.

One of these ‘stalwarts’, whilst on a visit to Pakistan, publicly asked his hosts for help towards dislodging the incumbent Indian Prime Minister. How can Pakistan be of any help except by the only tool it is adept at wielding i.e. terrorism?

Dismissing the steadfast conclusion of the US Government, and even David Headley’s wife, some of the Indian participants at the seminar and dinner were mysteriously desperate to absolve Pakistan from the Samjhauta blasts and exerted to prove that it was a handiwork of so called ‘Hindu terrorists’. The former Union government ignored the narco tests of SIMI activist Safdar Nagori, which revealed the identity of the two Pakistanis who had crossed the border to carry out Samjhauta blasts. Lest they ruin the script of ‘Hindu terror’, these two culprits were deliberately let off and dispatched to Pakistan.

In the wake of the Samjhauta blasts, Kasuri arrived in India on 21 February, 2007. In his book ‘Neither hawk nor dove’ he pontificates: “The attack on Samjhauta proves that terrorism has no religion.”

When was the last time when terrorists from India struck Pakistan, Mr Kasuri? Just because the trajectory of global jihad has gone out of Pakistan’s control, do not create such binaries.

In the pursuit of the purported ‘Hindu terror’, one of the participants, an Adarsh scam tainted gent, had no qualms in handing over an officer under his command to the Maharashtra police.

So who reached out to the Pakistani establishment? The very same people whose heart beat for Ishrat Jahan, an Indian LeT operative, recruited to eliminate the then Chief Minister of Gujarat and now the PM. Her end at the hands of security establishment of Gujarat, rattled the players in the government in Delhi so much that it pitted one Intelligence agency against another. It humiliated the Intelligence Bureau by subverting and unleashing another agency. It happened under the close watch one former PM who now has demanded apology for insinuating ‘subversion’ against him. It is another matter that the spirit of the constitution was subverted by accepting an arrangement by which he forfeited his right to choose his cabinet to an unconstitutional authority. Such an arrangement is inherently weak on integrity and is an invitation to subversion and blackmail by external powers.

The use of Pakistan and its leverages like Dawood Ibrahim and LeT has become a feature of Indian politics. It is this compulsion that makes some Indian politicians, like Pakistani politicians, to suffix an honorific ‘sahab’ to Hafeez Saeed. Pakistan’s ISI has been physically eliminating politicians like Benazir Bhutto and makes civilian governments capitulate whenever it deviates from the military determined foreign policy security path by use of mullahs and fundamentalists. The mullah-military partnership is intrinsic to Pakistan since creation of the country.

The recent brokering of deal by a Maj Gen of ISI between the govt and the Barelvi fundamentalists, Tehreek-e-Labaik, whose 5,000 cadres had blocked the Islamabad-Peshawar road junction for three weeks was brazen display of manipulative power and capability of the military-intelligence establishment with regards to the politics of the country. The same, it seems, is being extended to India at the behest of anti-national parties and politicians.

The ISI has been desperately trying to destabilize UP through railway sabotage. Two recent acts of sabotage are glaring. On 10 August this year, 77 pandrol clips, used for fastening tracks were removed near Bareilly. On 3 December again, 150 pandrol clips were removed near Lucknow to cause derailment. The series of railway sabotage in UP began with the derailment of Patna-Indore Express near Kanpur in Nov 2016 which took a toll of 150 lives. The attack was planned by ISI operative Mohd Shafi Sheikh who roped in a Nepalese citizen Shamshul Hoda. This was carried out to discredit the central government in a run-up to the UP elections. So Pakistan has been trying to influence politics in India in different ways.

I was part of Track-II India-Pakistan meeting in Singapore. The seminar was a formal affair. I was asked to present a paper on Balochistan. The copies of the paper were distributed amongst Indian and Pakistani delegates well in advance. I presented my own perception of Balochistan, much to the dislike of the Pakistani delegates. There is thus no informality about such meets, and even if it is touted as one, national interests reign supreme.

That said, there is never a Track-II meet which may include a former PM and a former Vice-President, and that too in an atmosphere vitiated by hostile political overtones, as betrayed by the dinner’s host. Which side of the Indian political divide does this foul-mouthed former diplomat and politician wants the Pakistanis to weigh?

Most Indian invitees at the dinner are known for their hostility towards the present PM. One of them before demitting powers and privileges of high office for years commented that people of his community are not safe in India, another, deemed as an ‘Accidental Prime Minister’ said that minorities had the first right over resources in India, and is also remembered for his subverted role at Sharm-al-Shaikh. What these stalwarts wished to achieve from their Pakistani counterparts that they could not otherwise make real in their long careers, is anyone’s guess.

If the intention of the stalwarts was the good of India, they could have kept the present government in the loop. In this regard they must take cue from Kasuri’s patriotism. In his book ‘Neither a hawk nor a dove’ Kasuri describes his meeting with influential Americans (Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham and Richard Hoolbrooke) in the wake of 26/11 in Lahore after he ceased to be Foreign Minister of Pakistan in November 2007. “My experience told me that this was as high powered a delegation as it could be. I instinctively understood that there must be something important. They said they were coming from India and there was a feeling of outrage and something needed to be done to release the pressure. To my consternation, Senator McCain wanted to know from me, in view of my experience what the reaction of the Pakistan Army and the public at large would be, if there was limited air raid on Murdike, the headquarters of Lashkar-e-Tayiba. I was horrified at the mere suggestion. Such a suggestion could not have come without their sounding out people at the highest level in India before their visit to Pakistan. After lunch was over, I immediately rang General Hamid Javed, the liaison officer between the army and entire presidency during my tenure; I also rang General Kayani (DG ISI) directly.”

In the process of writing the book ‘The Unmaking of Nepal’ I met the top brass of Nepal several times before arriving at my assessment. Immediately on arrival at India I gave a talk at Centre for Land Warfare Studies. A representative of MEA was invited. Subsequently, I, on my own initiative, briefed the Joint Secretary (Nepal) at the MEA.

The Indian stalwarts therefore must realise that no dividends can be extruded from Track-II or informal outreach without involvement of the government of the day. Track-II and informal outreach can only be allowed if it complements and supplements the efforts of the government. Otherwise, such exercises, that are in abusive disregard of the government of the day constitutes an act of sedition.

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RSN Singh is a former military intelligence officer who later served in the Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW. He is the author of two books: Asian Strategic and Military Perspective and Military Factor in Pakistan.

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