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Illustration: Manoj Kureel
The PM's Utopian understanding
of history

India must learn from repeated Pakistani betrayals and treaty violations of the past and not hastily jump into a negotiatory stance, says Sreeram Sundar Chaulia

"We shall not take another betrayal this time around" Home Minister L K Advani on January 9 2002

Atal Behari Vajpayee must be tired of supping with the devil, for history is replete with instances of Pakistan's chicanery and callous breach of bilateral agreements, the latest specimen of which the Indian Prime Minister himself co-inked amidst much fanfare three years ago in Lahore. The hyperbole that accompanied the Lahore Declaration- "this is a defining moment in the history of South Asia"- lies punctured and tattered beyond recognition today, proving for the umpteenth time that our neighbour treats scraps of paper on which treaties are consecrated as nothing but scraps of disposable paper. Improvising on the saying, "Yesterday's newspapers are today's waste papers", Pakistan has mastered the art of dumping yesterday's treaties into today's garbage heap.

After the inconclusive 1965 war, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Ayub Khan signed the Tashkent Declaration which stated, inter alia, that the two sides resolved, "Not to have recourse to force and to settle their disputes through peaceful means" and that "relations between India and Pakistan shall be based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of each other." No sooner had the ink dried, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as foreign minister, began scheming for a "final solution" to the Kashmir problem by hatching plans for armed assistance to the "freedom struggle." Bhutto's Machiavellian manipulations of Ayub Khan in favour of waging war against India have been documented in detail by independent authors like Stanley Wolpert and Sherbaz Mazari. After the 1971 war, Bhutto and Indira Gandhi signed the Shimla Agreement, which avowed unequivocally - "Neither side shall seek to alter the LoC unilaterally, irrespective of mutual differences and legal interpretations" and "the two countries are resolved to settle their differences by peaceful means through bilateral negotiations." Neither part of the bargain was kept by Pakistan as it sought to repeatedly foment violent secessionism in the Kashmir valley and to internationalise its conflict with India at various UN and OIC forums.

Enough evidence also exists of a Secret Protocol to the Shimla Agreement wherein Bhutto and Indira Gandhi agreed to progressively convert the LoC into an International Border (IB), and that in the intermediate period, "the LoC was to have the sanctity of an international border." (J N Dixit, Anatomy of a Flawed Inheritance). Bhutto's assassin and successor Zia-ul-Haq wasted little time in happily repudiating these agreements in the interests of his diabolical jihadi dream of "bleeding India with a thousand cuts in Kashmir." Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) planning for the massive systematic Islamic infiltration and insurgency in the Kashmir valley began a few years after Zia's coup (Operation Topac), took wings from 1989 and practically never stopped since then. The Shimla Agreement, which was intended by both sides to be "the" blueprint for governing future relations, was thus rendered dysfunctional by Zia's blatant derogation and flouting of treaty law.

Enter Vajpayee. His "bus diplomacy" to Lahore was heralded as the mother of all diplomatic coups, straddling the history of protracted India-Pakistan rivalry. Peace activists were thrilled, elated, jubilant and ecstatic. This author rejoiced that the past was going to be a bygone and a new era of redirection of national efforts into constructive economic development was around the corner. But Pakistan was in no mood for surprises. It followed time-tested techniques of duplicity. Intelligence inputs now prove beyond a shadow of doubt that under the very noses of the sada-i-sarhad and the Lahore Declaration, army chief Musharraf was plotting for a new misadventure in the Kargil-Dras sector, opening a hitherto dormant front for fighting along the contested 740 Km-long LoC. It is also reasonable to assume that Musharraf kept his prime minister informed of the plan to invade Indian territory and advised him to keep up the public charade of normalisation of relations through declarations and pacts. As special envoys Niaz Naik and R K Mishra were parleying behind the scenes in classic Track-II diplomacy mould for a negotiated settlement to the Kashmir dispute, finishing touches were being given for a mujahideen-cloaked incursion by Pakistan army regulars into Kargil. In one stroke of command issued by Musharraf, the 8-point confidence building measures (CBM) formula agreed upon through painstaking diplomatic brainstorming at Lahore was reduced to a farce. "Betrayal" and "backstabbing" are two anodyne words for describing this denouement.

After a reasonable lull in the courting game, during which Musharraf formally took over power as Chief Executive of Pakistan, Vajpayee decided to be "realistic", accept the usurpation of a democratically elected leader and peddle peace to whoever is in power in Islamabad. The result was the predestined-to- fail Agra Summit in July 2001. Although Pakistan spun a yarn about how "hawks" and "hardliners" in India sabotaged what could have been an agreed final statement, the real reason for the aborted meeting was straightforwardly simple: Musharraf refused to abide by the "composite and integrated dialogue process" agreed upon at Lahore and tom-tommed Kashmir as "the core issue" and the only CBM. In other words, Nawaz Sharif's deals with India were his own and Musharraf would not stand by them because his government did not recognise the predecessor's policies. By extension of this logic, any pact, declaration or agreement signed between Vajpayee and Musharraf today can be disowned by Musharraf's successor and so on.

What stands out from an international law perspective in all the above cited examples from history is that Pakistan is a consistent violator of pacta sunt servanda, a universally accepted maxim guiding conduct of foreign relations conveying that "treaties shall be honoured." There is a putative escape clause to this principle, going by the Latin phrase rebus sic stantibus ("fundamental change of circumstances"), which allows parties to a treaty to withdraw unilaterally when it is determined fairly that the said treaty has outlived its value or that there have been systemic changes in the world order necessitating abrogation of obsolete conventions. How, pray, can Pakistan lay claim to rebus when there has been no such profound alteration in circumstances? How can anyone in all sanity claim a declaration signed two years ago to have become outdated? Maybe I am committing a mistake by introducing esoteric legal obligations and expecting Pakistan to conform. It is akin to forcibly feeding water to a stubborn horse.

Today, as the chorus of world leaders and well-intentioned commentators in favour of restarting the dialogue process with Pakistan gains weight, and as the memory of the terrorist outrages of December 13 slowly fades, the ball is once again being assumed by many to be in India's court and Vajpayee is being urged, cajoled and inundated with requests and advice to start negotiating again with Musharraf. The pragmatists are arguing that, sooner or later, we have to talk to Pakistan for resolution of outstanding disputes and that there is no other way out. The realists are pressing for tangible reduction in cross-border terrorism and infiltration as preconditions for demobilization of troops deployed on the border and talks, and it looks like that is how the government of India will approach the issue. But there is one essential factor that is missing in this debate about whether or not to extend the olive branch for yet another time. How, in light of Pakistan's past pedigree with regard to bilateral understandings, can talks be conducted without their violation within 24 hours?

Vajpayee reminisced after Agra that Musharraf betrayed "improper understanding of history" when they talked, but I am afraid the former's own understanding of history is Utopian. Signs of the PM throwing in the towel are ominously clear when he is promising to "go more than half the way" to meet Musharraf if terrorism were attenuated. But the point of this article is to warn India to hold its horses even if there is a temporary curb on jihad in Kashmir in the coming months (a very tall order in itself). India must learn a lesson from repeated Pakistani betrayals and treaty violations of the past and not hastily jump into a negotiatory stance. My call is for a behavioural and historical reading of an incorrigible flouter of international norms. If and when ISI-sponsored terrorist activity and destablisation ends for good and, equally important, Pakistan shows good faith towards pre-existing bilateral agreements, there is scope for dialogue. Until then, Musharraf should be met with a stony silence and allowed to cry his throat hoarse for the travesty that he variously calls "no war pact" and "negotiation".