Indo-Pak talks were a waste of time: Parthasarthy

Indo-Pak talks were a waste of time: ParthasarthyIndia and Pakistan recently held Foreign Secretary-level talks, which in substance failed to yield any concrete results. Instead, they led to a blame game over the issues discussed during the parleys.

Many then asked, why did India go to the negotiating table with Pakistan? Did New Delhi change its stand taken after the 26/11 attacks? There have been speculations, assumptions and debates ever since the long hiatus ended and bilateral talks resumed. Experts have even said that India emerged a bigger loser vis-à-vis Pakistan after the talks.

G Parthasarthy, India’s former High Commissioner to Pakistan and an authority on foreign affairs, shared his views with Biplob Ghosal of on the Indo-Pak talks, as well as other wide ranging strategic issues.
Biplob: Do you see ‘Indo-Pak talks’ as an exercise in futility?

Parthasarthy: Well, it depends upon what the talks are about. If we have talks with very careful agenda, focused on terrorism, then yes talks are useful. But, if you are going to have an expanded agenda or composite dialogue, then Pakistan will divert the attention from terrorism to differences we have on other issues.

Biplob: Do you think the Pakistani Army should be made a party to the talks?

Parthasarthy: Well, I think we need to develop mechanisms to be able to talk to Pakistan’s Army leadership. After all, whether it is the US, Saudi Arabia or China, they all realise that the democratic government really has very little or no powers in taking decisions on national security and foreign policy. That is the prerogative of the Army. So yes, some ways of having talks with the Army leadership need to be developed.

Biplob: Do you agree with Shashi Tharoor’s statement that Saudi Arabia can be an interlocutor in dealing with Pakistan?

Parthsarthy: Look, in principle, I am opposed to asking others to help us out in dealing with Pakistan in such a public manner. It does not do India’s image any good; it actually demeans India. It makes us look like a supplicant, and as if we cannot mange Pakistan and we need others to help us manage it. So, publicly referring to the role of a third party demeans India’s national dignity.

Biplob: The situation in Pakistan has deteriorated from bad to worse. How real is the threat of the country falling to extremists and its repercussions for the world in general and India in particular?

Parthasarthy: Well, I do see that if the present tendencies continue, the writ of the Pakistani government, including its Army, will get weakened. In fact, in the report titled ‘Global Trends 2015’ by National Intelligence Council of CIA, it was predicted almost 10 years ago that Pakistan was headed in this direction. If Pakistan continues with its present policies, then yes extremism is going to gain greater strength. That is the price which Pakistan and the entire world will have to pay.

Biplob: To what extent are nuclear weapons safe in Pakistan?

Parthsarthy: At the present moment, under Lt Gen Khaild Kidwai, who heads the strategic command authority in Pakistan, the weapons are reasonably safe because they are kept in separated form. Fissile core is kept separated from explosive package. And no ordinary individual can put these two together unless he knows the codes and so on. So yes, they are safe. But who knows, till when! We are getting a new generation of Pakistani Army officers, who were recruited during General Zia’s times, and who are now Lt Generals and holding command positions. Many of them have Islamist sympathies. So, let’s see what emerges.
Biplob: Is Kashmir the real cause of Indo-Pak conflict or is it just that the Pakistani Army needs the issue for its survival?

Parthsarthy: On April 11, 1999, Gen Musharraf was asked at a conference in Karachi whether problems with India will end if Kashmir is resolved. And his answer then was ‘No’. India is a hegemonic power and low-intensity conflict with India will continue even if Kashmir is resolved. Now, Gen Musharraf may have changed in the last years of his presidency. But I do believe that Gen Kayani still holds this view. Now, they are making big song and dance about waters. Their maps still show Hyderabad and Junagarh as parts of Pakistan. So, till Pakistan learns to live in peace with itself, it will not allow its neighbours to live in peace.

Biplob: India has been one of the biggest donor countries in Afghanistan, then why was its stand of there being no good and bad Taliban rejected in the London conference.

Parthsarthy: It depends on how one reads it. What was said in the London conference was that the Western powers will support moves by President Karzai to bring Taliban back into the national mainstream. For this, Taliban will have to give up arms and accept the Afghan Constitution. Now, if they give up arms and accept the Afghan Constitution, then they are no longer Taliban.

Biplob: What should be India’s policy towards Afghanistan in the aftermath of the rejection of its stand on Taliban and the recent Kabul attack?

Parthasarthy: I don’t accept that our stand has been totally rejected. I don’t see any harm if Taliban comes back to the mainstream. Our view is that if there is Taliban, then there is no good or bad Taliban.

As regards the attacks, Pakistan is behind all these strikes. The first attack was by the Haqqani group. And in the second attack, there are traces of Lashkar support. My view is that we should develop capabilities to inflict equal damage on Pakistan.

Biplob: What’s your take on Pakistan blaming India for the attacks on its soil?

Parthasarthy: I think Pakistan is overestimating our capabilities and will.

Biplob: Do you really see US being serious in pressurising Pakistan in dismantling terror infrastructure, which is affecting India?

Parthsarthy: The US is pressurising Pakistan, but it cannot pressurise Pakistan beyond a point because it needs Islamabad for its strategy in Afghanistan.

Biplob: What conclusions do you draw from the recently held Indo-Pak talks?

Parthsarthy: It was a waste of time. I don’t know why these talks were held when Mr Chidambaram was scheduled to go to Islamabad in any case. We should have waited for his visit, first see the results and then propose such talks. The timing was wrong, the modalities were wrong and Pakistan took advantage of it.