Should the Indian Army talk?

By K.N. Pandita

The idea that Indian Army should establish contacts with Pakistan Army and talk about Kashmir or even Indo-Pak relations has been making rounds in political circles for some time in the past. Only recently, in a seminar organized at the University of Jammu, Major General, Rakesh Sharma, GOC 10 Infantry Division favoured direct contact between the armies of India and Pakistan.

There could be others in civil society who would welcome the idea. The sum and substance of their argument is that since political leadership has not been able to make a breakthrough in Kashmir impasse for more than six decades, the army should play a role to break the ice. It is further argued that since real power in Pakistan rests in the hands of Army and it is the arbiter of the destiny of Pakistan, therefore it would not be out of place if our and their armies enter into bilateral talks.  

What General Sharma said was “direct contact” and not bilateral talks which somehow is the refrain of excited political observers and commentators. One should differentiate direct contact from talks. Talks generally connote political interaction whereas “direct contact” would imply non-political and purely military or strategic interaction.

Our Army does have contact with Pak Army but at specific levels and for specific purposes. Presumably there is contact between the Directors of Field Operations of the two armies which are activated whenever necessity arises.

If the supporters of Army to Army interaction think of they talking with a sense of responsibility, that raises some doubts. Presuming that the ground is cleared for talks between the armies of the two countries, the Indian Army delegation will talk from a fragile and tenuous standpoint, something which should never happen. Pakistan Army is a state unto itself and a law unto itself. Its diktat cannot be challenged by the civil authority because Pakistan Army’s writ must run.

It should never be imagined that Indian Army does not have the potential to talk round a table. Indian Army has performed duty with the UN at crucial places and crucial junctures in the past. Furthermore it has always given a proof of its integrity and honesty in mediating over international disputes though of course within the frame of its mandate.

The point is that Pakistan Army has the power, authority and tradition to take a decision with or without the consent of the government and the civil society. Nobody can challenge it. In that sense it will talk from position of absolute power and authority.

On the other hand, Indian Army, the most disciplined army in the world, has never crossed its legitimate boundary and authority vested in it by the Act of Parliament. It is not the final authority of solving disputes, and when talking with its counterpart, who has the final authority, it will only expose its weakness and ambivalence.

Our Army’s stand on Kashmir is that a part of J&K State which has legally acceded to the Indian Union remains illegally occupied by Pakistan. In accordance with the conditions of accession signed by the then ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian Army has been requested to throw the invaders out of the borders of the State. This is the task before the Indian Army. The present cease fire is an interim measure allowing Pakistan time to negotiate with the Indian government how it will vacate the illegally occupied part.

It is Pakistan Army in the garb of ISI that has planned, sponsored and abetted armed insurgency in J&K State in 1990. It is Indian Army (and other security forces) that are confronting the armed intruders. It is Pakistan Army that has incepted training camps for terrorist training to Pakistani and Kashmir Muslim jihadis lured to these camps. Religion is exploited as convergence point for jihadi infiltrations and subversion in Kashmir.

The Indian government has more than once told Pakistan to dismantle these terrorist camps. India has asked the world community to emphasize on Pakistan to dismantle these camps if it is really serious in eradicating terrorism. But despite all this Pakistan never dismantled the camps and rather reinforced these. Pakistan turned Nehru offer of no war pact made twice. What else will our Army talk to them?

Thus if Army to Army talk is a proposition, then the first thing which the Indian Army will  and should demand of its counterpart is dismantling of these camps. Will Pakistan do that? Had it understood the gravity of situation, it would have dismantled them long back. It did not nor will it do that in near future.

Refusal of Pakistan Army to dismantle the terrorist camps is a foregone conclusion. Therefore Indian Army asking for something which Pakistan has stubbornly refused to do will only bring disrespect to the Indian Army. No country and much less India will be prepared to pocket such kind of insult. Army is meant to succeed whether on the table or on the ground.

It is true that Indian Army may have some questions about appropriateness of some strategic decisions of the Indian government in the context of Kashmir wars. Ordering of cease fire in 1948 when we were poised for final assault on Muzaffarabad which would have given us the control of Kishanganga valley or the easy return of crucial Haji Pir Pass which brave Indian soldiers had wrested from the hands of Pakistan in 1963 war, are some of the instances difficult to forget. But then the whole story speaks eloquently of the discipline of this great Army, the discipline of obeying the constitutional authority and maintaining the supremacy of the constitution. Indian army endeared itself to the Indian nation. The nation is proud of it and would never want the prestige and dignity of the Army compromised at any cost.

Indian Army has great many things to do than to get embroiled in fruitless talks with a reckless entity called Pakistan Army. The very idea of talking to it seems ill conceived. Time will come when Indian Army will be called upon by world to perform a task of immense historical importance to mankind.

We know that there are elements who would want the Army get embroiled in talks with Pakistan Army thereby raise the stock of the latter in the eyes of Pakistani public. The general view of Pakistani public is that Indian Army is mighty not only in terms of military strength but in terms of moral strength as well. Indian Army did not raise jihadis as Pakistani Army did and deployed them as front line fighters of Islamic cause to make them the cannon fodder for Indian guns. This is no small a difference in these two armies.

Lastly it has to be noted that the idea of Army to Army talks was mooted by some American think tanks and conveyed to New Delhi. In all probability, the idea originated from GHQ which wanted to re-establish its credibility with the people of Pakistan. GHQ has close contacts with Pentagon, and Pentagon interlocutors have, over and above the head of White House, often tried to blackmail India on Kashmir issue. By allowing our Army to talk to them, Pakistan Army would only find realization of its cherished desire.  Pakistan Army is in great turmoil. Its structure is showing deeper fissures with jihadis making deep inroads in all the three services. Will it survive in present formulation or not is anybody’s guess. Therefore the idea of talking to Pakistan Army now or in near future appears a meaningless exercise better to b avoided than pursued.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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