Kargil diplomacy

Print edition : July 31, 1999

Although the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government brought about an end to Pakistan's reckless adventure along the LoC, its record on the diplomatic front is highly suspect.

IN October 1962, United States President John F. Kennedy discovered that the Soviet Union had placed missiles on Cuba which could wreak destruction on his country. The world stood on the brink of a nuclear war between the two superpowers. Kennedy secured the withdrawal of the missiles; but through secret exchanges with Nikita Khrushchev, using back channels more than one. John Scali, ABC newsreader, was one of them. Thirty years later, under an agreement between the U.S. and Russia, the complete confide ntial correspondence between the two was published in Problems of Communism (Spring 1992), a journal published by the U.S. Government. None can accuse Kennedy of deceiving his own people.

It is to the lasting discredit of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government that, although it brought about an end to Pakistan's reckless adventure along the northern segment of the Line of Control (LoC), thanks entirely to the sacrifices of the jawans, its word is highly suspect. On each of the six points in issue, it has lied to the people brazenly, systematically - safe passage to the intruders; secret deals with Pakistan; negotiations with Pakistan prior to the withdrawal of the intruders; U.S. medi ation; ceasefire; and accord on a ceasefire with Pakistan.

It is a classic case of gunah be lizzat (sin without its pleasures); for, the deception was wholly unnecessary. Such crises require a blend of diplomacy and military force, inspired by commitment to the national weal. The government lied, first wh en it panicked and next because it sought to reap political advantage out of the crisis. It is estimated that had the ceasefire not been arranged when it was, on July 11, Kaksar would have seen bitter fighting. A major offensive that began on July 6 had shown few results. Pakistan had succeeded in reinforcing its positions. True, its forces were demoralised; but, much bloodshed was averted and would have been averted if the Government had not politicised Kargil. Bar the formal all-party meetings, no eff ort was made to take the principal leaders of the Opposition into confidence. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee did not take the people into confidence, either.

Early in the day, both Defence Minister George Fernandes and the Prime Minister (on June 1 and 2 respectively) offered the intruders "safe passage" in explicit terms. The Prime Minister stipulated a condition - not "without talks with Pakistan." Safe pas sage necessarily implies a prior accord with two obvious elements - Pakistan's undertaking to withdraw and India's assurance to hold fire while it did so. It was not a unilateral affair as it is being made out to be now.

The offer was made most unwisely in public ahead of Pakistan Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz's trip to India on June 11. Having panicked earlier, once it discovered the magnitude of the intrusion, the government now backed down publicly ("no question" of it , on June 3) in the face of understandable criticism of its offer. As has been well said by Abba Eban, "It is unrealistic to expect political leaders to ignore public opinion. But a statesman who keeps his ear permanently glued to the ground will have ne ither elegance of posture nor flexibility of movement."

"Safe passage" has an assured place in diplomacy. In international law of war, it is known as "safe-conduct." The classic work on international law by Oppenheim describes it thus: "A safe conduct is a written permission given by a belligerent to enemy su bjects or others, allowing them to proceed to a particular place for a defined object; for instance, to a besieged town for conducting certain negotiations, or to enable them to return home across sea." A few pages later, the work adds: "Complaint s lodged with neutral states may instigate one or more of them to lend their good offices or mediation to the belligerents for the purpose of settling the conflict arising from charges and denials of illegitimate acts or omissions of warfare; and reso rt to reprisals may thus be prevented." In this case, our crossing the LoC with all its consequences (emphasis added throughout).

