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Steering a perilous course

According to BBC’s Mark Tully, Rajiv Gandhi got off the aircraft in Islamabad in an “imperious, jocular mood” and why shouldn’t he? In the face of the Indian occupation of Sri Lanka, the economic blockade of Nepal and the brow-beating of Bangladesh, his visit to Pakistan conferred on him a legality of sorts for all his actions, fostering a feeling of insecurity among a majority of the Pakistani populace, multiplied by genuine confusion over our immediate and long-term political objectives. For the first time in our history, the people of Kashmir seem to be alienated from the government in Islamabad.

On the face of it, Ms Benazir is moving forward confidently, stateswoman-like, towards a durable peace in the sub-continent. In the achievement of prosperity for the people of South Asia there can be no substitute for peace. The on-going dialogue is more than welcome if it is being conducted on an equitable basis, lasting solutions to festering problems have to be found. One cannot doubt for one instance Ms Benazir’s sincerity in trying to search out comprehensive answers for the economic prosperity of the peoples of South Asia by reducing the chances of armed conflict and the expenditures on arms on a pro-rata basis. The PM is struggling to break out of the stifling stranglehold of a debilitating economic-vise. In the international image and credibility that she commands, Ms Benazir evokes a glimmer of hope for our future but we must not close our eyes to the existence of the Indian threat and the misgivings of our populace, however misplaced, in carrying out a dialogue with the Indians in the present circumstances. By itself, the idea for commercial inter-action is fabulous, enhancing the solvability of the peculiar problems besetting the region. India approached the issue of SAARC with initial skepticism, deeply suspicious that the smaller nations on its periphery were forming a “club” or a “union” that would militate against its own perceived vital regional interests and thereby shunned any bilateral subjects to be discussed in this forum; with this proviso SAARC became dead in the water before it ever became alive, there being no debate possible on India’s well known predatory intentions.

During the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, the universally eulogised “Apostle of Peace”, the Indians used force in enslaving Kashmir and Hyderabad, then against Portuguese Goa, Daman and Diu they flexed their military muscle in style. It was only the severe drubbing that they received in their adventure against the Chinese in 1962 that took their attention away from Pakistan for almost a decade and even caused them to speak for some time about solving the Kashmir problem. The tragedy of 1971 was of our own making, India just stoked the simmering  fire along to catastrophe.

In the late 70s, the Indians turned most of their attention to Sri Lanka, taking advantage of the festering problem that came about because of Tamil frustrations at Sinhalese domination. Sri Lankans were then essentially a peaceful people, in all probability, given time and goodwill, the problems between the races would have been peaceably settled. This was not to the taste of the Indians who because of their (1) own Tamil problems in the South and (2) hegemonistic ambitions became murderously involved. The various recalcitrant factions, chief among them being Prabhakaran’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam (LTTE), were recruited, trained, armed and operationally/administratively supported by the Research and Analytical Wing (RAW), the Indian intelligence unit concerned with external adventures mostly against neighbours. LTTE eventually turned against their former mentors who had earlier bullied their way into Sri Lanka by the crudest show of gunboat diplomacy in recent history. LTTE has now fought the much-vaunted 100,000 Indian IPKF contingent to a virtual standstill. One of the clauses of the Indo-Sri Lankan Accord stated (hopefully) that the IPKF would leave when asked to by the Sri Lanka President. Premadasa’s request to the Indians, after his recently successful in-depth negotiations with the LTTE, has brought a downright refusal from India, removing the diplomatic camouflage from the invasion, the Indians are now officially an occupation force, as expressed even in the Indian Parliament.

Being geographically landlocked, Nepal, the only Hindu Kingdom, has depended upon Indian goods and ports for its economic lifeline. On seeing Nepal improving their relations in earnest with China, the Indians imposed an economic blockade, throwing the Kingdom into turmoil, the people are facing acute economic hardships. There are no signs of the blockade easing up and Nepal will probably be starved into submission. It is true that we have expressed concern, no doubt Ms Benazir has been more forceful during the official deliberations.

Indian relations with Bangladesh have been on a downhill slope over the last decade and a half, not eased any by their open interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh. The six Indian catchment dams in the mountains above Farakka Barrage have brought untold misery to the people of Bangladesh, no mercy being shown for the helpless people dying by the thousands in the delta lands, sometimes by drought, mostly by floods. What will the Wular Dam do to us, turn part of our Punjab into desert?

The Maldives farce was designed to (1) demonstrate the “rapid deployment” capabilities of the Indian Armed Forces and (2) raise their morale, particularly after the severe mauling that the IPKF was taking at the hands of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. We have talked about the helplessness of Bhutan, Mauritius should expect some unwanted Indian visitors in the near future.

