April 25, 2011 1:12:44 am
A garbled report over the weekend in The Times of London about informal contacts between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Pakistan army chief,General Ashfaq Kayani,and its denial by Delhi as false do not alter two important realities. One,the renewed peace process between India and Pakistan is very fragile despite Dr Singhs strong commitment. The other is that Kayani holds the key to any forward movement in Indias current dialogue with Pakistans civilian government led by President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. But India has no apparent contact with Kayani. Taken together,these two realities underline the importance of Delhi engaging the Pakistan army.
In fact,much of the progress in Indo-Pak relations over the last decade took place when Dr Singh had an intensive dialogue going with General Pervez Musharraf during 2004-07. This included reduced cross-border violence,expanded trade,easier people-to-people contact,and above all the negotiation of a framework agreement to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir conflict. During this period,Musharraf was the army chief and its president,with strong influence on the elected government. As Musharraf began to slip from the pinnacle,India found it increasingly difficult to deal with Pakistans multiple power centres. While the new civilian leaders were eager for peace with India,they did not have the power to deliver it. Zardari and Gilani do not control either the nations security policy or the extremist assets of the Pakistan army. Worse still,Delhi had good reasons to believe that Kayani is not willing to walk down the path that Dr Singh had cleared with Musharraf.
For all his pretensions of professionalism and proclaimed disinterest in politics,Kayani is Pakistans de facto sovereign. He directs the day-to-day conduct of Pakistans diplomacy towards United States and Afghanistan. Kayani describes himself as India-centric and is indeed the main sceptic on normalising relations with Delhi. To be sure,Delhi claims it has been assured by Islamabad that Kayani is on-board the peace process. Those words from Pakistans civilian leaders are no substitute for Delhis direct contact with Rawalpindi. If India wants a results-oriented engagement with Pakistan,it must talk to Kayani. If Dr Singh has not yet set up contact with Kayani,it is about time he did. For a conversation with Kayani,the PM does not need unofficial interlocutors as claimed by The Times. He can ask his national security adviser Shiv Shankar Menon and special envoy Satinder Lambah both of whom have much experience negotiating with Pakistan to reach out to Kayani.
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