Opinion » Lead

Updated: April 28, 2012 02:21 IST

Not a zero-sum game in Kabul

Chinmaya R. Gharekhan
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India and Pakistan must recognise each other's legitimate interests in Afghanistan without losing sight of the larger common objective of bringing stability to the country.

Thanks to the efforts of both governments, there has been a perceptible improvement in the atmospherics between India and Pakistan in recent weeks. The debate in India's strategic community these days is about the nature of this apparent welcome pragmatism in Pakistan's India policy. The question being raised is: is the change in Pakistan's attitude tactical or strategic? Is the change driven by the many challenges facing Pakistan which compel it to take a more realistic or pragmatic view of its predicament and interests, which, in turn, propel it to step back and take an enlightened view of its interests? The desperate state of economy, the strained relations with America, the unstoppable onslaught of the jihadist forces within Pakistan, the drain on its resources, human and material, caused by the involvement in Afghanistan — all these factors leave Pakistan with no choice but to seek more cooperative stance with India. The sceptics in India, who are in a majority, ask: will Pakistan revert to its bad old ways once one or the other of these crises eases, or is the change more fundamental or strategic? Has Pakistan come to the realisation that its destiny is linked to South Asia and that the only hope for it to deal with its manifold crises is to reciprocate India's ample goodwill and grasp the hand of friendship that India has extended on many an occasion?

'Peaceful coexistence'

General Kayani's remarks to the media in Skardu last week should settle the debate. “Peaceful coexistence” is the mantra that he has suggested as the guiding principle for relations between the two countries. In other words, let practical interests decide relations and policies, keep emotions or sentiments out of the discourse. Do not worry about “tactical” or “strategic” shifts in positions, act on issues in a way that would do no harm to either country and might bring some benefit to both, such as trade and economic relations. On matters each country might regard as crucial or vital for itself, keep your respective, even inflexible positions, but keep them under manageable limits. At the risk of over-interpreting Gen. Kayani's statement, it is tempting to see in it elements of the Panchsheel principles.

If the above reading of the general's comment is anywhere near accurate, it is indeed a good prescription for both countries to endeavour to follow. One area where it can be applied without harming either's interests and with positive fall-out for both and even third countries is Afghanistan.

The people of Afghanistan have suffered grievously for more than three decades in terms of lives lost, incalculable material damage and opportunities missed to construct a stable and prosperous nation, at peace with itself and with its neighbours. The attention of the international community, particularly of the United States and other countries with troops in Afghanistan, is focussed at present on the “end game”, on extricating their men and women out of Afghanistan with some modicum of dignity. It is imperative that the international community does not simply abandon Afghanistan, as it did in the 1990s. It must stay engaged in helping the Afghan people as they embark on forging a future for themselves which would ensure a decent, dignified and democratic life for all its citizens. India and Pakistan, as two important members of the international community and as Afghanistan's neighbours, ought to make their contributions towards this objective. They can do so, each on its own, but they can do much more if they were to join hands in this endeavour.

The current U.S.-led efforts at promoting national reconciliation are not likely to result in sustainable peace, given the levels of mistrust between the stakeholders, including between India and Pakistan. Externally inspired compromises with insurgent groups, undertaken for gaining short-term objectives, are unlikely to prevent the dangers of resumption of a civil war. America having declared the date of withdrawal so much in advance, for whatever reasons, the incentive for the insurgents to agree to meaningful peace formulae has distinctly diminished, even disappeared. An inclusive approach, with the active participation of all relevant domestic and regional players, is called for.

The bilateral relationships which Pakistan and India have with Afghanistan are not, and should not be, a zero-sum equation. Each must recognise that the other has legitimate interests and concerns in Afghanistan. Equally, both ought to, and do believe that a stable Afghanistan is in the interests of both countries. An attempt by either country to exclude the other or to dilute the right of the other to establish friendly relations with Kabul, or competitive policies in Afghanistan will not succeed, will be counter-productive and will lead to increased mistrust and, very likely, more tension in our sub-region. Concepts such as “strategic depth” or “encirclement” have no validity in the 21st century, especially given the fact that both India and Pakistan are nuclear weapon states. A cooperative approach, on the other hand, will pay healthy dividend for both our peoples as well as for the people of Afghanistan.

Time for dialogue

The time is opportune for India and Pakistan to engage in a dialogue specifically on the situation in Afghanistan with a view to exploring ways and means in which they can collaborate with each other as well as with the government of Afghanistan, on how best they can combine their efforts to help rebuild Afghanistan. While India has pledged $2 billion for Afghanistan's development, Pakistan's contribution of about $300 million is not insignificant given the state of its economy and other costs that it has had to bear in connection with the situation in Afghanistan for the past three decades. Both countries have acquired rich experience over the past decades in capacity and institution building, skills development, technology as well as in several other fields such as holding elections, primary and higher education, etc. Furthermore, our experience would be of more relevance for Afghanistan, one of the least developed countries in the world.

