Khurshid Kasuri’s flight of fancy

Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, the Foreign Minister of Pakistan from 2002 till 2007, >was recently in the news (while in India) for the launch of his book Neither a Hawk nor a Dove: An Insider’s Account of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy. This had less to do with the contents of the publication, and more with extraneous circumstances.

M.K. Narayanan
Kashmir takes up a preponderantly large amount of space in this dissertation on Pakistan’s foreign policy. The narrative confirms the centrality of Kashmir in its relations with India, though Mr. Kasuri avoids referring to Kashmir as the unfinished business of Partition. He makes clear that he disagrees with India’s stand that there are only two parties to the Kashmir dispute, viz. India and Pakistan, and reiterates Pakistan’s demand to include the third stakeholder, viz. the Kashmiris, in negotiations.

No new ideas on Kashmir

While chronicling events, the author offers no new ideas on how to solve the dispute, which by now has the dubious distinction of being the longest-standing border dispute in the world. Unwavering adherence to old, stereotypical thinking on Kashmir among higher echelons in Pakistan suggests that there is little scope for an early settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

Mr. Kasuri presents an overly optimistic picture not only of the state of India-Pakistan relations during his tenure in office, but also of his role. By 2001, some of the >hostility generated by the Kargil conflict (1999) had begun to dissipate. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s invitation to President Pervez Musharraf to visit Agra for talks (2001) seemed to augur well for an improvement in relations. The failure of the talks was a setback. Worse was to follow, with Pakistan-based terrorists carrying out an attack on the Indian Parliament in December that year, and India mobilising its troops on the border in 2002. It was not till Prime Minister Vajpayee took the initiative in 2004 to visit Islamabad that some measure of cordiality was restored.

The 2004 Joint Statement between the Indian Prime Minister and the Pakistani President was significant in that Pakistan agreed that it would not allow its territory to be used to support terrorism against India. (It is another matter that the agreement was breached almost immediately, as demonstrated by successive waves of terrorist attacks on Indian targets during 2005-2008). The Joint Statement also called for a revival of the Composite Dialogue (first mooted by Prime Minister I.K. Gujral in 1997). Proposals for confidence-building measures in Kashmir were also mooted.

Despite the fact that the pendulum often swung between the extremes of comprehensive engagement and almost-complete disengagement, bilateral talks were never off the table. Part of the reason for this was that Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh maintained cordial relations with their Pakistani counterparts, viz. Presidents Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari, and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.

Accusations against India

However, this hardly meant that the atmosphere was warm. In his book, Mr. Kasuri accuses India of “wanting to calibrate the >dialogue process in accordance with its own priorities, and mistaking Pakistan’s flexibility for weakness”. He also highlights the irreconcilable differences between the two countries over Kashmir, with India preferring the “status quo” as the basis for a solution to the Kashmir dispute, while Pakistan believing that a solution was possible only by revising the “status quo”.

Propping up the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in Jammu and Kashmir was a deliberate and highly-provocative move on Pakistan’s part to queer the pitch regarding a negotiated settlement. Inviting them to Pakistan, and holding discussions on the possible contours of a resolution to the Kashmir dispute, > together with wooing hard-line Hurriyat leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani, could have only one end result.

A great deal separates India and Pakistan, and this goes well beyond the dispute over Kashmir. During recent decades, terrorism has been the main weapon wielded by Pakistan to try to ‘bleed India through a thousand cuts’, and reflects Pakistan’s penchant for perilous risk-taking. During Mr. Kasuri’s tenure as Foreign Minister, and despite the solemn assurance contained in the Joint Statement, the ambit of terrorist attacks further expanded, extending to different parts of India.

Mr. Kasuri’s narrative glosses over the impact that such attacks — including the >2006 Mumbai suburban train attacks (in which over 200 persons were killed) and the November 26, 2008 attack on multiple targets in Mumbai (in which over 170 persons were killed) — had on India-Pakistan relations. Instead, he delivers a homily on how statements by Indian officials critical of Pakistani role in these attacks adversely affect India-Pakistan relations.

The period of improved India-Pakistan relations that Mr. Kasuri waxes eloquent about also coincided with the period when Pakistan was engaged in creating the “Indian Mujahideen” which was to be ‘Pakistan’s proxy’ to ‘wage war against India’. The ‘Karachi Project’, conceived by the ISI during this period, involved training disaffected Muslim youth from India to be sent back to India to carry out terror attacks. Mr. Kasuri can hardly feign ignorance, for very recently his former President acknowledged Pakistan’s role in backing and supporting the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).

At times, Mr. Kasuri seems to confuse between official-level talks and ‘back channel’ negotiations when he talks of the forward movement taking place. The official-level Composite Dialogue/Comprehensive Dialogue Process after their revival in 2004 witnessed little forward movement during this period.

Obfuscatory approach

Even summit-level talks hardly yielded results. On occasions during summit meetings between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Musharraf, attempts were made by Pakistan to obfuscate issues so as to put India at a disadvantage. In April 2005, during the meeting in Delhi between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Singh, Pakistan tried to circumvent India’s insistence on ground-level authentication in the Siachen sector by proposing the use of sensors and aerial monitoring. India resisted this, being aware of Pakistan’s earlier perfidy on the Siachen Glacier.

On another occasion in September 2005, even as India and Pakistan were talking peace on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly, President Musharraf made a blistering attack on India on the Kashmir issue. In his book, Mr. Kasuri provides an ingenuous explanation for this speech, stating that the President had no idea of what was contained in his brief as it had been prepared by an official of Pakistan’s Permanent Mission in New York.

The back channel negotiations between Satish Lambah, India’s unofficial envoy, and Tariq Aziz, his Pakistani counterpart, did show greater promise. They helped facilitate the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service. They also facilitated the decision to move the military into the barracks in all urban and populated areas.

The back channel negotiations were premised on replicating the ‘European model’ — as adapted to Kashmir — of ‘soft borders’ as against a redrawing of borders, and on making the boundary between the two parts of Kashmir irrelevant. The idea was to pave the way for better communication and contact between Kashmiri people on both sides of the LoC, and, at a later date, graduate to a coordinated consultative mechanism, progressive removal of tariff and non-tariff barriers and opening of more trade routes. To create the proper climate, on the Indian side, a series of Round Tables with stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir were organised. All this was, however, contingent on an end to hostility, violence and terrorism.

Mr. Kasuri has been voluble, both in his narrative and in public, about so-called details of back channel negotiations. This is intriguing, since the details were closely held, and the Foreign Offices and Foreign Ministers on both sides were kept out of the loop. Mr. Kasuri, however, claims that the Pakistani side was periodically kept informed of the progress achieved.

A word on what Mr. Kasuri terms as the “McCain episode”. The reference is to U.S. Senator >John McCain, seeking his opinion on Pakistan’s possible reaction to a limited air attack by India on Muridke (headquarters of the Lashkar-e-Taiba). The entire matter seems rather bizarre and it may be useful to set the record straight. Despite many fanciful and speculative versions of what India contemplated following the November 26, 2008 terrorist attacks, the fact is that India was against any knee-jerk reaction leading to random killings. It, hence, did not contemplate any form of retaliation such as bombing of civilian targets in Pakistan.

( M.K. Narayanan is India’s former National Security Advisor and former Governor of West Bengal.)

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