A Will Without a Way

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is juggling with a hydra-headed question that is both philosophical and practical. Worse, it is also immediate. How much benefit should one give to doubt?

By M.j. Akbar

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Mon 3 Aug 2009, 9:15 PM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 12:45 AM

Doubt is theoretically equidistant from right and wrong, but in real life, there is evidence, evidence creates weightage, and the weight of evidence demands judgment. Doubt is the classic weapon of both spies and diplomats. They might as effectively sow it with violence, or plant it with a smile. Doubt is the one fully certain component of the Indo-Pak equation. Call this the first of many a paradox.

On his part, Dr Singh is committed to finding peace with Pakistan during his second term. He also knows that if he cannot find it soon, it will elude him later. That is yet another paradox. He was ready with a formula for such an excruciating dilemma in his speech in the Lok Sabha on 29 July, bravely defending the joint statement with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. He recalled Ronald Reagan’s useful corrective: trust, but verify. An American President, alas for the rest of us, has options that others cannot claim. Reagan would not trust Muammar Gaddafi with a toy duck in a bathtub. When American intelligence satisfied the President with verification of Libya’s role in a terrorist incident, Reagan ordered up the air force, roused the ever-willing Margaret Thatcher, and bombed the capital of Libya back to the sand dunes. Gaddafi, living in a tent (a practice he has not given up), escaped but lost a daughter in that aerial bombardment. Reagan’s trust-verify relationship had a third dimension: act. This is not readily available to Dr Singh.

A more relevant analogy may be Reagan’s arms talks with Leonid Brezhnev, where trust could be fused with verification. But here, too, we enter unique territory defined by a unique moment in history. The objective situation had changed. The USA and the USSR were no longer military equals. The Soviets might have had the nuclear capability to destroy the world, but nuclear arms are a deterrent, not a means of offense. The Vietnam syndrome had already been overtaken by the Afghanistan syndrome. One empire was cranking up. The other empire was winding down.

There are few practical means of verifying good or bad intentions on our jinxed subcontinent. There are so many wheels behind wheels in the terror juggernaut - we saw only the front end in Mumbai last November. Dr Singh might be generous enough to give Islamabad benefit of the doubt on the evidence of a dossier presented to him two days before he left for Egypt, but this dossier does not explain the non-arguments by the government lawyer in the Lahore High Court that permitted Hafiz Saeed, leader of the Jamaat-ud-Dawah (the new name, a thin camouflage, which the Lashkar e Tayaba has acquired upon being placed on the list of terrorist organisations by the United Nations). The Lahore High Court released Saeed because, while the official accusation linked him to Al Qaeda, “the security laws and anti-terrorism laws of Pakistan are silent on Al Qaeda being a terrorist organisation”. The dossier does list the few who have been arrested, but hundreds and thousands remain at liberty to plan and implement the next Mumbai. The India-baiters in Islamabad now have a tool as well — the Balochistan clause in the joint statement.

The Jamaat-ud-Dawah tells any visiting journalist that there has been no change in its objective: to ‘liberate’ the Kashmir valley from ‘Hindu rule’. They have not promised any concessions to a Sikh Prime Minister. To what extent is this still the policy of the Pakistan government and its key military-intelligence wings? A clear and written answer to this question is the only thing that will eliminate doubts.

Are we likely to get an answer from Islamabad? First, we must ask the question.

Are there are any options in-between? There is one option, which no one seems to have investigated, possibly because it sounds too boring. But it can re-energise the impetus towards a visit by Dr Singh to Pakistan next year and a possible agreement. There are two distinct advantages to this option. It is relatively painless. And it can be done under a sort of cover since Islamabad might be reluctant to move into the limelight, carrying a perceived concession behind its back. Since the Indian reaction to the joint statement has created some strains upon the process of bilateral dialogue, this could be a useful methodology for India as well.

India and Pakistan should seek to solve some of their intermediary bilateral problems under the disguise of multilateral negotiations. This does not mean that Kashmir can be sorted out through a multilateral mechanism. There will be only two nations at the table when Kashmir is discussed. Nor is this an invitation to America to join the discussion party: the multilateral forum available to both is SAARC.

Pakistan has been holding up implementation of the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) on one pretext or the other. Dr Singh’s first verification of trust could be Pakistani concurrence to SAFTA at the next Saarc summit, which he should hasten. In fact, he could even make it a priority, or even a precondition. Trade is a vital ingredient of peace-construction, because it creates masons on either side who are propelled into partnership by the common need for profit. Profit is a solid vested interest in conflict-resolution.

Saarc could also be a convenient medium for taking a few quantum leaps on terrorism protocol. When Pervez Musharraf suggested that India and Pakistan should think out of the box he meant jumping out of the Kashmir box. Saarc creates an entirely new box completely. Gilani can take cover from any local flak by explaining that the pressure of Saarc nations made it impossible for him to leave Pakistan in isolation. The public opinion created by Saarc decisions will reinforce the momentum that has been injected into the peace process by Dr Singh. Dr Singh has made it clear to the Parliament that he has the will. But without a way, his will will flounder.

M.J. Akbar is Chairman and Director of Publications of the fortnightly newsmagazine Covert

More news from