Much of Dr Raghavan’s diplomatic career was spent dealing with Pakistan — he was India’s Deputy High Commissioner in Islamabad from February 2003 to April 2007, the Musharraf years that began amid great tension but gradually led to an easing of bilateral relations, and probably the closest the two countries ever came to a ‘deal’. From April 2007 to October 2009, Dr Raghavan was in New Delhi, with the desk that looks after Pakistan at the Ministry of External Affairs. This was the time when India’s embassy in Kabul was bombed, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, and Mumbai was attacked.
In July 2013, he returned to Islamabad as High Commissioner, and stayed there until his retirement in December 2015. He was in Pakistan when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to power, General Raheel Sharif became Chief of the Pakistan Army, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj travelled to that country in a spirit of great bonhomie.
Very few Indian diplomats have observed the vicissitudes of the India-Pakistan relationship more closely and known its complexities better than Dr Raghavan. His book on 70 years of this difficult co-existence is scheduled for publication in 2017.
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On whether space for diplomacy has shrunk in India-Pak relations in the recent past
The relationship has been marked by so many ups and downs, that we should be careful about taking too cataclysmic a view of the present situation.
There have been instances of very high tension in the past, but then, surprisingly quick breakthroughs, and moments of great hope, followed again by disappointments and periods of tension again. So I would hesitate in taking too negative a view of the present situation, bad as it is.
Certainly in the past few months, the role for diplomacy has shrunk — but it is also a fact that… bad times are the ones when you need diplomacy the most.
On the supposedly hawkish Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initial outreach to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif
When the Janata Party government was formed in 1977, of which the Jana Sangh was a very important constituent part, the general view was that relations with Pakistan are going to slide down very, very quickly. Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the foreign minister, and he had personally spoken out very, very strongly against the Shimla Agreement of 1972. But in fact, the opposite happened. 1977 to 1979 was a very creative period of India-Pakistan diplomacy. In 1998, soon after the first NDA government came to power, the nuclear tests took place, and the general expectation was that relations are going to go down, but again in fact, the opposite happened. Prime Minister Vajpayee took this totally unexpected but very powerful political step of going to Lahore in a bus. Again, the same thing happened after the Parliament attack, when there was a mobilisation of forces, people were prepared for a very long period of a downslide. The opposite happened. Mr Vajpayee went to Islamabad for the SAARC Summit and then there was a 6-7-year very creative period in India-Pakistan relations.
In my understanding, the same thing happened when the present government came to power. The general expectation was that relations would not recover quickly from a very, quote-unquote, rightwing, nationalistic government being in power in India. In fact, all the signs you saw in the early months of the government, and in fact, until quite recently, were the opposite. In my view, you don’t become prime minister of a country like India to do small things. You want to attend to the big issues facing the country, and that is precisely the spirit that has motivated every Prime Minister who has reached out to Pakistan. (They’ve) been disappointed, no doubt, there’ve been many, many disappointments, severe disappointments, but despite that they have continued to try to attend to the big issues facing the country. Prime Minister Modi’s visit (to Lahore on December 25, 2015), again, was very unexpected, but, if you look back at it, the groundwork for it had been done. A few days before that, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj had visited, then there had been a meeting between the National Security Advisors, and so on. So again, it appeared to be a total flash in the pan, but perhaps it was not so.
On the Pathankot terror attack following immediately afterward — on January 2, 2016 — and whether it was the Pakistan Army’s way of showing its displeasure
You have no clinching evidence on what leads to a terrorist attack at one particular point of time. Certainly, if you look at it from one point of view, you can see a pattern. After all, Kargil happened soon after Prime Minister Vajpayee’s Lahore visit; the Mumbai attack took place again at a time when it appeared that things were on an upswing in India-Pakistan relations. A setback like the Pathankot attack seems to fit into that logic. But there is also a randomness in terrorist attacks — and therefore, while a certain logic appears very appealing, one should try to temper that appeal. You cannot explain the attack on Parliament [in December 2001] in (these) terms… the Agra Summit [in July 2001] had failed, there was no particular upswing in India-Pakistan relations, the 9/11 attacks had taken place etc.
