Since Nawaz Sharif is a toothless PM, should India start engaging Pakistan Army?
New Delhi: Nawaz Sharif is one Pakistani politician who is supposed to be in favour of normalizing relations with India. His opponents in Pakistan accuse him of being eager to strike friendly relations with India because of his business interests that extend from steel and sugar to consumer goods.
Whatever be the truth, Sharif has always indicated willingness to make a new beginning forgetting the bitter past.
His decision to attend the swearing-in of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even at the cost of annoying the hardliners of his own country, was seen as a step in this direction.
In Ufa, both the Prime Ministers agreed to hold NSA level talks to discuss the issue of terrorism. The agreement was seen as a big success for PM Modi but in Pakistan, the Army considered it a big let down by its own Prime Minister.
Sharif was forced to eat his words as Pakistan Army vetoed all the commitments he made to PM Modi in Ufa, which led to cancellation of Pakistan NSA Sartaj Aziz's New Delhi visit.
It is worth a mention that even in 1999 when Nawaz Sharif was the Prime Minister, he along with the then Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, tried to create a friendly atmosphere for talks between India and Pakistan.
But the Pakistan PM had failed even at that time. It was always the powerful Army, which forced the democratically elected leader to take a step backward. Today it is General Raheel Sharif, earlier it was General Pervez Musharraf, who had dethroned Sharif to rule the country for around seven years, as 10th President of Pakistan.
In view of these ground realities, will it not be naïve on part of India to expect concrete results by engaging with civilian leadership headed by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif?
This is not to say that the government should stop engaging civilian leadership of Pakistan. But should we also start talking to the real power centre i.e. Pakistan Army?
Americans, the vanguards of democracy, have never hesitated in doing business with Pakistan Army. In fact, they have always been at ease in doing business with Army dictators across the world, including Pakistan. And they do it to ensure that their national interest is served at any cost.
Is it time for us to start thinking on same lines?
The very mention of engaging Pakistan Army evokes sharp reaction among Indian security experts.
“Pakistan is sending terrorists into India. Do you think they will stop this if we start engaging Pakistan Army?” asks Sushant Sareen, leading security and foreign affairs expert.
Sushant Sareen asserts that there is no point in engaging Pakistan Army because they did not cooperate even with Americans who have been engaging them for last 70 years.
“Americans have been talking to Pakistan Army and ISI chief for last 70 years and at least for 14 years in case of Afghanistan. Did Pakistan stop terrorism in Afghanistan? Did they stop killing American soldiers in Afghanistan?” asks Sareen.
There is no denying the fact that Nawaz Sharif has his own limitations when it comes to Pakistan's foreign and defense policies, especially related to India. It's an established fact that Pakistan Army has the final say in formulating these crucial policies. It won't be wrong to say that Pakistan today is witnessing diarchy as far as the real authority is concerned.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif exercises decision-making power in matters relating to domestic policies only. For foreign and defence affairs, he is no better than a titular head as the actual decision making in these matters is done at General Headquarters (GHQ), Rawalpindi.
Sharif's recent speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was perhaps the harshest as far as Pakistan's stand on India at UN is concerned. He went to the extent of terming India an ‘aggressor' and accused it of interfering in his country's internal affairs. In all probability, he was reading the text dictated by Pakistan Army.
It's not that we have not heard any voice in support of opening a simultaneous line of communication with Pakistan Army.
Some time ago, advocating the needs for emulating the Americans, a senior journalist of a leading newspaper wrote, “let's break the taboo on talking to the Pakistan army. If Pakistan's government is comfortable with sending their Army chief to talk to the US, why should India cavil? John Kerry did not have to wear a uniform to meet Raheel Sharif. Sushma Swaraj is just as capable.”
India, in one sense, did try this experiment with Musharraf who was simultaneously holding positions of both President and Army chief at that particular time.
“At that time, things did improve initially but gradually the military establishment distanced themselves from Musharraf, who had to make way for democratically elected government in the country. The fact is that there is no willingness on part of Pakistan Army to reciprocate and try to normalize relations with India. Americans engage them because they have given large amount of money to Pakistan Army. Do you want us to bribe Pakistan Army? I don't think we should do that,” points out Lt General R K Sawhney, former Deputy Chief of Army Staff.
The only possible engagement, many experts including Lt General R K Sawhney believe, is possible at the Army level because the Indian civilian leadership can't talk to Pakistani Army Generals.
“What Ashraf Ghani, Afghan President, did was ridiculous. The President of a country does not go to GHQ which he did. You can't expect PM Modi talking to Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif,” opined Lt General Sawhney when he was reminded that President of Afghanistan Mohammad Ashraf Ghani had also visited GHQ in Rawalpindi recently.
Obviously, the majority view in India is not in favour of opening civilian to military level engagement with Pakistan. But is there any other alternative policy option that we can try to make Pakistan see the reason and stop cross-border terrorism that it is using as a state policy while dealing with India?
“There are some problems that can't be solved. They will only be solved with time and that time frame can range from 5 years to 500 years. Do you have the staying power? If you don't have the staying power, you have lost this war. If you have the staying power then you wait for the opportune time.
“When that time comes, you will find a number of avenues to engage them and do whatever you have to do. But if you preempt that and act prematurely then the result will be no different from what it has been over last 70 years,” says Sushant Sareen.
But can we really afford to sit idle waiting for the opportune time to arrive? Is it not the time for us to at least initiate a debate on the need for engaging Pakistan Army given the fact that no peace initiative between two countries can succeed unless and until the mandarins of GHQ, Rawalpindi are brought on board.