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Deconstructing the Joint Statement

Sushant Sareen is Consultant, Pakistan Project, at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • July 20, 2009

    Diplomatic and political naivety, coupled with enormous pressure from a clueless America helplessly flailing its superpower muscle in the Af-Pak region, and of course that old disease that all Indian Prime Ministers’ suffer from – a sense of manifest destiny to normalise relations with Pakistan – have led to a Joint Statement by the Indian and Pakistani prime ministers in Sharm-el-Sheikh which is full of concessions, compromises and climb-downs by India.

    Although the heavens are not going to fall on India after this joint statement, its one-sided nature is not going to prove very helpful in improving Indo-Pakistan relations. Nor is the blatant tilt in favour of Pakistan by the United States going to do anything for US-India relations, or for that matter, assist US military operations in Afghanistan by changing the anti-Americanism sweeping Pakistan.

    If anything, the joint statement sends very wrong and misleading signals to Pakistan, which believes that by leveraging its pivotal role in the War on Terror with the US, it can force concessions out of India without having to give anything in return. Eventually this will mean that there will be no incentive for Pakistan to dismantle the infrastructure of terror, much less change its policy of using terrorism as an instrument of state policy against India, a policy that has in large measure been responsible for the situation that Pakistan faces on its western borderlands. A continuation of such a selective approach to terrorism and Islamic radicalism will only give a fillip to the process of talibanisation of Pakistani society, destabilise the Pakistani state and finally end up creating a far bigger problem for the United States, Pakistan, and also for India, than what these countries face at present.


    As far as a climb-down by India is concerned, there is a lot to be said in favour of backing off from a position which you don’t have either the will or the capacity or both to sustain for any length of time. This perhaps was the case with the Indian position of suspending the dialogue process with Pakistan after the 26/11 terror attacks. In retrospect, India would have been better off continuing with the dialogue process and using it to press home its demands on Pakistan over the issue of terrorism against India emanating from that country. Indeed, by first taking a hard-line and then backing off without even a single Indian demand being met in full measure, the credibility of the Indian government has been badly damaged in the eyes of its own people and made it look like a pushover before the rest of the international community.


    Notwithstanding the terrible use of English in the joint statement – almost as if it was drafted in Punjabi and then translated into English – there is really only one positive thing, albeit very uncertain, to emerge from this statement. By going out on a limb and conceding a lot to Pakistan without getting anything substantial in return, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has in his own way given a big boost to the civilian government in Pakistan. The comparison between India’s tough approach towards the Musharraf regime and the extremely accommodative approach towards the Zardari-Gilani civilian regime is too stark to miss. The civilian government of Pakistan has managed get more out of India than what a quintessential Pakistan army general like Pervez Musharraf could ever get.

    But how much this helps or strengthens the civilian government of Pakistan in its dealings with the Pakistan army, and whether or not Pakistani politicians can flaunt their success at Sharm-el-Sheikh to wrest control of decision making on foreign policy issues from the army is something that only time will tell. It is of course quite another matter that this is not the first time that the Indian leadership has fallen hook, line and sinker for the line peddled by Pakistani politicians of giving them something to go back with and show to their people – remember Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at Shimla in 1972. For some inexplicable reason, Indians are always willing to place their faith in the ‘private assurances’ given to them by their Pakistani counterparts, which the Pakistanis feel free to violate as soon as they get the chance. In any case, an interpretation of what was said during the talks (as is being done by the Indian side as part of the damage control exercise) does not matter as much as what is finally put on paper and signed by the two sides: while the former is subject to subjective interpretation by either side, the latter is an immutable reality.

    Interestingly, while the Indian prime minister has tried to send out a bold and imaginative signal to Pakistan by reiterating “India’s interest in a stable, democratic, Islamic Republic of Pakistan,” it would perhaps have been in the fitness of things if a similar expression of interest in a ‘stable, strong, prosperous, secular Republic of India’ had come from the Pakistani side. In fact, security analysts in India often point out that while India always says that a stable and friendly Pakistan is in India’s interest, not a single Pakistani of any consequence has ever expressed a similar sentiment about India!

    THE ‘K’ WORD

    The spin that Indian officials have sought to put on the exclusion of the word ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ from the joint statement and project it as an accomplishment of Indian diplomacy is frankly quite ridiculous. Why should India be so chary of mentioning the ‘K’ word? After all, India has a very strong case on Kashmir. What is more, unless India has already signed off on Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, it has a strong claim on these areas and there is no reason why it should not press this claim with Pakistan. As for the disturbances in Kashmir, these are the result of the jihadist policies of the Pakistani state and surely the human rights violations by the Islamists in the Indian state should be a matter that India must raise with Pakistan.


