In pursuit of peace from an Indian perspective Book Review  By Imtiaz Alam

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Late Indian Ambassador Satinder Kumar Lambah’s memoirs about India-Pakistan relations under six prime ministers of India are quite revealing in terms of chronically detailed reminiscences of three decades of directly or indirectly handling India’s policy towards, what he perceives to be a problematic offshoot of partition on the ‘inviable’ basis of religion. It is full of consistent derogation of an adversary not worthy of engagement on an equal footing and what he alleges consistent deceitful conduct of Pakistan. Yet he portrays his diplomatic maneuverings “in pursuit of peace” from the standpoint of a ‘big brother’.
A diplomat par excellence that he undoubtedly was, who presented himself as a peace-maker, never deviated from his line of duty to South Block, which continued to match and counter-match its equally stubborn counterpart in Pakistan’s Foreign Office. In a revealing off-the-cuff remark at a reception hosted by the South Asian Free Media Foundation (SAFMA) in Lahore, the then Foreign Minister of India Shri Natwar Singh while eulogizing the Babus of Pakistan Foreign Office’s capacity to have kept alive the Kashmir dispute on international stage said that the diplomats from both the foreign offices are so equally competent that they can serve in one or the other foreign office equally well. Quite cynically, the Lahoris applauded the absurdity of keeping the zero-sum game of diplomatic logjam driven by an animosity-by-rotation.
Not surprisingly in his meticulous memoirs, one couldn’t find a single fault with any of his governments that he served so faithfully, except Prime Minister I. K. Gujral and his Doctrine of non-reciprocity with neighbors whom he believed was “soft on Pakistan”. His view even on an unnecessarily lingering issue such as Siachen is so stubborn that he remarked that “the subsequent discussions between Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto were bereft of strategic content, with the focus narrowed to just a Siachen settlement on mutual force withdrawal from recorded actual ground positions (AGPLs) and establishment of a jointly demilitarized zone (DMZ). Nor did he mention any Pakistani move without mischief and appreciate any of the peace overtures from across the border with the honorable exception of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
However, he is enamored with somewhat behind the scene bold initiatives taken by the successive military rulers from F. M. Ayub Khan and Gen Ziaul Haq to Gen Pervaiz Musharraf. Along with him, there seems to be a consensus among former Indian high commissioners to Islamabad that India must engage with Pakistan Army. All those warrior generals who perpetually played on an anti-India card and initiated adventurous wars were quite eager to mend fences with New Delhi while scuttling the efforts of various prime ministers to find a détente with India. Pressed hard by the military establishment whose national security paradigm revolved around and thrived on “India’s eternal threat to Pakistan’s national security”, the civilian leaders were not powerful enough to assert their will on an issue that had a direct bearing on the sustainability of a fragile democracy. It must be mentioned that the India-Pakistan conflict reinforced the military’s authoritarianism in Pakistan while undermining civilian authority and democratic institutions. It also promoted religious exclusivism and extremism in both countries.
Mr. Lambah neither takes a considerate view of the civilian leadership’s dilemma nor does he entertain any significance to a very vibrant civil society of Pakistan consistently fighting the martial rule and the war-mongers. For Pakistani misguided patriots, his memoirs should be quite frustrating to find how successive military dictators who while using the “eternal enemy” card tried to reach a No War/Peace and Cooperation treaty with India at the same time. It’s an eye-opener for the Pakistani hawks who have continued to drum up anti-India chauvinism at the behest of their masters.
Being a displaced child of a bloody partition and a migrant from a “migrant state”, he selectively picks up references to prove not only his point against the creation of Pakistan on an “unviable” basis of religion but also ignores the minority question that remains unaddressed in all three countries of the subcontinent with the rise of fundamentalism in Pakistan and Hindu majoritarian nationalism in India.
In 1947, according to author Mohammad Waseem (‘Political Conflict in Pakistan’): “Pakistan got out of India. But India did not get out of Pakistan. That has made all the difference. The genesis of the first major conflict in Pakistan can be traced to the mandatory requirement for Pakistan to de-Indianize itself… It became an unconscious and instinctive commitment to living with the new ‘other’, mainly across, but also within, the border…(subsequently) the rise of religion as a marker and shaper of the national identity first in Pakistan and a generation or two later in India”. Was Partition, then, a ‘closure’, a ‘rupture’, asks Ranabir Samaddar (‘Introduction—Partition Reshaping States and Minds’) that Jawahar Lal Nehru thought “Plan of Partition offered a way out and we took it”. But, Sanjay Chautervedi (‘The excess of Geopolitics: Partition of British India’) questions: “Whether the Partition is a solution to the conflict or a breeding ground of the conflict itself”.
In India, partition was seen as “the great divide” of Indian civilization, which distinguished historians like Romila Thapar who question the existence of a monolithic nation or an Aryan ‘race’ or civilization (‘Early India’). Despite a bloody partition that the Congress Party leadership coalesced in by rejecting a lose federalist scheme propounded by the Cabinet Mission Plan, the ‘menace’ of the “Two-Nation Theory” continues to haunt all three (former) parts of the subcontinent to this day with the rise of respective majoritarian communalism. Regarding Pakistan’s evolution toward a “military state”, which was premised on a self-serving ‘eternal-enemy threat’ from India, various independent scholars describe it in terms of an “over-developed” steal-structure of Pakistan.  It was no less reinforced by India’s rejectionist view about the creation and survival of Pakistan and its persistent insistence on the Nehruvian version of the Monroe Doctrine in its sphere of influence in South Asia. If India felt threatened by Pakistan’s alliance with the US, Pakistan suffered dismemberment and sought countervailing strategic alignments.