Munich symbolizes the dangers of appeasement, it is a reference point of naivety at the statesmen level. Ms Benazir must be exercising extreme caution with this history lesson in mind. While we must have peace with India, can we turn our backs on what has been happening to our friends in this region? And how long before India finally embarks on a “Final Solution” for Pakistan, the only recalcitrant left, so to speak? Seeing Russian nuclear submarines in Indian hands, we now find ourselves worrying about the “Agni” missile. Military muscle has a purpose, ours is developed as a deterrent on pro-rata basis to keep the peace with India, what is India’s? Rajiv gave a flippant statement in Islamabad (among other arrogant one-line pronouncements) that their defence expenditures is 4% of the GDP whereas ours is a relative 8%. That 4% is translated into aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, modern aircraft, missiles and tanks making Indians (according to their belief) the final arbiters of the destiny of this region. Thanks to much needed re-armament/re-equipping, Ms Benazir has two great advantages of (1) a highly motivated Defence Services to back her (2) own tremendous international credibility. She happens to be a great political asset in these trying times but it must not be squandered by confusing perceptions. We must close ranks behind her, not believing in the vile propaganda that our steadfastness may have somehow been compromised at the altar of friendship with India at all costs. With all due respects the opposition has no business undermining the diplomatic authority of the PM to conduct foreign policy initiatives.

The Pakistan Army remains the most potent obstacle to unbridled Indian ambitions. Shedding itself of its less than favourable image over the past year, the leadership of the Army, symbolized by Gen Mirza Aslam Beg in taking the correct turn towards democracy and professionalism, has come good. As events in the sub-continent have shown India has scant regard for international norms and agreements, it does what Rajiv pleases, the professionalism and capability of the Pakistan Armed Forces must be tremendously frustrating to India. The Defence Services of Pakistan remain the surest deterrent against Indian hegemony, diplomatic talk has its place but is no substitute in the face of Indian obduracy. Given another year or so (if not already), one daresays that the Bangladeshi (six infantry divisions) and Sri Lankan Armies (already two infantry divisions and increasing by the day) will come of age. Must we spend so much on the weapons of destruction rather than the tools of development, in the face of mass poverty, hunger and disease? India’s rampant ambitions make “yes” the only answer. Our articulate PM must expose India to international censure.

When Ms Benazir sat down to the official talks with the Indian PM, among the worthy aides assisting her she had four fine, honourable, retired officers of the Pakistan Army, all of them have taken part meritoriously in some war or the other with India. One believes that was symbolic of Ms Benazir’s commitment to Pakistan’s freedom. If what was uttered by Rajiv Gandhi publicly has shocked Pakistan, what can have been said in the closed door meetings? How can one ever believe that either the PM or these men of honour took it calmly? Is there room for palaver beyond Rajiv’s categorical public statements infringing on our sovereignty on our soil? If Siachen is a flashpoint today (sic Ms Benazir), who is responsible for the crisis? Rajiv’s interpretation of the Simla Agreement is totally devoid of the reality negotiated by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and closes the chapter on Kashmir, Ms Benazir must give an emphatic reply worthy of her father. We must not be seen to be abandoning the other peoples of South Asia. India wants to impose its hegemony, Pax India-na on South Asia and the present ambience of the on-going dialogue does not give us the confidence it should, it represents a dangerous liaison and we may well have to pay a bitter price for it. Not for one moment can anyone doubt the insincerity of the Indian PM, his eyes are already beyond South Asia, into South East Asia and the Middle East (Gulf Area), his glib talk cannot wash away the blatant lies underneath. In dealing with India with seemingly open arms, we are playing with fire.

What are India’s immediate and long-term objectives in its massive propaganda campaign to disarm Ms Benazir’s defences? Having studied Indian duplicity over 40 years (and perfected over centuries with history as witness), we perceive a number of tangibles (1) Rajiv Gandhi is in an election year having severely alienated the Muslim vote, he needs a Ms Benazir visit to make sure this crucial swing vote is not denied him (2) Indians perceive a difference of opinion in the approach of the Pakistan Government in its policy towards India, they want to exploit this cleverly to keep us at odds with each other and thus weak (3) Because of the outright invasion of Sri Lanka and economic blockade of Nepal, India has a bad international media attention, Ms Benazir having great international credibility, her visit will give the Indian image a positive boost by what would amount to tacit approval of Rajiv’s adventures and (4) knowing that the PM and the Armed Forces have drawn close together (having overcome previous misapprehensions), the Indians hope to create doubt within the Defence Services about the PM’s motives. The PM has to move positively to dispel all such misgivings, above all she must not give Rajiv Gandhi the election fillip he desperately wants with her visit, after the elections she may visit India, as things go she will remain SAARC Chairperson for some years as Sri Lanka will certainly abstain from any meeting in the near future with the presence of Indian troops on the Island, as behoves any self-respecting nation.

SAARC has degenerated into hypocrisy, it is no surprise to anybody as it was always on the cards in the face of Indian obduracy. As the eloquent Chairperson, the PM has the capacity to get this message through to Rajiv, her success in containing further Indian adventures would be a tremendous feather in her cap. Coupling the need for economic emancipation of the masses of this region, it also enjoins that the PM’s efforts must be to exercise the greatest care, our freedom depends on her not falling prey to the sustained Indian snow-job. Ms Benazir represents a great hope manifest in us, she symbolizes aspirant dreams for the future. There is no one near her potential on the domestic political scene, our anguish lies in the present confusion about the style not the correctness of her approach. For the benefit of all those who wish her well she must address these reservations and clearly express her efforts in trying to contain India diplomatically. While the PM keeps trying to steer a perilous course keeping a steady hand on the helm, it behoves the Pakistan Army to keep its powder dry!

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