”Those whom the gods destroy they first make mad.” There is a madness about the triangular relationship between India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. They all have resented and often hated each other, made alliances against each other, worked together when it was opportune, supported or, at least, turned too much of a blind eye to terrorists in each other’s countries and became profoundly angry if terrorism was unleashed against them.
These cleavages can be traced back to the days of the Great Game of the 19th century—the British-Russian struggle for supremacy in Afghanistan and central Asia. But ever since the Red Army invaded Afghanistan in 1979 and was finally defeated by the Taliban aided by American, Saudi Arabian and Indian arms and training, the intensity of the Game has been ratcheted up and extended step by step to now frightening proportions, worsened by America’s decision to go to war with its former close ally, the Taliban. It is no longer just a Great Game. It has become a Great Madness. One hostile act impacts on another and then the two together create a third and then the three together create a fourth… and so on.
It has long been known that the Pakistan-based terrorists who struggle to liberate Kashmir from India’s grip have close connections with the Taliban. There is also little doubt that those Pakistani terrorists whose primary interest is a free Kashmir know that one way of wounding India is to hurt India’s growing political and diplomatic interests in Afghanistan—interests that are, in turn, all about encircling Pakistan in order to have a counter against Pakistan’s ambitions for Kashmir.
At the same time, it is fair to say that successive Pakistani governments over the last decade have attempted to rein in the terrorists who operate from Pakistani soil or Pakistani Kashmir. But given past channels of support from earlier governments—not to mention the close connection developed over decades between terrorist movements trying to liberate Kashmir or to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s intelligence services—it has proved difficult to completely break the old umbilical cord.
Pakistani tactics profoundly changed for the better under President Pervez Musharraf and they have arguably changed even more under the new government of Zardari who, let us not forget, lost his wife, Benazir Bhutto, in the bombing carried out by these very same Pakistan-based terrorists. His statement renouncing Pakistan’s first use doctrine for its nuclear weapons was a landmark step forward.
Now, with the Mumbai terrorist action, it seems that India and Pakistan are being pushed back to square one. This is largely India’s fault. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government has been to slow to respond to overtures of peace from Pakistan. The insouciant body language that shrugged off Zardari’s statement on nuclear policy was totally reprehensible, given its significance. But even worse was Singh’s refusal to grab the deal offered by Musharraf at a time when he controlled both the government and military of Pakistan. Musharraf stunningly reversed Pakistan’s long time policy by implicitly accepting India’s continuing rule over its part of Kashmir; every western diplomat I talked to in Islamabad and New Delhi last year thought that India would never get a better offer.
These same diplomats believe that Singh is India’s leading dove when it comes to dealing with Pakistan. But, if this is true, it shows how India is in hock to conservative elements in its intelligence services, foreign ministry and the army. And, Singh would also add—as he did to me in conversation last year—public opinion. ”How can you expect me to push a peace agreement on Kashmir when militants are coming from Pakistan every few months to set off bombs in India? No leader can be too far ahead of public opinion.”
When I repeated these words a few days later to Musharraf he gave this compelling riposte (As recorded in my article in the March 2007 edition of Prospect): ”If everyone in the world looked for calm and peace before reaching a solution, we would never achieve peace anywhere. It is the political deal itself that can produce calm. Bomb blasts are a result of the problem. Let’s not put the cart before the horse.”
With Musharraf gone, the best chance of a deal has gone too. Even though Zardari seems willing to try it, is unclear if Pakistan’s military can be led to the starting line as easily as it could have been by Musharraf. Besides, after Mumbai, the atmosphere is so badly poisoned in India that Singh presumably is even more convinced he can’t take any grand steps towards Pakistan.
But this is what separates a statesman from a politician. Cometh the hour, cometh the man? Singh must risk all and reach out and grab Pakistan’s peace offers. Only then might the triangle of madness be broken.