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Sunday, July 19, 2009

#1030, 8 May 2003
The ‘Peace Initiative’: A Tactical Gambit Firdaus AhmedFreelance Security Analyst
The roots of the peace initiative launched by Mr Vajpayee have been variously attributed to the impending visit of Mr Armitage to the poet within Mr Vajpayee. Either way, there is hope that Mr Vajpayee proves third time lucky. The reservation is that policy formation requires more robust foundations than the hope that peace will eventually acquire a self-sustaining momentum. Presently we have Mr Vajpayee motivated by the need to have something to show for his five-year reign to go down in history. But realist ‘establishment’ headed by the PM ‘in waiting,’ Mr Advani, cannot be said to have turned a new leaf. The ruling party will be making a bid to return to the government untrammeled by a coalition. The party’s interests and that of the security apparatus militates against a premature attempt at peace. Thus, while the peace initiative may have the good wishes of millions propelling it, it has the making of yet another shot in the dark, not unlike the Lahore and Agra Summits.
The inference from the timing is that the move is tactical to corner Pakistan yet again. With the US having indicated that it will seize upon the security situation in South Asia after its current pre-occupation in Iraq is over, India had to recreate space for itself, constricted by its stance of ‘no talks without an end to cross border terrorism.’ Actions on the Indian side, such as the return of the High Commissioner to Islamabad and the reopening of Indian skies to Pakistani aviation, indicate an Indian appreciation of the limits of this policy in the face of US pressure to dilute it. The onus was deftly cast upon the US to ensure that Pakistan delivers on its promise to end support for terrorism in Kashmir. Coercive diplomacy, for which ‘no talks’ was a complementary thrust, required replacement by an approach relevant to the global political situation this summer. This game plan is suggestive of a tactical ploy rather than a strategic move towards peace.
This is in keeping with the manner in which foreign policy has been handled by New Delhi. The Lahore bus ride was revealed as lacking in a deeper understanding of the Pakistani power structures by Kargil. Blaming General Musharraf’s grandstanding for the collapse of the Agra Summit hardly papered over the differences between the hardliners and Mr Vajpayee within the Indian establishment. This time caution is being advised in responding to Mr Jamali’s invitation. The point is that approaching Pakistan with divided ranks and with one eye on electoral prospects next year is hardly likely to result in a durable peace. Pakistan is likely to wait out the current regime, even while trying to persuade the US to make a distinction between terrorist violence and a ‘self-determination’ movement. With time on President Musharraf’s side, Pakistan’s response is likely to favor the status quo.
The outcome of this foreign policy moves will depend on US leverage with Pakistan. The limitations of the US in this regard, revealed last year, have not been alleviated by its victory in Iraq. The presence of fundamentalists in the government and on the streets of Pakistan requires the US to navigate with caution. Contrary to Indian expectations, the US is likely to pressurize India to exhibit an understanding of President Musharraf’s position; its delicacy is being cleverly used by the General to retain power, as also by Pakistan to blackmail an amenable US. This explains the Indian ‘peace initiative’ as a measure to pre-empt the US.
The point is that dealing with vexed issues like Kashmir, and the consequent Indo-Pak standoff, requires conviction and commitment emanating from a changed strategic approach, if not a grand strategic review. Merely coping with them requires only tactical adjustments. By this yardstick, laudable though Mr Vajpayee’s intentions are, it would be naïve to expect peace as the dividend. The hawks advising caution now also have it wrong. Their case is that the journey to peace requires incremental and reciprocal steps. The argument here is that these steps are foredoomed, since these ‘steps’ constitute tactics in a strategy perceived as inimical by the ‘adversary,’ thereby inviting a like response. Calibrated movement is not enough where nothing but a paradigm shift is necessary. As noted elsewhere, Mr Vajpayee heads the wrong party. And in the twilight of his reign, it also appears to be at the wrong time.

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