The high point of diplomacy between India and Pakistan was during the reigns of brutal military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq, the architect of Afghan and Kashmir jihads, and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on a Friendship Treaty/No War Pact which could not be finalized because of Indira Gandhi’s insistence on “emphasizing bilateralism in Article IV and second non-grant of bases in Article V (2)”. Without justifying Pakistan’s joining of US military blocks, however, a medium-sized country living next to a huge but ‘hostile’ neighbor found ‘safety’ in alliances opposed to the Soviet Union that India had also joined and now US-led QUAD against China. But he will not take the pain of mentioning the offer of military bases to the US in the aftermath of 9/11 by Home Minister L. K. Advani during his most favored premiership of A. B. Vajpayee. Faced with a bigger neighbor and potential or ‘perceived’ Indian threat and its larger military power, the Pakistani leaders from Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to all the successive military dictators sought to counter the military imbalance in favor of India by joining US-led military blocks. Mr. Lambah is right in saying that the Cold War between the two superpowers further pushed the subcontinent into opposite camps.
With the change in international alignments since 1951, India’s policy towards Pakistan and Kashmir changed qualitatively. We also see a sea change in Indian National Congress’s position on Kashmir, despite recourse to the UN and the passage of Article 370 that continued to be diluted and finally scrapped (Mr. Noorani’s book on Article 370). Ambassador Lambah is partially right about how Pakistan didn’t insist much on UN resolutions in the early 1950s, but he doesn’t have any democratic reason to defend the Indian Republic’s annexationist position on the right to self-determination of the divided and subjugated Kashmiris living on both sides of the LoC. India became a status quo power and Pakistan took an irredentist position on Kashmir as both consider it a territorial dispute and not an issue of a disenfranchised people. While declaring Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of India and asking Pakistan to vacate “PoK”, India has been engaging Pakistan in prolonged talks based on various kinds of give and take beyond its stated official positions on the back of the Kashmiri people. So did Pakistan.
In his book, Mr. Lambah informs us with choreographed details of behind the scene diplomacy and numerous backchannels. But what he conveniently missed is the peace mission undertaken by a real man of peace R. K. Mishra over the head of MOEA as a personal emissary of Prime Minister Vajpayee to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that culminated into the Lahore Declaration, despite infiltration into Kargil by Gen Musharraf at the back of his prime minister. According to I. K. Mishra, even the PAF maps of the Kashmir region were directly provided to Mr Vajpayee who wanted to keep his initiative secret from his bureaucratic establishment. It was an out-of-box initiative in the spirit of Mr Vajpayee’s dictum: “Insanyiat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiryat” and the Chenab formula were to be the framework of the final settlement within one year. Before him, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao coined the idea of absolute autonomy with “the sky as its limit”.
Retreating from the Kargil Heights with the help of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and support from PM Vajpayee, Gen Musharraf after staging a coup against his benefactor had his metamorphosis and took a chance to make peace with India. PM Vajpayee was too much upset with the coup in Pakistan. Yet, he asked R. K. Mishra to start afresh back-channel diplomacy with President Musharraf. But the General avoided engaging with Mr. Mishra(who told me that he had to wait to get a visa from the Pakistan High Commission in Singapore) to perhaps take a very seasoned Indian politician by surprise, which resulted in the fiasco of the Agra Summit. And when Mr. Vajpayee again started the process, he made Musharraf agree to an end to the “cross-border terrorism” during the Saarc Summit in Islamabad. Later, when Dr Manmohan Singh became the prime minister, he in consultation with Mr Vajpayee started the reconciliation process where he had left.  Both Mr. Lambah and Tariq Aziz played a pivotal role in almost agreeing on a settlement based on General Pervez Musharraf’s 4-point formula, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, according to his advisor Sanjaya Baru (‘The Accidental Prime Minister’) was even ready to name the accord as Musharraf formula. Indeed, this was an exceptional breakthrough that would have rendered the LoC just a line on the map with Kashmiris allowed maximum autonomy, a joint mechanism between the two sides of Jammu & Kashmir, and exist of military forces from the urban areas. One wonders, why don’t both countries go back to the Musharraf-Manmohan accord?
What is worth mentioning is that the Congress prime ministers from Nehru, Indra Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi to Manmohan Singh moved through MOEA and Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministers bypassed the MOEA to reach out directly to their interlocutors in Pakistan. Mr. Vajpayee essentially relied on R. K. Mishra and Brajesh Mishra. Mr Lambah was quite upset when before he could proceed to Islamabad as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s special envoy, Indian businessman Jindal met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as Mr Modi’s trusted emissary in Muree on 28 April 2017. What surprised everybody was the unscheduled visit of Prime Minister Modi to Lahore to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at his Jati Umra farmhouse. The boldness of Mr Modi was disrupted by the terrorists against whom Mr Sharif had got registered cases on the charges of terrorism and both PMs allowed joint investigation of the attack on the Pathan Kot air-base. But it was scuttled by the forces inimical to peace.
A beleaguered history of bilateral diplomacy between India and Pakistan is full of ups and downs—from wars to peace and long spells of no-peace/no-war intervals. The fundamental question is that they must get over the hangover of an exotic partition and shed all shades of enmity while continuing to strive to live as peaceful neighbors and finding out-of-the-box solutions to their perennial and temporary conflicts. Peace is not an option; it’s a neighborhood compulsion of the states of the common heritage of our subcontinent.
(Writer is a freelance journalist and Secretary General of Safma)

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