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Publication: Newsinsight.net
Date: November 29, 2004
URL: http://www.indiareacts.com/archivedebates/nat2.asp?recno=1024

Sonia Gandhi has no locus to enter the Kashmir negotiations.

In his anxiety to please, prime-minister Manmohan Singh has submitted more than necessary or desired. In a tiny reshuffle, which saw the return of an alleged murderer, Shibhu Soren, into the cabinet, but no overdue changes, Shivraj Patil moved to a less onerous ministry, or Pranab Mukherjee upgraded to home, or general performance- related movements, the PM made a controversial concession. To a question, he said it was alright if Sonia Gandhi took up General Parvez Musharraf's offer to mediate on Jammu and Kashmir. It is not alright at all. In the beginning days of the UPA, when the shadow of Sonia fell all over the government, and it was clear who was calling the shots, a situation that has not changed to any great degree, Natwar Singh it was who agreed to her intervention in the dispute with Pakistan. Then, too, the suggestion had originated from the wily generalissimo, he calculating that the Congress president, who had no experience of government, even less of international diplomacy, and would be lost in the minefield of the Kashmir dispute, would be easy prey, and could be cleverly induced to bend the Indian leadership, because of her hold on it. This magazine had opposed Musharraf's suggestion, and Natwar's mindless acceptance of it, in his eagerness to show loyalty. Now, Musharraf is back to the game, trying to settle the Kashmir question over Manmohan's head, he showing unexpected firmness against changing international boundaries, and the PM's response has been to give in. Musharraf's tactic appears to be to divide and rule, make a suggestion for Sonia's participation that Manmohan cannot be expected to reject, and the PM has fallen in the trap. As PM, Manmohan Singh had to exercise his authority, saying no one but the head of government and sworn cabinet could engage in Kashmir high talks, while sworn officials could facilitate them, he needn't have stated these obvious things but brushed aside the suggestion, but has rather chosen to take up Musharraf's offer. If the PM cannot say no, Sonia Gandhi should. Nothing will be gained by her entering into the negotiations, which she knows little about, and any deviation from the set line will immediately provoke a controversy, which will be suicidal for her and the Congress party. On J and K, there can be no gain for anyone who changes the existing line, but certain political death. To start with, the Congress president has no locus to enter the Kashmir dispute. As chairperson of the UPA, she may well coordinate between allies, calm Left anger against government policies, but that does not qualify her to mediate on Kashmir. Even in these coordination meetings, she generally prefers to be the silent spectator, sometimes using her influence to becalm warring parties, which suggests a fairly good self-appreciation of her lack of understanding of policy issues, so what qualifies her for the Kashmir talks? And who will she mediate between? India and Pakistan? So what does that make her? A facilitator or mediator objectively detached from India's case on Kashmir. Would she appreciate such a spin on her? Would the Congress party? Would she survive one day in politics after such a damaging spin, which is bound to be made by any half-sensible Indian, leave alone highly intelligent opposition politicians? It is staggering, absolutely shocking, that Manmohan Singh should make the response he did without thinking it through. J and K is not a party political issue, it is the number-one political and military crisis facing India since Independence, and it is scandalous to suggest that anyone outside the government, not acquainted with the enormous complexities of the matter, can make any difference to the course of events. And, frankly, no one can, as this magazine has insisted time and again, not in the next ten years, and not in the foreseeable future. In fact, as the Kashmir issue has played out, and which the PM put out himself very succinctly during talks with the Pakistani premier, Shaukat Aziz, last week, there is scope for out-of-box thinking, but no room for map-making. This position is contradictory, because without changing international boundaries, there can be no out-of-box thinking, so indeed, the mean position is, nothing changes, nothing can be changed. So, in effect, Pakistan has no role in J and K, except to terminate its terrorism there. So why is Manmohan Singh opening the Sonia trapdoor? Manmohan Singh's logical next step from his own positioning is to argumentatively delink Pakistan from J and K, and take measures to firm up India's sovereign right over the state, including destroying the terrorist backbone. One argument we provided in an earlier writing on Kashmir, an argument based on fact, is that the Pakistan army is implicated in Kashmir terrorism for its own preservation, and that stability in the state and in South Asia in general will be only possible if it is firmly and forever barracked. This necessitates the return of democracy in Pakistan, and while Musharraf has been forced to take tentative steps in that direction, freeing from jail Benazir Bhutto's husband, and commiserating with another exiled opposition leader, Nawaz Sharief, on his father's death, India must exert its considerable international influence to press for more. It must be clear in its objective to get the Pakistan army out of Pakistan's politics, because in that direction lies salvation for Pakistan and salvation for the sub-continent. Two other components must attend that effort, denuking Pakistan, and disarming the jihadis. A section of the UPA is flirting with the reckless idea of supporting Iran's "peaceful" nuclear programme, without understanding it would damage our ultimate aim to denuke Pakistan. Second, we cannot anymore delay all-out anti-terrorist operations in J and K. It was put off repeatedly by the NDA government for no good reason, but ground conditions are suddenly amenable. Shivraj Patil claims terrorist infiltration is down sixty per cent because of the LoC fencing, surveillance from the skies, and high military vigil, but this is not a moment to slacken up but to tighten things. Maybe it was the necessity of the hour to advertise troops reduction, but nothing is got on that road unless the absolute number of terrorism incidents is reduced to a factor of our border management, and border management cannot be greatly dependent on man-made fences. In truth, the fences exist because the Pakistan army for its own reasons cannot blow them away, and while these reasons must be explored and exploited further, those fences may or may not be forever. More dependable, secure and sustainable is sky and satellite surveillance, and more funds, efforts and research should go in that direction. This should be complimented with internal terrorist cleansing operations, and a minimum threshold of violence should no longer be acceptable. Only a zero-tolerance policy will work, because it ultimately hurts to see your PM dodging bombs and bullets to address a political rally in Srinagar. If you accept a minimum threshold of violence, then it takes no time to maximise. The maximum innovations in fighting terrorists on the ground came in P.V.Narasimha Rao's tenure as PM, and it has not been a very encouraging learning curve since then. Instead of being a supine PM, Manmohan Singh should capitalise on the changed security situation in J and K, and prove a worthy successor to Narasimha Rao.

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