The Nobel Prize Syndrome
When politicians grow into eminent statesmen, they develop an intense desire for immortality. Their place in history becomes more important than solution of mundane issues of the day. Their world expands to embrace universal objectives that transcend national aspirations. Some of them step on to the world stage and make outlandish proposals at the United Nations for international peace, disarmament and development. Proposals for bringing celestial bodies and even Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs) within the purview of the United Nations have originated from the seekers of global fame. The more ambitious among them go on a quest of the Holy Grail, the Nobel Peace Prize.
India-Pakistan relations are so complex that anyone who can assist in normalizing them is likely to be honored by the Norwegian Academy. The acquisition of the nuclear dimension to the quagmire has made peace imperative between them in the eyes of the world. Many consider Kashmir a global hotspot, which deserves a global solution. Even President Bill Clinton had eyed Kashmir as a potential road to the Nobel. In India, Morarji Desai, (He even tried to dilute India's opposition to the NPT), Inder Gujral and Atal Behari Vajpeyi had developed such ambitions. What held them back was the pressure of public opinion. Their efforts were also thwarted by the duplicity of Pakistan, which gained benefits, but refused to accept matching obligations.
The signs of the Nobel Prize syndrome gripping Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have been visible since the Havana Declaration, which, for the first time, conceded that Pakistan too was a victim of terrorism. Sharm-el-Sheikh statement remains the only document in which Baluchistan came within the purview of bilateral relations. India gradually relaxed the conditions it imposed on Pakistan to deal with the schemers and perpetrators of the Mumbai attack. The tough line on terrorism withered away as the peace process gained momentum. The invitation extended to Pakistan Home Minister Rehman Malik and resumption of sports and cultural contacts were also part of “the extra mile” theory. But none can point to a single matching initiative on the part of Pakistan. They appeared to respond to the friendly moves of India, but plotted, at the same time, to undermine the Indian state covertly and overtly. The most blatant was the intrusion in Kargil, coming as it did close on the heels of the Lahore bus “yatra”. Making the border soft resulted only in more intrusions and arrival of more terrorists.
The desire to build on the gains of the peace process was the sentiment that determined initial Indian reaction to the events of January 8, 2013. The tame response at the official level left the field open for the opposition to claim to know the pulse of the people and to project public opinion. If only the Prime Minister had spoken of “no business as usual” within hours of the report on killing of two soldiers and beheading of one of them, he would have retained the initiative in his own hand. If he had promised firm action, the baying for ten heads for one by opposition leader Sushma Swaraj would not have resonated so well within the nation. She would have sounded irrational if the peace process was halted on the first day. Each day lost added fuel to the fire of public opinion and Pakistan exulted in its denial, without any fear of retribution. They knew well that the image-makers of the Prime Minister would turn the other cheek. When he finally spoke up, Pakistan had no choice but to budge and agree to commit itself to observe the ceasefire.
The “peace industry” in India with Pakistan has done more damage than good to India-Pakistan relations. South Block is constantly at pains to satisfy the peaceniks and many fall prey to the attractions of the industry, like fully paid trips not just to Pakistan, but also to more attractive destinations. Since the army is recognized as the real source of power in Pakistan, it has become fashionable to invite former Generals to these parleys. Many of them masquerade as the civil society in Pakistan, but make no impact on public opinion within Pakistan. On our side, however, the pressure mounts for a soft approach to Pakistan each time a Track II exercise throws up solutions. The shrill clamour for finding solutions to issues like Siachen and Sir Creek is raised from time to time, raising false hopes that these can be resolved. Siachen has been described as the only substantial military gain that India has made and the call is to throw it away unilaterally. Shimla’s lessons have not been learnt.
The truth that Pakistan’s existence itself is conditional to its differences with India should be remembered every time we deal with Pakistan. It has no compulsions to make peace with India. By paying a small price, Pakistan has acquired equal status with India in the minds of people across the globe. The peace process gives Pakistan a benign image even as it schemes to undermine the Indian state through infiltration and terrorism. Even when blatant violations of ceasefire take place, the “peace industry” is willing to ask whether, after all, India had pulled the trigger first. It is willing to close its eyes to the fact that the latest incident was not just a case of ceasefire violation, but a highly humiliating act that would demoralize our fighting forces.
The call on India is often to do everything possible to strengthen democracy in Pakistan. Even if the theory that a strong and prosperous Pakistan is in the interest of India is accepted, India can do little to strengthen democracy in Pakistan. Looking for democracy in Pakistan is like looking for the proverbial non-existent black cat in a dark room. Successive democratic Governments in Pakistan have either been facades or apologists for the army. Pakistan has only denigrated Indian democracy and not tried to learn from it.
The lessons of the past dictate that our Pakistan policy should be based strictly on reciprocity. Unilateral concessions have never yielded benefits in the past and will not in the future. If we relax on past crimes, new crimes will follow. In the recent case of beheading, Pakistan is guilty of a multitude of crimes, which should be accounted for. Any misguided forgiveness will only encourage the Pakistan Army to commit worse atrocities.
Indian reluctance to call a spade a spade is not on account of fear of conventional nuclear war. We have always believed that the most inextricable of issues can be resolved through negotiations. But, in the case of Pakistan, final solutions may not be possible for any of the problems that bedevil our relations for another generation. Our best hope is to mange the relations in such a way that our vital interests are protected. Strict reciprocity is the only strategy that will work with Pakistan.