A US think-tank has proposed a dialogue between India and the Pakistan Army. The proposal has merit to the extent that the army is a stark reality in Pakistan polity and it has been there in one form or the other for more than five decades. On the other hand, the problem that India faces is how does it reconcile its democratic credentials to the character of unelected army? One is answerable to the people while the other seeks their obedience. It is not possible for the two to be on the same page. Yet, if issues like Kashmir have to be settled, the army’s nod is necessary.

There is probably a case for an unofficial, behind the scenes contact with the Pakistan army. Even this contact will evoke criticism in some circles on both sides. Once, during General Zia-ul Haq’s regime a proposal to have talks was mooted. I recall how let down the liberals at Lahore felt when they heard this. They argued that such a step would give credibility to khaki. New Delhi abandoned the idea. There was also a belated thinking within the establishment about the effect on the Indian forces over the “recognition” of the Pakistan army as a political entity.

Zia rationalized that the army’s control in Pakistan as a necessity in the absence of any other stable alternative. He wanted his forces to have the same status that the army enjoyed in Turkey. He assured me that they would intervene only when the constitution broke down. I told him that the case of Turkey was different. Over the years, it has created conventions and had draw a Laxman rekha beyond which the Turkish armed forces did not act. In Pakistan, the army had intervened whenever it had thought fit to do so.

That may have been the reason why Zia would often tell me that you
(India) would be better off in settling Kashmir and other matters with the army because if and when democracy returned to Pakistan “you would have problems.” It is true that New Delhi has not reached anywhere with the “democratic” government at Islamabad. But it is equally true that the army never left Pakistan alone.
Pakistan has a “popularly elected government” at the helm with the Prime Minister, the National Assembly, the Senate and other symbols of parliamentary democracy. Yet there are no two opinions that the Pakistan chief of army staff is the last word when it comes to India and Afghanistan.

Taking up India first, there is no movement on any issue, reportedly because of army’s disinterest. The militants’ training camps have not been dismantled despite assurances by Prime Minister Yusuf Reza Gilani to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Nor is there a change in the pattern of militants’ activity. For the army, this is a low-cost war, bleeding India. According to the US media, the ISI is reportedly helping the Lashkar-e-Toiba, a group of terrorists, which is responsible for the Mumabi blasts. It is more than two years since Pakistan Home Minister Rehman Malik promised Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram to curb the Lashkar effectively. Till today, the case has not had a proper hearing. Either its dates are postponed or the judges are transferred.

Islamabad has no heart in the case. India’s defence minister A.K. Antony is not given to making false statements. He has alleged that the Pakistan army has blessed opening of more training camps and developing newer routes for infiltration into Jammu and Kashmir. Islamabad may not like the charge. But it is not explainable why attempts by the militants to cross into India are increasing and why the clashes on the border are getting uglier, with casualties on both sides? India lost an army official a few days ago in the Kapuora area, 100 kilometres from Srinagar.

As for Afghanistan, Pakistan treats the country as its “strategic depth.” Islamabad’s main grouse against New Delhi is that it does not lower its presence in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai who visited India this week has established firmer relations with India which will train and equip his forces, much to the chagrin of Islamabad. However, Karzai’s problem is similar to the one which US Admiral Mike Mullen has raised: “Militant Haqqani network acts as a veritable army of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence agency.” Mullen has gone further by warning that if Pakistan does not discipline Haqqani Islamist militia, America will do that, meaning thereby that it may operate in Pakistan territory from where the Haqqani networks operate.

Islamabad’s hostile reaction to America is natural. General Pervez Kayani enunciated at a meeting of NATO military chiefs that while his country was committed to the struggle against terrorists, Pakistan had “sovereign right to formulate policy in accordance with its national interest and wishes of the people of Pakistan.” There can be no exception to that. But Islamabad should have learnt by this time what Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has said: You think that you can keep a wild animal in the backyard and it will only go after your neighbour?” India is paying for it. Pakistan itself is a prey to it.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reads the situation correctly when he says that there is something “fishy”. At an all-party conference, he has said that when everyone is pointing at Pakistan, it should do soul-searching as there must be some reason why other countries do not accept Pakistan’s contentions. The Asif Ali Zardari government or General Kayani may reject his viewpoint. But he has gone against the tide and told the people that Pakistan may be at fault when it finds most countries in the world not taking it on its face value.

Prime Minister Gilani may be right when he says “they (US) cannot live with us, nor they can live without us.” Yet the American government has lowered its tone but not the tenor. It has gone ahead with the operation against the Haqqani tribe. Washington has announced that it will start pulling out its forces from 2014.

The point is not whether this would happen ultimately, but whether the proposed exit by the US can bring Afghanistan and other countries in the region to chalk out a joint strategy to root out terrorism in the absence of American and NATO forces. Pakistan is deluding itself if it is depending on China. It would not want to enter the arena where it could get hurt. In this scenario, General Kayani’s mistrust of Kabul and New Delhi will not help because they will be on the Pakistani side if and when it decides to eliminate terrorism in the region.