In­dia’s con­tra­dic­tory Pak­istan pol­icy

The Asian Age - - Edit - Pa­van K. Varma

The of­fi­cial spokesman of the min­istry of ex­ter­nal af­fairs does not have an easy job, and I should know be­cause I have done that job my­self when I was in the In­dian For­eign Ser­vice. He or she has to of­ten try and con­vinc­ingly ex­plain for­eign pol­icy de­ci­sions that are ab ini­tio in­ex­pli­ca­ble. On De­cem­ber 26, 2017, na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Ajit Do­val and his Pak­istani coun­ter­part Lt. Gen. Nasser Khan Jan­jua ( retd) met at an undis­closed desti­na­tion in Bangkok, as part of, what was de­scribed as “op­er­a­tional level talks”.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Raveesh Ku­mar, the spokesman, was asked about this meet­ing, and how it had taken place when we have pub­licly said that “ter­ror and talks can­not go to­gether”. It was not an easy ques­tion to an­swer, and cer­tainly, Mr Ku­mar was not the maker of the pol­icy that had put him in this predica­ment. His re­sponse, how­ever, took the diplo­matic cake as far as words without mean­ings go: “We have said ter­ror and talks can­not go to­gether,” he pro­nounced, “but talks on ter­ror can def­i­nitely go ahead.”

This state­ment must rank as a clas­sic of self con­tra­dic­tory as­ser­tion. It ac­cepted that talks will not be re­sumed so long as ter­ror­ism from across the bor­der ceases. But si­mul­ta­ne­ously, it as­serted that talks can hap­pen on the is­sue of ter­ror­ism. Since ter­ror­ism is the rea­son why we put talks with Pak­istan on hold, what does a state­ment mean when it says that ter­ror­ism will be the rea­son why talks “can def­i­nitely go ahead”?

Since I am re­luc­tant to at­tribute a com­plete lack of strate­gic clar­ity to the MEA, I am in­clined to be­lieve that the state­ment it put out rep­re­sents one of the best ex­am­ples of the philo­soph­i­cal am­biva­lence of Hindu meta­physics, wherein em­pir­i­cal re­al­ity ex­ists as maya at one level, and does not at another level wherein all is sub­sumed in the at­tribute- less om­nipres­ence of Brah­man. What ap­pears as real is un­real; what ap­pears to be un­real is ac­tu­ally the real. The uni­verse is a con­jurer’s play, where con­tra­dic­tions that seem to ex­ist are an in­ven­tion of the mind. All bi­na­ries are false and all bi­na­ries are true. Ev­ery­thing de­pends on the vi­sion of the ob­server; nega­tion is as­ser­tion, and as­ser­tion is nega­tion. Op­po­sites are sub­sumed in a larger unity, known only to the one who knows, but opaque to the mun­dane world. In such a philo­soph­i­cal vi­sion, talks with Pak­istan do not hap­pen even when they hap­pen, and hap­pen even when the of­fi­cial pol­icy re­mains that they can­not hap­pen!

Or, per­haps, our for­eign of­fice has bor­rowed the sub­lime no­tion of sya­davada of Jain phi­los­o­phy. In sup­port of such a care­fully thought- out doc­trine of rel­a­tiv­ity, Jain­ism cites the parable of seven blind men ex­am­in­ing an ele­phant, and depend­ing on what part they are in touch with, ar­riv­ing at a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion of what it is. At a philo­soph­i­cal level this re­volt against ab­so­lutism is en­shrined in the sapt­ab­hangi or seven step the­ory whose pur­pose is to es­tab­lish that only a sin­gu­lar as­ser­tion of re­al­ity can be de­cep­tive. The seven pos­si­bil­i­ties are: maybe it is; maybe it is not; maybe, it is, and it is not; maybe it is in­ex­press­ible; maybe, it is and is in­ex­press­ible; maybe, it is not and is in­ex­press­ible; maybe, it is and is not and is in­ex­press­ible.

Jain­ism for­mu­lated this re­mark­able doc­trine to counter dog­ma­tism. Our for­eign of­fice seems to have adopted it to hide the com­plete ab­sence of strate­gic clar­ity. The sapt­ab­hangi for our for­eign pol­icy with Pak­istan is: talks with Pak­istan can­not hap­pen; talks with Pak­istan can hap­pen; talks with Pak­istan can­not hap­pen un­less Pak­istan agrees to stop its spon­sor­ship of ter­ror­ism; talks with Pak­istan can hap­pen be­cause Pak­istan will not stop its spon­sor­ship of ter­ror­ism; if NSAs of the two coun­tries — ar­guably the most in­flu­en­tial in­ter­locu­tors from ei­ther side — meet, they met, but talks did not hap­pen; if talks did not hap­pen, then pre­sum­ably they vis­ited Bangkok coin­ci­den­tally at the same time to take a respite from the cold of Delhi and Islamabad; talks, un­til ter­ror­ism stops have no mean­ing, but NSAs can meet to see if talks can have mean­ing.

The fact of the mat­ter is that our for­eign pol­icy with Pak­istan is re­plete with un­par­don­able con­tra­dic­tions, and zig- zags in pol­icy for­mu­la­tions that would leave even our most in­sight­ful meta­physi­cians stumped. The rea­son for this is the ab­sence of strate­gic pol­icy, and a re­sort

The fact is that our for­eign pol­icy with Pak­istan is re­plete with un­par­don­able con­tra­dic­tions, and zig- zags in pol­icy for­mu­la­tions that would leave even our most in­sight­ful meta­physi­cians stumped

to a never- end­ing se­ries of ad hoc steps. If we need to re­view our ear­lier pol­icy of sus­pend­ing the for­mal di­a­logue process with Pak­istan, we should do so in a care­fully cal­i­brated man­ner. En­gage­ment has its own div­i­dends, pro­vided it is car­ried out in a way that is an­tic­i­pated and planned for. On the other hand, if our pol­icy re­mains one of no talks un­less Pak­istan spon­sored ter­ror­ism ceases — or at least re­duces — then talks without talks in the man­ner in which our NSAs met in Bangkok makes a mock­ery of that de­ci­sion. While the US can play a key role in putting pres­sure on Pak­istan on its nexus with ter­ror­ism, a coun­try of the prow­ess and size of In­dia can­not ex­pect oth­ers to do for it what it re­fuses to do it­self.

It ap­pears that the only pol­icy we have to our western neigh­bour is the ab­sence of pol­icy, both in the short and mid- term, and to lurch along from one event to another, al­ter­nat­ing mind­less bravado at one level and sur­rep­ti­tious talks at another. Can we ex­pect our for­eign of­fice to de­vise a strate­gic frame­work to deal with Pak­istan, tak­ing into ac­count its in­ter­nal sit­u­a­tion, the level of cease­fire vi­o­la­tions, the need for en­gage­ment, the im­por­tance of peo­ple- topeo­ple con­tacts, the value of hu­man­i­tar­ian ges­tures, the geo- po­lit­i­cal im­per­a­tives, in­clud­ing the role of China, and de­vel­op­ments in Afghanistan, while re­tain­ing a firm ri­poste to Pak­istan spon­sored ter­ror­ism?

Given our track record thus far, it seems a tall or­der. Un­til then, our hap­less for­eign of­fice spokesman will have no op­tion but to for­get for­eign pol­icy and adopt the won­drous am­biva­lences of phi­los­o­phy.

The writer, an author and former diplo­mat, is a mem­ber of the JD( U). The views ex­pressed are per­sonal.

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