To Endure and Enjoy : Dividends from Diplomacy

To Endure and Enjoy : Dividends from Diplomacy
May 2002


The Cold War era almost coincided with the emergence of South Asian nationhood with independent nations carved out of the subcontinent. The end of bloc politics and bloc alignment in the last part of the twentieth century also happened simultaneously with the demise of the Socialist system- of which South Asia had been a favorite nesting place- and necessity of economic rationalization and integration with attendant pressure on nation state system and sovereignty under the influence of intense globalization. The developments have many a lessons for us, especially the policy makers to learn. One is that none of the systems or theories is sacrosanct and thus permanent. No set of ideas can be fixed and followed with dogmatic adherence. And there is no room for sentiments in diplomacy and conduct of external affairs since, nations’ relationships are arrangements of convenience, today’s friends are tomorrow’s foes and vice-versa. Interest matters and since interests change with time and with reference to needs, everything else change or ought to change in order to be relevant. A country need not have to feel “let down” by our “friends,” as India often finds the case with Pakistan so often.[1]

Two events in may 2002 were to mark distinctive patterns for South Asia to find how perceptions, opinions and stands emerge, modified or changed under the influence of interests. One was what has been happening in Gujarat and the other relate to changes in international perceptions, especially that of Great Britain about Kashmir-the potential trigger point in the region.

When violence was in its peak in the western Indian province of Gujarat, India’s Prime Minister was publicly worried that it had tarnished India’s image abroad. The nightmare did come true with scores of countries and blocs beginning to discuss the issue with more than passive concern.[2] Even then the signs of international unease against Gujarat happenings took a full month and more to manifest. The substantial question an observer may like to make – why so late? Are the answers being found in old mindset about cold war era’s sovereignty and non-interference? If so why now then? What was difficult in putting the events in the sensitive packet described eloquently as “internal Affair” of the country? Prior to Gujarat in many occasions world community, now effectively and unitarily led by the United States has made its intentions clear, that a right to express concern at the least devolves on it in case of humanitarian emergencies while in a couple of occasions the United States has demonstrated a right to interfere at the most.

The manifestation of this concern was all but discernible in the comments that emanated from European Union, which was soon to take the form of a diplomatic faux pas by both sides. It became interesting to note that the South Bloc discomfort over European Union’s criticism of Gujarat horror was rendered all the more disconcerting because of attempts to hide behind technical snags about the manner in which the message was conveyed. But cat was out of the bag, there was to be no denial that such misgivings were in fact expressed and taking recourse to technicalities were soon denounced as a puerile diversionary maneuver. With substantial loss of face came loss of credibility and the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ contention that such observations amounted to “interference” was not to impress anyone out there. Gujarat was to impact severely upon India’s international standing in days to come.[3]

New Delhi’s stand as well as response were firm nevertheless with a categorical rejection of the “prescriptions” by foreign countries on internal affairs stating that while developments in Gujarat were “extremely regrettable,” India could not be spoken to.” “India will not accept it, as it did not after the 1998 nuclear tests to be told in prescriptive tone to do this or do that… not be spoken to from any position of assumed superiority or morality.” (Jaswant Singh, India’s Minister for External Affairs.) In the same vain he was to reject permitting “outside” observers in Jammu and Kashmir where Assembly elections are due later this year. The conduct of polls there was within the domain of the Election Commission. Reiterating that India was not willing to hold talks with Pakistan unless it gave up cross-border terrorism New Delhi declined to accept promotion of terrorism as an instrument of State policy as has been asserted by Islamabad, or agree to it being employed as a “pre-negotiation tactic.” It was, New Delhi was to assert, for Pakistan to decide what kind of bilateral relations it wanted to have in the long-term.[4]
Even months after the ethnic-religious violence erupted in Gujarat, the situation remained abnormal and extremely tense with swells in refugee camps and frightened people reluctant to go back to the homes they abandoned. This was to challenge the rubric of India’s long credit of getting along well with a very complex broad-range social, religious and political agenda. No doubt New Delhi was to respond sternly to the criticisms and expressions of concern as “interference.” New Delhi consistently warned foreign diplomats against using the Indian media to air their views and peevishly objected to expressions of concern by visiting dignitaries such as from Finland, Canada and Denmark and denied that the Gujarat situation is grim, that the state has failed to act impartially to protect the citizens’ life and limb, and that the continuing, alarming breakdown of law and order calls for exceptional corrective steps But Gujarat was to be the negation of secular traditions of the country, a symbol of the destruction of the integrity and impartiality of the state and an assault on pluralism and tolerance which once made India unique as a developing country.[5]