    The agreement between the two PMs that “the two countries will share real time, credible and actionable information on any future terrorist threats” is, to say the least, vague. If there is seriousness and sincerity on both sides to share intelligence to pre-empt, prevent or prosecute terrorists and if promises of intelligence sharing are not reduced to mere statements of pious intentions, then this could be the start of a paradigm shift in the relations between India and Pakistan. But past experience, especially with the Joint Anti-Terror Mechanism that was created with such fan-fare but ended as a damp squib, suggests that an agreement on intelligence sharing is not worth the paper it is written on. According to Dr. Singh, the Pakistani prime minister assured him that “if India had any information it must share with Pakistan which will then take action”. However, the formulation on intelligence sharing in the joint statement is not in conformity with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remarks on the same issue because the joint statement seems to suggest that the Pakistanis too will inform India of any terror threat. If only India is to share information with the Pakistanis then obviously this is a one-sided deal, a deal which could compromise Indian intelligence assets inside Pakistan.


    Probably the most objectionable part of the joint statement is the inclusion of the threats that Pakistan faces in ‘Balochistan and other areas’ (the latter being a euphemism for Swat, FATA). According to Dr. Singh, India has nothing to hide and is not afraid to discuss these issues. That might well be the case, but then why should not the same standards of transparency be expected from the Pakistani side especially over the involvement of Pakistani intelligence agencies in sponsoring and supporting terror groups not only in India’s north-east but also in many other parts of India through the use of Pakistani diplomatic missions in third countries like Nepal and Bangladesh? This is imperative when we consider that while Pakistan has so far not produced a shred of evidence of Indian involvement in Balochistan or FATA, India has loads of evidence of Pakistani involvement in acts of terror in various Indian states – Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat.


    Quite aside the fact that terrorism is only one of the major threats facing India and is by no means “the main threat”, the Indian side seems to have made a major mistake by reducing the entire issue of terrorism against India emanating from Pakistani soil to a single point agenda – 26/11 Mumbai attacks. It is almost as though there is no other subversive activity that is taking place inside India which can be traced back to Pakistan. Until Sharm-el-Sheikh, the Indian side had insisted and the Pakistanis had conceded that Pakistan will not allow its territory or any territory under its control to be used for spreading terror in India. Now, however, the Indian side has given up its insistence on this issue. This could be because some in the Indian camp have convinced themselves that Pakistan is now seriously going to join the fight against terrorism, more so since Pakistan is itself suffering the effects of the Jihad factory that has been working in that country for over three decades now.

    There are however two major problems with this assessment of the Indian leadership: one, the terror that is affecting Pakistan is the outcome of ‘strategic assets’ turning toxic, while the terror that is affecting India is the result of ‘strategic assets’ remaining ‘strategic’ and under control; two, India is judging possible Pakistani responses to Islamist terror groups from the standpoint of India’s rationality. In other words, the Indian side believes that had India suffered what Pakistan is suffering it would have used all its national power to combat and eliminate the terror groups. But what the Indian side is forgetting is that Pakistanis are a different people, Pakistan is a different country, and the trajectory of social and political development of the two countries has only increased the distance in the way they perceive things.


    Finally, by delinking the dialogue process and terrorism, India has made a huge compromise, one that it will find unsustainable and untenable if another major terrorist attack takes place in India, something that cannot be ruled out in the future. Exactly a similar understanding was reached in April 2005 when General Musharraf visited India. Such an assurance provides the dialogue process virtual immunity from terrorist attacks which may or may not be state-sponsored. While it is true that a dialogue is as much in India’s interest as in Pakistan's, surely jaw-jaw and war-war cannot proceed apace. By conceding on this issue, India has accepted that it will continue to negotiate even if there is a gun pointed to its head.

    Having accepted that “dialogue is the only way forward” what is then the sense in holding out on resuming the composite dialogue process. After all, the dialogue process is not only for the benefit of Pakistan, but also because it served India’s interests. If India thought it has something to gain from the peace process then who is India trying to punish and what does it hope to gain by refusing to resume the dialogue process? After pushing through the joint statement down the throat of the country, isn’t it disingenuous to now say that “the starting point of any meaningful dialogue with Pakistan is a fulfilment of their commitment, in letter and spirit, not to allow their territory to be used in any manner for terrorist activities against India.”


    Clearly, there is a lot that is wrong with the long and badly drafted joint statement, particularly from India’s standpoint. Perhaps a short, crisp joint statement that signalled the tentative re-starting of bilateral engagement would have been more in the order of things. But a sort of desperation on the part of India, probably to please its ‘strategic partner’, has led it to concede a lot more than it should have. These then are the wages of entering into a ‘strategic partnership’ with a superpower.