Include Armed Forces In Any Dialogue With Pakistan Army

In a recent interview with Barkha Dutt, A.S. Dulat, the former Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) chief and author of two interesting and spicy books about his experiences in Kashmir and with his Pakistani counterparts during his unquestionably illustrious career, waxed rather eloquently about the need to invite the Pakistan Army chief for talks to India. There was nothing wrong about that suggestion as Dulat has the flexibility and the freedom to suggest out-of-the-box solutions to what has been a frustratingly intractable problem. As many have pointed out for years, Pakistan is an ‘Army with a State’ and, therefore, it would be pointless to expect any movement of a ‘peace process’ that does not include the Pakistan Army. Even a statesman as illustrious as then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to grasp this bitter reality in 1999 when he attempted to steer a peace process with Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, and had Pervez Musharraf putting the ‘Kargil spoke’ in the peace process.

A few years later, PM Manmohan Singh thought he could take the now civilian Musharraf with grandiose, statesmanlike ideas of his own into confidence and make some headway but, this time again, the Jehadis and the Pakistan Army stepped up the proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and scuttled the process.

What surprised me though, while listening to the interview, was the suggestion that the Indian government invite General Qamar Javed Bajwa for talks with the National Security Advisor (NSA) and possibly the Prime Minister himself, without any mention of the role of either the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee or the Chief of Army Staff in this process of smoking the peace pipe with Pakistan. In 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru initiated and sealed the UN-sponsored ceasefire despite inputs from commanders like K.S. Thimayya who wanted one final push with his spring offensive to recover as much of the lost territory as possible. The return of Haji Pir Pass in Tashkent after the 1965 War has been much debated since, and there is very little need to labour on it, much like the negative fall-out of Indira Gandhi’s magnanimity during the Simla Agreement of 1972. Interestingly, what has not been debated much is whether these decisions were clouded by the lack of any serious military advice during negotiations.

In recent years, there have been a flurry of proposals and Track Two negotiations on a possible demilitarisation of Siachen but, for a change, wisdom prevailed within government because the army dug in and insisted that any process must factor in the enormous effort and sacrifices made by the Indian armed forces since 1984. When commanders argued that Shaksgam Valley (ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963) was quite close to the area as the crow flies, they were termed alarmist. Their fears were not unfounded as ThePrint recently revealed that the Chinese were building all-weather roads in hitherto untouched areas of Shaksgam. Imagine if India had vacated the glacier and suddenly found navigable roads and tracks perilously close to Indira Col region. Today, Indian posts on the northern glacier have some visibility into Shaksgam and offer strategic comfort.

Back to Dulat’s suggestion! If at all General Bajwa must get an invite, it must be from either the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee or India’s army chief, and any meeting with the NSA or the PM must be a courtesy call, which can have its own strategic impact to take forward. Any other approach will undermine the credibility of India’s armed and security forces, which have paid a heavy price in the ongoing proxy war. By even suggesting such a direct approach, Dulat clearly reflects an archaic mindset and undermines the role of India’s armed forces as a key element of statecraft and not just operational tools of war fighting. The Indian Army has not only the most accurate and perceptive understanding of the ground situation, but also a wealth of scholarly expertise over the years on the trajectory of disputes along the Line of Control and extending all the way to the Siachen glacier. Finally, considering that his interviewer, Barkha Dutt, has had such a long and wide lens of India’s armed forces over the years, it was indeed surprising that she failed to quiz Dulat on this very important narrative. One hopes that the current strategic establishment heeds the lessons from history if it does choose to take Dulat’s advice, which as an isolated piece has its merits.