On behind-the-scenes diplomacy and the India-Pakistan ‘deal’ that almost happened
How close you came to sealing the deal depends on who you talk to. You read (former Pakistan Foreign Minister) Mr (Khurshid Mehmud) Kasuri’s account, you get one particular view; if you read other accounts, you realise that more than the deal, what was being negotiated was, how do you bring about greater trust between the two countries which had a relationship marked by suspicion and very deep mistrust. I think some progress had been made, but in the end, it depended on the capacity of the government of the day in both countries to sell the deal to their people. In my own assessment, by late 2005, early 2006, General Pervez Musharraf’s capacity to sell an agreement of this kind was diminished… There were many signs that this regime’s hold over things in Pakistan was eroding very quickly. We got numerous signs… one certainly was the terrorist attack in Mumbai on the
On Zarb-e-Azb and the willingness of the Pakistani state and Army to take on terrorism
I don’t think terrorism in Pakistan — either the domestic variant, which attacks Pakistanis and Pakistani institutions, or the external variants carrying out attacks in Afghanistan and India — can be switched on and off very quickly. In many ways, terrorism in Pakistan has certain structural features — this is the system which has been in existence at least since 1979, and it is not going to be easy to put the toothpaste back in the tube. The question is, what does Pakistan do about it? In the end, it is a country of 200 million people, it has nuclear weapons, it has a people who have a very fierce sense of their identity and are very strongly nationalistic. Really, the onus is on them — no external power, certainly not the United States, certainly not India, certainly not China, can solve this problem. It is something that they have to attempt to do on their own — and then, the question is how are they attending to it. There, unfortunately, you cannot have a clear conclusion that yes, the Pakistani state, the Pakistani people are determined to act against terrorists of all kinds, because of the enormous damage they (the terrorists) have caused to their system and to their country. This is only an ambiguous conclusion you can come to at this time at least. That may change, hopefully it will change, but at this time, you do not have more than an ambiguous assessment, that perhaps they are going after some groups, but they feel some other groups are still assets, they can still be used as proxies, and perhaps the lessons which should have been learnt, have not been fully learnt or fully internalised.
On the perception that China is the Holy Grail of endless support and bounty for Pakistan
I think we have to evaluate what is happening in Pakistan in terms of India’s own experience. We all know that no external power can change India. Japanese capital or capital from any other country is not going to change India. Only India can change India. And the same applies to Pakistan. So just like Japanese companies will not be able to build a Mumbai-Delhi freight corridor on their own until we do certain things in India ourselves, the same thing applies to the Chinese and the Pakistan-China Economic Corridor. I think we insufficiently appreciate that Pakistan has gone through a very difficult time in the last 10 years.
Perhaps there is not much sympathy because most of their problems are self-created, but they have gone through a very bad time. There is a sense of international isolation, and in that situation, the China relationship has acquired a larger than life presence. But as I said, no external power can change Pakistan. The sums of money that are being mentioned (for the economic corridor) are large, 45 billion or 50 billion dollars, but let’s not forget, between 2001 and 2013, the United States put in something like 30 or 35 billion dollars in Pakistan. You can’t see any signs of it having made a tangible impact on the ground. So, in the end, it is for the Pakistanis to change their own system. An injection of external capital
will not be enough.
On the seeming contradiction between the visible warmth and bonhomie between visiting Indians and Pakistanis, and the hawkish media reports on both sides
I think the warmth is genuine. Something that is not sufficiently understood in India is that India is the cultural hegemon in Pakistan in numerous ways — most sites of Pakistani historical memory are located in India, Taj Mahal, Red Fort, Panipat, etc., Bollywood has a huge impact, the political vocabulary of Pakistan is informed by Bollywood music and Bollywood dialogues to a much greater extent than we understand. India’s literature, art… at least between north India and Pakistan, there are a very large number of elements of shared culture. India is the larger country, has developed cultural institutions, so naturally, the effects will flow across borders. All of this does have an impact on Pakistan; there is also a sense of curiosity; in some sections, a sense of admiration, about India, especially Indian democratic institutions, so therefore, this warmth, and this desire to engage are natural. On the other side, there are other emotions as well and it would not be realistic to ignore them or to say that they don’t matter. The jingoism that you see in the Pakistani media or the hawkishness in the Indian media does reflect real sentiment. In India, there is a burning sense of great injustice, as to why a neighbour should inflict such terrorist attacks on us; in Pakistan they carry a different kind of burden, one that suggests that somehow history has done us out of certain entitlements, whether regarding Kashmir, Hyderabad, Junagadh, water issues and so on.