The hardliners in Pakistan regard such ideas as India's ploy to gain what it has not been able to in other ways, namely, access through Afghanistan to the markets and resources of Central Asia. While there is nothing diabolic in such ambitions, since Pakistan has as much to benefit from it as India and Central Asian states, it should be possible to calibrate Indo-Pak cooperation in Afghanistan in a way that takes care of Pakistan's concerns. In fact, India might have more to “lose” in such an arrangement than Pakistan, since India already enjoys immense goodwill at the popular level in Afghanistan as compared to Pakistan. There are pragmatic voices in Pakistan that support India and Pakistan working together to help Afghanistan build itself.

Istanbul conference

It has been widely recognised that a regional approach is essential in order to stabilise the situation in Afghanistan. The conference held in Istanbul in July 2011 unequivocally called for respect for the sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Afghanistan as well as for the principle of non-interference in its internal affairs. Afghanistan, for its part, reiterated its commitment to respect the territorial integrity of its neighbours, in other words, non-intervention in the internal affairs of its neighbours.

The Istanbul conference, in essence, amounts to a compact between Afghanistan and its neighbours, immediate and proximate, of non-interference and non-intervention. This was a most important development. It needs to be followed by an initiative by the United Nations Secretary General to take follow-up action in the form of further consultations with the states concerned to give concrete effect to the undertaking they agreed to in Istanbul. This is necessary to inspire confidence among Afghanistan and its neighbours that all signatories to the Istanbul declaration live up to their commitments.

A monitoring mechanism would need to be set up, its form and size to be decided during the course of consultations. Some form of a complaints procedure, combined with a United Nations observer group could be considered; this would greatly help in allaying, e.g. Pakistan's concerns, about India's alleged mischief in Balochistan. The Afghanistan-specific dialogue between India and Pakistan could cover this aspect also; however, it might be more problematic and more difficult for Pakistan. The same General Kayani is probably not ready to go that far and that fast. But cooperation in nation building in Afghanistan ought not to be off-limits for the Pakistan establishment. Conversations at Track-II have not been encouraging in this respect. Only the ISI and the army's top brass in Pakistan can give the green light for this initiative which can help reduce the “trust deficit” in bilateral relationship. It could turn out to be a win-win tactic or strategy for everyone.

(Chinmaya R. Gharekhan, former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, was, until recently Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's Special Envoy for West Asia.)


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Rather than try to interpret Kayani's words as if he were in hiding or as if he were
dead, we should invite him over and talk to him face to face.
So far, he has been reasonable. Violence in Kashmir is down and he has not been
involved in attacks across the border like his predecessor.

Strengthening his hands is not necessarily a bad thing when he talks about reducing
defense expenditure.

from:  Dr.Kuchbhi
Posted on: Apr 30, 2012 at 18:48 IST

I do agree with Mr Harjeet, clearly a sudden change in attitude does not augur that well for the future. Their reason for this show of hand is, most probably, due to the pressure they face. The history suggests that Pakistan is not worthy of trust, it is not the people but the cheat heading the state I am talking of. There are millions wishing peace between the two sides, which is also imperative for development or progress. We do not compete with each other only, other countries who barely give a damn of the citizens here under the camouflage of peace promoters are exploiting the differences. Clearly the divide and rule policy of the britishers still works well. We will not back out though, cannot let go off a chance of peace, but we'll be cautious.

from:  Vidit
Posted on: Apr 30, 2012 at 16:50 IST

history repeats itself.history says that when kabul becomes restless the fall of lahore, delhi and agra is imminent. now it is the duty of the rulers of lahore and delhi to divert the course of history otherwise both will perish. both countries are duty bound to make peace in kabul.

from:  ravindra sharma
Posted on: Apr 29, 2012 at 16:25 IST

Be cautious! With its formidable nuclear arsenal and potentiality for
dysfunctionalism and bankcruptcy, Pakistan could become the North Korea
of South Asia, its immediate neighbours and even further. An existential
and ever nuclear threat.
Developing peace and harmonious relation with Pakistan is paramount and
essential to reviving the Silk Route which is imperative to India's commercial well-being. Nevertheless, peace must not be achieved at all costs. It must be set through concrete and foolproof stages which are binding and cannot be reneged upon. A formidable task in itself. Lets all sincerely hope finally peace and harmony prevails in all of South Asia and its neighbours. America! Step back!

from:  Rajagopal raman
Posted on: Apr 29, 2012 at 14:21 IST

Moral of the story: As India grows stronger, other countries behave
better. Keep up the reforms and keep up the growth rate!