Unlike yesteryears it is almost impossible for any country, India included for denying international implications to domestic occurrences taking recourse to redundant doctrines such as non-interference in internal jurisdiction. A major recent change in the world situation, particularly after the end of the Cold War, has been the recrudescence of democracy and the universal acceptance of the values of human rights and fundamental freedoms. India cannot brush aside international concern on the Gujarat situation. Old dogmas of state sovereignty had changed and the international community could now express “legitimate concern.” It was just not enough for the Government to criticize superficially or express resentment over the critical reports of foreign countries. “If their reports were incorrect, false or exaggerated, our response should be with facts or figures.” Mere criticism of such reports only gave “propaganda ammunition” to countries hostile to India.[6] Besides India has had to live with Gandhian doctrines of peace and non-violence and Nehruvian concepts of universal tolerance and coexistence. The major concern thus was not what significance the European Union’s demarche has for New Delhi’s diplomatic credibility, but what in fact Gujarat portends for its own society. The forces that unleashed violence in Gujarat need to be reined in lest the most disastrous consequence will be the nation divided and at war with itself; and its priorities in the economic and social fields relegated to the background.[7] Thus by the end of the month India was quite willing to discuss Gujarat with the recognition that its efforts to deal with the crisis has stood international scrutiny.[8]

History will now stand witness to how the world changed after 11 September 2001. For South Asia however two other dates would remain as deterministic, October 1 and December 13. While India was getting used to the fact that logistics if nothing more has made its betenoire the hot favorite of the US-led international coalition against terror, it was to fall victim to one of the desperate terrorist attacks aimed at its political leadership the results, if succeeded would have been cataclysmic. The seed of such despicable actions was again the Sub-continent’s well-known issue- Kashmir. Various arguments not withstanding, the fact that has been constantly acknowledged is that there is a massive misreading if not understanding the issue, the international community often taking unexplainable stands that have been making any permanent solution rather illusive. This has been the reason how the outfits perpetrating terror in the valley were getting away with tags as being freedom fighters and so on and why New Delhi’s post October 1, 2001 expectations that a comprehensive exercise against terrorists as promised by Washington would also take care of the groups active in Kashmir, was largely belied. What tragically followed however was military mobilization and deployment that went to the extent that the terrorist were almost successful in getting the congenital warring brothers to the precipice of another conflagration with dangerous possibilities. Saner counsel prevailed on both sides to try out diplomacy as a route to a solution at least disengagement. This led to General Musharraf making a public commitment on January 12 to give up jihad-e Asghari militant jihad, clamp down on jihad organizations, infrastructure, training camps, and proclaiming that no terrorism of any kind would be permitted from Pakistani territory which significantly included Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK). It is different that even four months later there is little evidence of a change in the ground realities and with a majority of the arrested militants and radicals eleased and living as India’s Minister for External Affairs was to say, getting paid allowances by the government of Pakistan.[9]

New Delhi’s gave ample sense of the Indian mood following Jammu massacre to the US Assistant Secretary for South Asia Christina Rocca. “We will not suffer further pain,” was what New Delhi had to tell Rocca who before leaving for Pakistan reiterated her condemnation of the attack. She also said Kashmir is an issue for India and Pakistan to mutually solve. “Which is why we call for dialogue.”There was also an assurance that US would use all the weapons in its diplomatic arsenal to prevent the “unintended conflict” between the nuclear neighbors it much fears and get the two sides to talk again.[10]
The international community was to be sure of two things. One that India’s patience has been severely tested since the December 13 attack on Parliament. If the American action in Afghanistan and Pakistan hasn’t had as much of an impact on the capacity of the jehadis to launch an occasional attack, it is obviously because Pakistan continues its support for them. Second, the world was truly scared of a confrontation between the two nuclear powers, since even a ‘limited’ military action by India has the potential of assuming a wider dimension and thus kept its attention focused on the nature of India’s response. Not an easy task by any standards, as there was every indication that Islamabad may be banking on a hasty action by India so that it can blame the latter for a sharp deterioration in the situation.[11]