What is the difference between "good offices" and "mediation"? Another classic, Starke's International Law, now edited by Prof. I. A. Shearer of the University of Sydney, states the difference with crystal clarity: "In the case of good offices, a third party renders its services in order to bring the disputing parties together, and to suggest (in general terms) the making of a settlement, without itself actually participating in the negotiations or conducting an exhaustive inquiry into th e various aspects of the dispute. Hence, once the parties have been brought together for the purpose of working out a solution of their controversies, strictly speaking the state or party rendering good offices has no further active duties to perform... In the case of mediation, on the other hand, the mediating party has a more active role, and participates in the negotiations and directs them in such a way that a peaceful solution may be reached, although any suggestions made by it are of no binding ef fect upon the parties. The initiative of the Soviet Government at the end of 1965 and early in 1966 in bringing representatives of India and Pakistan together at Tashkent to settle the conflict between them, and in creating a propitious atmosphere for a settlement, seems to have lain somewhere between good offices and mediation." (Butterworths; 11th edn. 24.95, pp.629 on page 466. See also International Law by Malcolm Shaw; Cambridge University Press; 4th edn.; pp. 939, a low-priced paperback.)

There is another aspect, besides. India and Pakistan are both parties to the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War (1949). It envisages a role for third parties; either for States as "protecting powers whose duty it is to safeguard the i nterests of the parties to the conflict" or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). A news agency message with a Colombo dateline (July 18) tells us about the ICRC arranging "a deal between both sides allowing safe passage for civilians and relief supplies." In the present case, the government could have stuck to its offer, a sound one though unwisely proclaimed in public, or it could have pursued the aggressors disdaining diplomacy. It claimed to have done the latter, while secretly doing the former. There was no need to beat the nation. It did so by force of habit.

Prime Ministers Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif at a joint press conference in Lahore on February 21.-SHANKER CHAKRAVARTY

A fortnight after his offer of safe passage, George Fernandes thundered, at Samba on June 15, that the intruders should "either surrender without further waste of time to India or get killed." On July 11, he ate his words. Directors-General of Military O perations (DGMOs) of both sides reached an accord on safe conduct and ceasefire. A lot happened between June 1 and July 11, apart from the bloodshed. Mediators stepped in at the Indian Government's instance and it covered this up with sustained pr evarication.

As the former Chief of Navy Staff, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat, told a correspondent of The Asian Age (July 19) in armed conflict there is a surrender document that is signed by both armies; "There is a white flag, after which the defeated Army can be allowed safe passage. In the present case, he said, everything was negotiated behind the scenes at the political level. 'De facto the infiltrators appear to have got a safe passage,' not through military negotiations but by exchanging of (s ic) secret envoys and telephone calls in the middle of the night, he added." The Admiral, evidently, knows. The record between June 1 and July 11 proves him to be right.

On June 3, President Bill Clinton wrote to the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan. As the situation worsened, international interest increased. Vajpayee at once began speaking with a forked tongue. He claimed on June 14 that he had told Nawaz Sharif t he day before, during their third telephone conversation, "You withdraw your troops and then we are prepared for talks." That very evening Clinton called him, again, and counselled against escalation. Clinton called Nawaz Sharif the next day and asked th at his "forces are withdrawn."

However, a mere four days after his public rejection of talks, Vajpayee sent on June 18 emissaries to Pakistan in secret. The emissaries were, of all persons, R. K. Mishra, and Vivek Katju of the Ministry of External Affairs. This became kn own in detail only on July 1. A day earlier (June 30), Vajpayee had claimed that he had told Pakistan's emissary, Niaz A. Naik, on June 27 that "unless Pakistani forces leave Kargil, no discussions on any (sic.) matter can take place." What he sup pressed from the public was the fact that, contrary to his tall and unwise claims in public, he had secretly sent emissaries to Pakistan on June 18, six days after Sartaj Aziz's trip to Delhi. It is bad form to publicise private exchanges on the phone. I t is worse to deceive the public. On July 19, Pakistan Foreign Secretary, Shamshad Ahmad revealed that R. K. Mishra had visited Pakistan as India's emissary at least five times during the crisis, while Niaz Naik also kept shuttling between Islamabad and New Delhi (The Hindu, July 20).

Meanwhile, another exercise was afoot. The Group of Eight countries were to meet at the summit in Cologne on June 19. The External Affairs Ministry's official spokesman said on June 17 that India was regularly updating its members on the Kargil situation . It went further. On June 16, Brajesh Mishra, "National Security Adviser," delivered to his U.S. counterpart Sandy Berger "an alarming letter" from Vajpayee to Clinton. Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Harkishan Singh Surjeet's deman d for publication of this letter has been unanswered and is unanswerable. For Vajpayee clearly sought Clinton's intercession with Pakistan. Obviously, he was desperate for quick results - a letter to Clinton was sent on June 16 and R. K. Mishra wa s despatched to Nawaz Sharif on June 18.