from:  Ganesh Prasad
Posted on: Apr 29, 2012 at 08:45 IST

I disagree with the author.He is trying to grow rice in the desert because he feels we need rice and land is right there. There are many in India who are jumping at General Kayani's statements pointing towards peaceful coexistence and balance between defence expenditure and development. I am afraid that I don't see at it as a change of heart on Pakistan's part.Pakistan is in all sort of troubles which include natural disasters. They need breathing space and thats why this talk of peaceful coexistence.I am not against talks but I want to know whom to talk to? Gilani or Kayani or Syed Hafiz? What is stopping them from keeping their promise of bringing 26/11 masterminds to justice inspite of compelling evidence ? What is preventing them to provide a voice sample of Syed Hafeez ? What is point of signing new agreements when old ones have been violated by them? Public opinion against Pakistan, after 26/11 and deliberate inaction on its part, is fully justified.

from:  Harjeet
Posted on: Apr 29, 2012 at 08:25 IST

"Each must recognise that the other has legitimate interests and concerns in Afghanistan. Equally, both ought to, and do believe that a stable Afghanistan is in the interests of both countries." The former Ambassador has forgot that it was Pakistan's ISI which bombed the Indian Embassy in Kabul. Pakistan has time and again proved that it can go to any length to push India out of the developmental work it is doing in Afghanistan. The Ambassador seems to have a notion that India also looks to undermine Pakistan's legitimate interest. He should have mentioned what Pakistan's 'legitimate' interests are. I'm afraid that dull and inept diplomats such as this author can hurt India more, in the same way as episodes like Sharm el Sheik fiasco.

from:  Senthil Kumar
Posted on: Apr 29, 2012 at 04:16 IST

A very lucid writing coupled with compelling logic makes the present particle by diplomat, Mr. Gharekhan, a delightful reading. But, those who have been watching Paksitan's compelling misbehaviour for decades would have hard time believing. I among others would like to think that it is not "dawn of wisdom" but the very problem Pakistan faces with in and in its frontier is the reason why it is seeking out India's goodwill etc.. Add to that list the Global ignominy it has garnered over the years for its duplicitous policy. And, then there is this nonchalant China these days. So, it is make up time for Pakistan and it is time to open its good books. That, I believe are the reasons for being nice to all and we the broad minded must accept it again. Be that as it may, we still want our other issues like 26/11 to be resolved and may be India must push for the same. We want a closure to that issue along with others and not be swept under the rug.I would till keep my eyes open!

from:  Raman
Posted on: Apr 29, 2012 at 01:18 IST

I am surprised by the tone of the Articles in The Hindu recently with respect to India-Pakistan relations, as they seem to be blindly trusting the other side (may be left-liberal bug biting them). The author wants us to "settle the debate" merely by a statement from a General. Pessimists may be wrong and we hope we are but we are also pragmatists who see the Pakistan's attitude to the actions it takes on the ground not the Dreamy types of "Aman ki Aaasha" who blindly trust Pakistanis and believe since we Indians believe in Paace, Pakistanis must be believing it too!! The change in tone in pakistan may well be tactical due to the recent problems it is facing domestically. The bottomline of every foreign policy should be "Trust,but verify" and "show a smily face" but keep your powder dry.

from:  vamsi
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 23:14 IST

The article is very good. It is a very good move from both the countries India and Pakistan towards the improvement of economic situation by providing a monetary support in a suffering country like Afghanistan. I wish the kind of peace existing between india and pakistan should still be improved for overall development of both the countries.

from:  Nagarjuna
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 21:51 IST

Earlier, Pakistan, although as a neighboring nation, never have recognized India as a good neigbor. But, feelings are different in India. There are many within India, either due to historic tie or past family origin, would like to consider pakistan as a good neigbor and a friend. So, India taking a lead to extend friendship through dialog is a positive thing. Initiatives for regional cooperation and including Pakistan as a good neighbor are good measures for co-existence.

from:  Sashi Mozumder
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 20:52 IST

war and peace is not gained by governments or army,as two nations we are going towards a black hole ,basic issue and needs of common people are ignored . as for afghan people their state of mind should be considered bez living in a hell hole changes you completely ,karzai government will never have peace because its not from the people .as for us if we managed to did rid of our criminal representatives and found some clear headed people in power may be we have a chance ,otherwise all this weapons of destruction are not for storage only.
in layman's term we are doomed and miracles stopped happening half a centuary ago.

from:  asim rehman
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 13:40 IST

Afghanistan has proved to be the proverbial ‘graveyard’ of Big Empires.
During the pre-Second World War period, the so-called Anglo-Rissian rivalry failed to bring Kabul under its tutelage and in the post-War period both Russia and America waged almost a decade-long war each against Afghanistan and suffered irreparable loss in terms of men, material and money. India and Pakistan should help Afghanistan in maintaining its territorial integrity and thereby keep outside interference at bay.

from:  Dr. Arvind Kumar
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 12:21 IST