It must be said to India’s credit that after the nuclear tests of 1998, New Delhi showed itself capable of acting with responsibility and restraint on the global scene. And its strategic maturity in facing the challenge to its security needs following terrorist attacks were there for all to see. There was ample perception that the terrorism standoff is being forced on India by a Pakistani military leadership, which is itself facing serious difficulties. Strengthening that leadership by a military conflict would be counter-productive. Indian military capabilities are not inadequate to its needs against Pakistan. But this capability can be multiplied by democratic commitments. It would be essential therefore to increase the range of Indian options rather than narrow them to mere military choices. India’s war against Pakistan-sponsored terrorism will then be won with the cooperation and support of other nations’ war against terrorism, instead of in opposition to it.[12]

The evidence of such outcome to India’s restraint was quickly to manifest. The European Unionexpected Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to act on promises to rein in terrorists. British Prime Minister Tony Blair calling on the nuclear-capable rivals on to “pause and reflect” before taking action that could plunge their region into conflict followed this.[13] Though there was a sense of frustration at the urgings on a restrained country to exercise further restraint, “the world is with us but reluctant toadmit it”, India’s Prime Minister was saying at Kupwara and that “Pakistan is holding out a nuclear blackmail which everybody seems to be succumbing to” India’s stand was soon to be vindicated.[14]

A statement by the British Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw that Kashmir “unfinished business” became very significant. Straw stressed that the question as to “who should run Kashmir was never fully resolved.” While his statement is consistent with Britain’s official position that Kashmir is disputed territory, the timing was to become questionable.[15] All this when there was a battle royal in the British Parliament on the Kashmir issue. New Delhi was also to react strongly to a statement by Pakistani President that Pakistani forces would move into Indian Territory, in case of a war as “yet another indication of Pakistan refusing to see the writing on the wall or to understand where the need for action lies. Action is required from Pakistan on stopping cross-border terrorism, dealing with infiltration and activities of terrorist groups.[16] ” The Pakistani audacity was further testified when it went ahead with a series of missile tests with deliberate disregard to international condemnation. This as New Delhi would see was an attempt by Musharraf to “divert international concern from terrorism to the specter of a nuclear war in South Asia and thereby hoping for intervention.[17] ” Musharraf ‘s address to the nation were to receive the same measure of consternation as being both “disappointing and dangerous,” the “belligerent posturing” enhancing the tensions forcing India to keep both its military and diplomatic options open.[18] Overall, however Indian response to Musharraf’s address to the nation night was an exercise in self-restraint. New Delhi refused to rise to the Pakistani bait of test-firing missiles and reiterated its “no first use” of nuclear weapons policy. As an issue, Kashmir has climbed up the international agenda on account of a nuclearised South Asia. It’s this factor which explains India’s charge that instead of stopping infiltration, Islamabad is nuclearising its terrorist threat. India expected US and the UK intermediaries to judge for themselves the outcome of their efforts to defuse Indo-Pak tensions with the rider that it was in Musharraf’s hands to “attain his desire for peace” by curtailing export of violence to India.[19]

