If Indian policymakers could speak to Pakistan as bluntly as President Trump did on New Year’s Day, we might one day hope for peace on our benighted sub-continent. The leader of the free world used Twitter to declare that Pakistan had been given more than $33 billion in American aid in the past 15 years and ‘they have given us nothing but lies and deceit.’ Sadly ‘lies and deceit’ is what India has been given every time one of our prime ministers has tried to make peace with our old enemy.
This happened most memorably for this columnist when Atal Bihari Vajpayee got on that gilded bus 20 years ago and drove across the Wagah border in a genuine attempt to make peace. It was Vajpayee’s dream, since his foreign minister days in the Seventies, to make peace with Pakistan, so as Prime Minister he made his most dramatic gesture with that drive across the border.
The bus was delayed by hours and we who waited on the other side joked cynically about how since it was an Indian bus it had probably broken down, only to watch with tears in our eyes when it finally came across the border. In a moving and beautiful ceremony its arrival was preceded by a man walking across the border with a basket of sweets on his head and Punjabi women dancing behind him in silk skirts that shone in the afternoon light. Pakistani journalists who sat among a huge contingent of us Indians gasped and said it was the first time they had seen women dance in public since Zia-ul-Haq imposed Islamism and began the ‘deceit and lies’ saga.
We did not know it that afternoon but even as Nawaz Sharif welcomed Vajpayee to Lahore, General Pervez Musharraf was plotting his Kargil misadventure. Despite this Vajpayee continued his peace overtures and invited Musharraf to Agra for peace talks in the summer of 2001. Musharraf was received with full honours but the talks ended badly because he said the only thing he wanted to talk about was Kashmir. He then stormed off and continued his campaign of ‘lies and deceit’ even after promising to become an ally in America’s global war on terror after 9/11. The attack on our Parliament happened mere weeks after 9/11 and was planned by Maulana Masood Azhar who we released, among other jihadi terrorists, in exchange for the passengers of IC 814.
India has been lied to and deceived by Pakistan many times since but we still respond with humiliating meekness. I was among those who hoped that under Narendra Modi India would have a clearer and more robust Pakistan policy, based on the premise that it was a rogue state that needed to be dealt with as rogue states should be dealt with. Sadly, this has not happened. There has also been too much dithering about who we should talk to and what we should say.
There was no point in being nice to poor old Nawaz Sharif because as everyone, in the exalted realms of South Block, knows foreign policy is one thing that Pakistan’s generals keep firmly in their hands. And, they have a deep, deep vested interest in maintaining hostilities because the last thing they want is for their importance and their huge budget to be diminished. So if there is to ever be peace it will come only when India learns ways to show strength instead of weakness every time Pakistan organizes a new jihadist attack against us.
Prime Minister Modi demonstrated real weakness when he said during the Gujarat election campaign that Pakistan was interfering in the election with the objective of defeating him in his home state. If Pakistan is capable of interfering in Indian elections then India needs to be ashamed of itself. And, we need to ask why our hard-earned money is being wasted on intelligence agencies that seem incapable of performing their most basic function. The denizens of South Block like to whisper about how the powers of these agencies to conduct covert activities were curtailed by one of our peacenik prime ministers. That happened decades ago and we need to ask why no prime minister since has restored their strength.
Meanwhile, we need to be very clear about who our friends are internationally and stand by them. Israel is our friend as is America, so it is very hard to understand why we voted against the United States in the UN when Trump announced that he was moving the American embassy to Jerusalem. Can we hope that in 2018 India shows not just that it has a spine but that it has no intention of discussing Kashmir with Pakistan ever. But, first there has to be a coherent policy to bring peace in Jammu and Kashmir. Let’s hope that in 2018 we get one. Ffootnote