It is very good hope for both countries like India and Pakistan on
behalf of Afghanistan for the cause of co-operation on all walks and to
uplift down-trodden country like Afghanistan. More efforts practically
be made triangularly to gain the present target for the cause of the
people of Asia and get-rid the situation holding by the third world.

from:  Liaqath Khan
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 08:54 IST

I salute for presenting such a dispassionate article over a subject
which entails indomitable passion among all stakeholders. As a student
of journalism I make efforts to go through the Pakistani newspapers.
last time around when an integrated check post was opened at Wagha-
Attari boarder the newspapers in Pakistan were all reading tilted
Indian motives in this new development. Its no secret that Pakistan's
care-takers are divided in many conflicting factions over their foreign
policy vis-a-vis India. But I am very glad that rarely an article have
I came across in major Indian national newspapers reading motive behind
Pakistan and effectively harming the peace preposition. The betterment
of relations between India and Pakistan is the need of the hour.
Newspapers in both the countries must take the onus to at least paint a
positive and optimistic friendship proposition between the two nations.
May be the newspapers efforts be called " Track Intellingentsia".

from:  Ajeet Tiwari
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 08:33 IST

Quite an optimistic scenario painted by Mr. Gharekhan. However, in reality, the equation cannot be so simple. The Afganistan theatre is quite complex with many players having their stakes in region. India too is willing to stake $2 billions with an assumption that eventually things will settle down and we shall have a stable government in Afganistan. Our investment would yield fruits only if the assumption is proved correct. So far as Pakistan is concerned, things seemed to have mellowed down and we can expect another round of negotiations. This is the usual game of one step forward and two steps backward. Yes, we don't have any control on the behaviour of our vexacious neighbour. However, we must never loose our guard and put too much trust on the outcome of these developments.

from:  Pramod Patil
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 08:22 IST

The geographical proximity warrants developing nations like India, and Pakistan to be cordial with Afganistan.With the Muslim extremists mostly from Pakistan, always posing a threat to our internal security,the diplomacy of shaking hands with the hostile neighbour pays dividends. However,this should not in any way dampen our preparedness to counter terrorism which may target us any moment. Hug the neighbour atleast to keep the West at arms length.

from:  C.Chandrasekaran
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 07:13 IST

Author's analysis is very succinct and logical. Prospects of peace and long term stability in Afghanistan are linked to strategic rapprochement between India and Pakistan. Changes in Pakistan's India stance during last few months indicate changed thinking in Pakistan's political and security establishment. This is apparently so because; one, Pakistan's Army Chief has called for cohabitation with India, which no other Army Chief has done during the recent times; two, Pakistan's political establishment has shown signs of greater maturity despite innumerable domestic turmoil; three, Pakistan's radicals and hardliners have been comparatively mute on the issue of India-Pak reconciliation. US pressure on Pakistan in the form of diplomatic ostracization of Hafiz Saeed, restricting economic aid, and plain speaking by visiting US leaders, has also played a big role in Pakistan's apparent self-introspection and changed stance towards India. It is now for India to move with cautious reciprocity.

from:  Surinder
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 03:55 IST

The naivete of our diplomatic establishment is breath taking. The esteemed diplomat first tells us that there is a legitimate debate in India about a change in Pakistani attitude whether it is fundamental or a temporizing tactic.
He then declares that one single remark by Gen Kayani's should settle this debate! He wants to erase 60 years of historical experience based on one comment. How does he know if Gen Kayani is speaking the truth? And, how do we know what happens when Gen Kayani is gone? We need to judge Pakistani rulers based on their actions and not on their words. There are two basic measures we should use for that judgement: 1. Have the perpetrators of Mumbai been brought to justice? 2. Does Pakistan open land routes for trade with Afghanistan? Yes, we should be talking up peace. We should also be expanding trade. But it should be clear to everybody that words alone will never be enough without actions to back them up.

from:  Gopal Vaidya
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 03:38 IST

Pakistan's interference and hegemony of Afghanistan since 1979 has created the current chaos with their dire desire to have strategic depth in Afghanistan and India by having terrorists’ redoubts in border provinces. Afghanistan does not accept the Durand Lines imposed by the British while Pakistan wants use its Pashtuns to destabilize Afghanistan. Pakistan even does not allow Indian goods to pass through Pakistan bringing profit to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Pakistan's recent overture is purely to extract concession in Siachen ,Sir Creek, and water sharing.
It is not be beguiled by Kayani's remarks that depend on India's withdrawal, not accepting India’s proposal.
If the present U.S. and Afghanistan agreement succeed to have American forces beyond 2014, Pakistan can seek China's help to countervail India with zero sum or not. Please do not scare away Pakistan with the Panchsheel principles.

from:  nirode mohanty
Posted on: Apr 28, 2012 at 01:28 IST
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