The clearest statement of support for India’s position in the current standoff against Pakistan came from the British foreign secretary, Mr Jack Straw, who was on a visit to try and ease the tension. There was a clear message to Islamabad that it had to control cross-border infiltration before tensions could be relieved. “The UK stands foursquare with civilized governments around the world, particularly with the Government of India, in our approach to terrorism… There was one definition of terrorism laid down by international law in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1373. That definition includes cross-border terrorism, and it includes terrorism labeled as freedom-fighting terrorism.[20] ” There was thus some satisfaction from the fact that UK being getting around to be convinced the genuineness of New Delhi’s stance. Infect the United Kingdom was the first to respond to the latest phase of the India-Pakistan stand-off which many believed to be a consequence of Musharraf’s belligerent rhetoric. Most important from Indian point of view was two statements from Straw in Pakistan. One, that there can be no doubt that Pakistan has in the past assisted people it described as ‘freedom fighters’ and whom the world described as ‘terrorists’. Two, that the test of assurances read, the General’s assurances is how they work on the ground. The import of these words could not have been lost on the Pakistan president, since it was nothing short of putting him on notice. If there was any confusion on two other extremely important aspects of the current face off, Straw came up with some more clarifications while briefing the Indian media – that Kashmir, despite its international implications, had to be resolved bilaterally and that the definition of terrorism, as laid down in UN Security Council resolution 1373, includes cross-border terrorism. As if to underline all this, Straw reiterated that his country and government stood with all “civilized governments particularly India.” [21]
Thus it is getting clearer that major power, notably the United States and Britain seem to have opted for a plain-speak diplomacy to try and exert pressure on Pakistan to call off its sponsorship of cross-border terrorism in India. However, analysts were to advise caution to New Delhi to guard against misreading the new Anglo-American activism of this kind as a decisive dividend of India’s own “coercive diplomacy” especially as it involves Pakistan. A note of such caution flows from the overall political logic of the current diplomatic moves by the U.S. and the U.K. in respect of Pakistan. From the standpoint of the U.S.’ brains trust which blueprints and manages the ongoing ‘globalize’ campaign against terrorism, Pakistan cannot be allowed to drift towards any kind of war with India for whatever reason at this critical time. The centrality of Pakistan to America’s own war-and-peace plans cannot be exaggerated as long as the fate of some top leaders of the Taliban-Al-Qaeda terror cartel remains unclear . . .A flurry of Anglo-American diplomatic initiatives is now gaining momentum in the context of a blunt message from the U.S. President, George W. Bush, that Pakistan must stop its terrorist incursions into India. At first glance, the stunningly candid exercise by the U.K. Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, may even appear to explore the limits of decency in public diplomacy. Without mincing words and by striking the same notes in both Islamabad and New Delhi, Mr. Straw has told the Pakistan President that he should translate his anti-terror promises into matching deeds on the ground in regard to India. With a flourish of the evocative phrase, Mr. Straw wants Gen. Musharraf to recognize that the international community has no longer any patience for terrorism in any guise or disguise and for terrorism that might be dressed up as a freedom-fight. What New Delhi must do now is to try to explore avenues of de-escalating the tensions that mark its collapsing relationship with Islamabad.[22] Working towards getting Pakistan declared a terrorist state by expecting Islamabad ensure compliance to Security Council resolution 1373 failing which, to approach the council to reproach Pakistan’s non-compliance and, possibly, declare it a terrorist state are possible other measures for India to pursue. Punitive measures such as sanctions, mainly economic, could then be invoked under 1373, a Chapter VII resolution, and making compliance mandatory among all members of the UN. But steps such, as this needs to be considered with all possible implications.[23]

[1] Living with the new world order Chinmaya R. Gharekhan The Hindu 2 May 2002
[2] Biswajit Choudhuri Dawn 4 May 2002
[3] Editorial The Statesman 7 May 2002
[4] K.V. Prasad The Hindu 8 May 2002
[5] Praful Bidwai Dawn 9 May 2002
[6] Soli Sorabjee, India’s Attorney-General; PTI The Hindu 14 May 2002.
[7] Muchkund Dubey The Hindu 14 May 2002
[8] UNI The Hindu 21 May 2002
[9] Jasjit Singh The Indian Express 16 May 2002
[10] Udayan Namboodiri Hindustan Times 16 May 2002
[11] Strategic and cool editorial Hindustan Times 18 May 2002
[12] V.R. Raghavan The Hindu 18 May 2002
[13] The Pioneer 23 May 2002
[14] Hindustan Times 24 May 2002
[15] The Hindu 24 May 2002
[16] The Hindu 27 May 2002
[17] Hindustan Times 27 May 2002
[18] The Hindu 29 May 2002
[19] Vinod Sharma Hindustan Times 29 May 2002
[20] The Statesman 30 May 2002
[21] Editorial The Times of India 30 May 2002
[22] Editorial The Hindu 31 May 2002
[23] Nilova Roy Chaudhury The Statesman 31 May 2002

Compiled from News Sources


Arabinda Acharya