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Mainstream, VOL LI No 46, November 2, 2013

Indo-Pakistan Relations: New Perspective

Friday 1 November 2013, by Nikhil Chakravartty

Military aid has suddenly become the main topic of political discussion in New Delhi, almost downgrading Sheikh Abdullah’s olive-branch mission to Pakistan and Sri Nehru’s repeat offer to Peking to open negotiations.

This is somewhat natural in view of Sri Chavan’s mission to Washington. But even a few weeks back, the Defence Minister’s US trip was regarded in the Capital as of secondary importance to Sri T.T. Krishnamachari’s multi-purpose approaches to America. It was also made clear from Washington recently when the Rao mission had just reached there, that no supersonic F-104 planes would be available for India. We were even offered the wise advice gratis that we should cut our arms coat according to our dollar cloth. A feeling of helpless frustration was about to creep in.

But this demoralisation was short-lived. Hard on the heels of the announcement of the Soviet offer of aid for Bokaro and the thousand-kilowatt transmitter, has come the disclosure of large-scale defence aid from Moscow. Alongwith the early delivery of 60 supersonic MIG-21s, the project for their manufacture in this country itself will be speeded up. What is perhaps more important is the offer of ground-to-air missiles and two ordnance factories, apart from helicopters and transport planes.

Although the Soviet supply of such top-priority defence aid had been known to informed quarters for quite sometimes, it was purposely withheld even during the Defence debate in Parliament for important considerations: New Delhi was interested in seeing how far Washington would go on her own in helping India with large-scale arms aid, overruling Pakistani protests, while Moscow too was not prepared to announce such a defence aid programme to India so long as there was the least chance of a thaw in its cold war with Peking.

On either count a firm appraisal seems to have been reached. Alongwith Washington’s polite refusal to supply India with F-104s, the experience of the latest round of back-stair Western lobbying in the Security Council has almost made it clear to New Delhi that there is no immediate prospect of the West withdrawing its generous patronage from Pakistan in her bellicose posture on Kashmir. The fact that the Western powers ignored Indian objection to Secretary General U Thant’s good office being dragged into the picture has hardly pleased New Delhi. Matters were made worse in the closed-door informal sessions, in which the Western powers together with their underlings like the Ivory Coast and Morocco look a more threatening pose insisting on U Thant’s mediation, to placate Pakistan.

The significance of the publicising of Soviet arms aid, according to observers in the Capital, is that Moscow’s antipathy to Peking’s preoccupations has reached the point of no return. The Chinese charge-sheet against Mr Khrushchev that he is backing India against China—in diplomacy, propaganda, and in military aid—is no longer going to deter the Soviet Union from coming out strongly in support of India. Together with the Soviet Premier’s current demonstration of solidarity with the UAR this new Moscow accent ensures a powerful prop for the non-aligned diplomacy as its bargaining capacity with the West goes up and to that measure helps to strengthen the independent status of these countries.

While Sri Chavan’s hands are thus strengthened, it is suspected in some circles in the Capital that the “leak” about the Soviet arms aid—significantly made in reputed American journals close to the present Administration—was so timed as to over-power the extreme anti-India lobby in the US Congress which could be expected to react if it could be made to realise that its veto on military aid to India would only facilitate Moscow getting the upper hand in India. The Congress scuttle of the Bokaro project has not been forgotten in New Delhi.

The immediate political impact of this develop-ment is being watched in the Capital. This will no doubt enhance Sri Chavan’s standing. So far his style was cramped by TTK’s overlordship, who was also trying to pave the way for private US capital intruding into Indian defence : the way he has pulled quite a few strings in recent months to bring the Lockheeds in—and sometimes even prophesying the collapse of the MIG project—was hardly to Sri Chavan’s liking.

Together with Bokaro, this coming in of Soviet aid for defence in a big way is likely to deflate the image of TTK—which, incidentally, is largely the handiwork of himself and his ICS entourage—as the saviour who alone can bring from abroad the much-needed foreign aid, economic and defence. It has been noticed here that already the news has been given out that Sri Chavan will soon be heading a Defence mission to Moscow. In the delicate balance of forces that exists in New Delhi today, this unexpected build-up of Sri Chavan may have significant repercussions on the Centre’s political alignaments.

With this prospect of large-scale Defence aid, New Delhi will have to inevitably go in for proper planning of our entire Defence network. The question which is being posed now is: against whom have we to defend ourselves? In the context of the closer rapprochement between Rawalpindi and Peking, the answer is not difficult to find. The Defence planning has to be for the entire border that faces both China and Pakistan.

If this is the perspective that New Delhi holds before itself today, what is the meaning of the Prime Minister’s friendly approach to Pakistan?

