Why should India talk to the army?

Most Pakistani opinion-makers find the growing demand to deal directly with the military silly, writes Mehmal Sarfraz.

After the recent India-Pakistan talks debacle in Islamabad, there were some murmurs that have turned into a crescendo from the Indian side that the real people to talk to are in Rawalpindi, not in Islamabad. This has surprised some analysts in Pakistan. According to editor of The Friday Times, Najam Sethi, “Governments can only talk to governments, regardless of the issue of their legitimacy or efficacy. Even when State institutions talk to each other across borders, they do so with the approval of their respective governments. In the past, Indian officials and political leaders have talked to generals and politicians and bureaucrats in Pakistan, depending on who was in power and who was authorised by the government in power to talk to India. Today, American political leaders and generals talk to Pakistan’s political leaders and generals only with the implicit or explicit approval of the civilian government in power. But, for a host of reasons, this laxity or leverage is not likely to be available to India even if India were to demand it.”

From the point of view of some other analysts, the Indian perspective is na├»ve. Nusrat Javeed, journalist with television news channel Dunya News Pakistan, says that Delhi had been negotiating with General Pervez Musharraf and it's believed that it reached a ‘near-final’ agreement. “Musharraf was in control from October 12, 1999 until the judicial crisis erupted in 2007. But did being in ‘total control’ really help? Our friends in India want us to endorse the feeling that General Kayani is the man to talk to while the civilian government does not matter much,” said Javeed. “They should understand that Shah Mehmood Qureshi represents the forces that be and unless the ‘institutional concerns’ are addressed, nothing substantive is going to happen on the Indo-Pak front.”

It is in India’s interest to keep Foreign Minister Qureshi engaged. India’s advocacy to talk directly to the security establishment smacks of double standards. If New Delhi wants to engage with the Pakistani establishment, then Islamabad should be allowed to hold talks with the Indian military establishment as well, since the issues including Kashmir, Siachen and Sir Creek are directly related to the Indian military. Would India allow Pakistan the same leeway that it wants to be granted?

But some analysts endorse New Delhi's viewpoint. Khaled Ahmed of The Friday Times said that he approves of India holding a dialogue with the Pakistani military establishment. “The ‘democratic government’ [of Pakistan] would approve too because it has had to back off from the task of formulating its own foreign policy in general and policies regarding Afghanistan and India in particular. It appears normal to back the elected government in Pakistan, but it is dangerously unrealistic. Pakistan’s nationalism is based on the designation of India as ‘national enemy’,” said Ahmed. “This nationalism is fluid enough today to include America as an enemy that colludes with India. In this sense, the people are not with an elected government that wants to ‘normalise’ relations with India. And the army is the emblem of this nationalism and remains its powerful instrument.”

Still, in the opinion of most analysts, India should respect the democratically elected government’s mandate and talk to the civvies instead of opting for the khakis.

(Originally published in Hindustan Times)

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