Opinion: Why MEA fumbled over Imran Khan's offer of peace talks

New Delhi, Delhi, India Sep 23, 2018, 10.18 AM(IST) Written By: Major General S B Asthana

File photo of Imran Khan. Photograph:( Reuters )

Story highlights

To deter a neighbour to stop proxy war, there is a need to have a clear National aim, National Strategy, Comprehensive National Power and the will to use it.

Indian decision makers were too quick to be influenced by Imran Khan’s letter to Prime Minister Modi, calling for resumption of peace dialogue, by announcing the “Meeting between the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan on the side lines of UNGA later this month”. It was also clarified by MEA that “There was no change in its policy that talks and terror couldn’t go together”. Within a day, MEA on Friday announced calling off the meeting citing the two incidents - release of stamps to glorify terrorists and mutilation of the body of soldier in BAT action. In a sensitive subject involving public sentiments and having security implications, the fumble represents a lack of understanding of security issues by the people involved in it.  

Imran's compulsion for writing letter to PM Modi

It is not difficult to understand that unless Pakistan shows some credible actions, it may get further punishment from Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which might declare it black. It would pose insurmountable economic problems for newly elected Prime Minister Imran Khan. A peace initiative like this can thus be an optical mirage to suggest that he is trying his best.

Even if we leave out the two incidents, and assess if terror activities/proxy war has reduced after his taking over as Prime Minister or otherwise, the answer is a clear NO. It is well known that he is a puppet Prime Minister propped up by Pakistan Army, which holds all levers of power. An active Indo–Pak border/LoC is Pakistan Army’s existential requirement to hold power which it will not compromise. 

A pressure by US/China and loaning agencies like IMF could be another reason for initiating such a letter. The fact that the courts have allowed Hafiz Saeed to start business as usual, over-ruling the government indicates Imran’s inability in reigning UN declared terrorists. The courts in Pakistan have also acted at the behest of Army, which is proved by the fact that Nawaz Sharif is now out, when he is harmless to the Army.  

Can India pin high hopes on Imran Khan?

In my opinion, India could try Imran’s experiment with peace. To experiment with him, his initiative has to be preceded with few steps like no ceasefire violations, no support to terrorist, taking immediate action on UN declared terrorists and convincing not only India but FATF, the US and global community of having done so. 

When many diplomats/strategists and the establishment were justifying the meeting, they tried to explain the difference meeting and dialogue, justifying no change in Indian stance, but the letter of Imran Khan clearly indicated what he expected to be spoken in the meeting. It will be naïve to assume that it could have been a meeting with no issues of divergences discussed, ending with pleasantries and future plan of dialogue.

Even in informal meetings between leaders earlier, all issues of divergences were discussed. In fact, we should have understood that even if meeting was done as explained, we would have lost out in giving them a point to score in FATF and General Assembly. It is encouraging to see that a midcourse correction of cancellation of meeting took place. 

What do we do to deter Pakistan from proxy war?  

To deter a neighbour to stop proxy war, there is a need to have a clear National aim, National Strategy, Comprehensive National Power and the will to use it. For many decades, it has been seen that the need for hard power has been underplayed by diplomats/bureaucrats, who have been able to convince the political hierarchy that diplomacy can resolve security issues and relevance of military forces stands considerably reduced.

This is a major departure from basic teachings of Chanakya that no nation can be strong and secure without a strong military. This has resulted in inadequate defence budget, bulk of which is consumed by bloating, inefficient, defence civilians and inadequate modernisation taking away the conventional edge required to deter the notorious neighbor.

Politicisation of defence matters like surgical strikes, defence procurements by all politicians looking at political aim instead of national aim, has slowed down the pace of modernisation.   

In fact not many decision makers understand the basic difference between Para-military forces, which are protective forces trained and equipped accordingly, and Defence Forces, which are the punch of the country, instruments of last resort, trained and equipped to project national power across the IB/LoC.

The confusion is evident from the fact that Defence forces are increasingly being employed for internal security and being targeted by legal and Human Right fraternity. The consistent lowering of the status of Defence Forces for decades confirms this confusion.

The end result is that the adversary is not deterred and continues with proxy war. Even within the country in border areas like Kashmir, the political games have not allowed to deal with internal enemies like separatists, which have created conditions for proxy war to succeed.

India therefore urgently needs to do the capacity building of its military and deal firmly with separatists, not in the form of speeches but convictions. India also needs to apply some lessons of the history of 1962 debacle due to lack of military advise and success of 1971 War due to direct military advice to decision makers, by getting some military specialists in the decision-making loop.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Major General S B Asthana

Major General S B Asthana had been an Infantry General with 40 years of defence experience at national and international level.