Observers have taken note of a number of significant developments towards the evolutions of what might seem to be a new approach to Pakistan. First came the Prime Minister’s declaration in Parliament that for the purpose of a settlement with Pakistan, even constitutional changes should not be ruled out. Then came his conspicuously friendly handling of Sheikh Abdullah and finally his pronouncement at the Bombay AICC, coming out in open support of the Sheikh’s mission to bring about Indo-Pak amity. At the same time, Sri Chagla in the Security Council laid special emphasis on mutual talks to the exclusion of third party intervention.

In circles critical of Pakistan, both from the Right and the Left, these constitute an ominous pointer towards a policy of appeasement. A closer examination of these important moves do not bear out any likelihood of a capitulation on the basic issues involved. Rather they point to a very important reappraisal of Indo-Pak relations.

It appears that the recent spate of communal violence has given rise to a serious apprehension that an ultra-communal leadership might dominate this country after Nehru, jeopardising democracy.

With this disturbing background, the Prime Minister seems to be in a mood to support any initiative which can help to restore sanity and goodwill between the two neighbouring countries. It was in this context that he has practically under-written Sheikh Abdullah’s visit to Pakistan in search of a solution to this vexed question rather than for a constitutional formula with regard to Kashmir.

On the approach to Pakistan there seem to be two distinct schools in the Capital. According to one, if Pakistan could be mollified by settling the Kashmir issue, there should be no objection to making major concessions in the interest of long-term amity between the two countries. Sri Rajagopalachari and the Swatantra Right belong to this school.

The other school firmly believes that the entire basis of Pakistan rests on stirring up hatred against India, and it is this negative foundation of Mr Jinnah’s two-nation edifice which will be a perpetual source of irritation and acrimony for India. While agreeing with the second school insofar as the origin of Pakistan is concerned, the Prime Minister as an epilogue to his eventful life, seems to feel that if by friendly overtures, suspicion could be dispelled even to a small measure inside Pakistan, the game would be worth the candle.

Behind this move, there is also a groping for what may be called strong support for Indo-Pak goodwill inside Pakistan itself. With the developments in East Pakistan, a section of opinion in this country, particularly among the more enlightened section in West Bengal, has started rethinking on how to undo the bane of the Partition. Some are even urging for a positive policy in anticipation of the likelihood of East Pakistan seceding as an independent state.

While responsible opinion in New Delhi considers these as slightly premature, there is a definite exploring here for working up a solid body of friendly opinion inside Pakistan. It is this point which Sheikh Abdullah also hinted at his New Delhi utterances when he expressed his anxiety to create a ‘base’ inside Pakistan.

So far as the Sheikh is concerned, he is reported to be naturally toying with a number of suggestions for the solution to the Kashmir tangle. One of these is rather interesting: the creation of a de-militarised Kashmir to be guaranteed by both India and Pakistan. Some of his friends say that such a de-militarised Kashmir may be retained formally inside the Indian Union but with large-scale facilities for Pakistanis in the matter of trade and free access of the Valley.

But it is not yet clear whether Sheikh Sahib will raise all these suggestions during his first round of talks in Pakistan. More likely, he will go in for probing the attitude of the present ruling junta in Pakistan. While observers in New Delhi are very cautious about anticipating the reception that the Sheikh is likely to get from President Ayub, the general feeling here is that Pakistani rulers will not entertain any basic change from their stand which is annexation of Kashmir through the façade of a plebiscite. In such a situation, Sheikh Abdullah’s olive branch may wither away in the scorching summer of West Pakistan; and at the stage he will take a more realistic view about the future of Kashmir as part of the Indian Union.

There is also the possibility that his visit in the Pak-occupied “Azad” Kashmir area, if it is permitted by Rawalpindi, will show him the contrast in its conditions with those prevailing on this side.

There are also indications that inside Sheikh Abdullah’s camp three different trends are
pulling in different directions. One is the frankly pro-Pakistan wing; the second one wants an independent Kashmir; and the third, which seems to be of a considerable size, is for Kashmir remaining inside the Indian Union but with the restoration of the internal status quo as it was in 1953. If Sheikh Abullah comes back empty-handed from Pakistan, it is more than likely that the pro-independence trend will merge into the pro-India group, while the ranks of the pro-Pakistanis will be heavily depleted.

Meanwhile, the Sadiq Ministry seems to be confidentially on the saddle, and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad’s fulminations about bringing it down are totally baseless. The latest position, according to reliable authority, is that Bakshi does not command the support of more than a dozen MLAs inside the Legislative Party, while the National Conference itself has totally cracked up in the Kashmir Valley.

The prospect of stability returning in the beautiful but storm-tossed Valley seems to be not gloomy at all. N.C.

(New Delhi Skyline in issue of May 23, 1964)

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