On June 19, The Telegraph reported: "India has turned to Washington for help to convince the world's richest and most powerful nations - the Group of Eight - of the need to send a strong signal to Pakistan to vacate the armed intrusion in Kargil." How can India question their locus standi if, later, they intercede with it to promote a political settlement of the Kashmir dispute?

On June 26, The Washington Post reported in detail what followed. The contents of Vajpayee's letter were duly conveyed to Clinton. He sent multiple messages to both sides; pressed Pakistan to withdraw and India to observe restraint; and persuaded the G-8 to pronounce on the issue. They did so on June 20, calling for the withdrawal of armed intruders back to the LoC. The next day, a relieved Vajpayee said: "We welcome the G-8 statement."

But, thanks to his letter, Clinton was prodded to go further. Gen. Anthony Zinni, Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Central Command, and Gibson Lanpher, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, were sent to Pakistan on June 22 while Lanpher came to India on June 26. A day earlier, Vajpayee rushed back to New Delhi for a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security; but not before he had declaimed at a rally there: "There is no question of holding any talks until the last intruder backed by it (Pakistan) is driven ou t across the LoC and it agrees to talk on the lines suggested by us." This claim was made at least thrice (June 14, 25 and 30); only to be exposed as false on July 1 when the R. K. Mishra trip became known definitely. Why did the Prime Minister ru sh back to Delhi on June 25? It was to discuss "a set of proposals emanating from Islamabad." Note that Lanpher came to Delhi the next day from Islamabad.

U.S. President Bill Clinton.-J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / AP

The most charitable explanation for Vajpayee's remarks is that he was confused. He assured Opposition leaders on June 28 that there would be no "secret deals". He told the Chief Ministers, on July 7, "We are willing to give diplomacy a chance if that wil l enable us to achieve our objective." Did he expect diplomacy to work through public exchanges?

Pakistan sensed the situation. It could save face by seeking the mediation of the very person whom India had asked to intercede - Bill Clinton. Pakistan's Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, hinted on June 26 that Nawaz Sharif might meet Clinton soon. He did on July 4. In form their joint statement represented a bilateral agreement. But, if Clinton interrupted the parleys to talk to Vajpayee, it could not have been to brief him on what had gone on between him and Nawaz Sharif. Briefing could hav e been done later at the end, as it is commonly done. Clinton, obviously, was putting forth his proposals to Vajpayee to make sure of his acceptance of the deal he had already persuaded Nawaz Sharif to accept. It was left to Sandy Berger and Strobe Talbo tt to fill in the details, respectively, with Brajesh Mishra and Jaswant Singh.

After a remarkable week's lull in public utterances, news broke out that the DGMOs of both countries met at Attari on the border, on July 11. What transpired at Attari on July 11 is as relevant to the credibility of the BJP-led government as what went on at Blair House a week earlier, on July 4. The two were linked to each other. Vajpayee gave the "good news" to a hurriedly convened all-party meeting that very day - as hurriedly as the DGMOs met that day.

Disingenuity broke loose. Brajesh Mishra merely detected "some evidence of the withdrawal already taking place" in some sectors of the LoC. Sartaj Aziz, on the other hand, said plainly enough: "The DGMOs ... agreed on the modalities of de-escalati on, including sector-by-sector cessation of ground and air operations to facilitate the mujahideen's disengagement." He also said: "Following the mujahideen's positive response to our appeal to de-escalate in Kargil, the Government of Pakistan and the Government of India have been in contact on the question of the restoration of the LoC." He was reading out a prepared statement to the press. This is an accord on ceasefire. Mishra gave the game away when he said: "We hope that in seven days the status quo ante on the Line of Control will be restored if it goes according to plan"; an agreed plan, obviously. The Additional DGMO, Major-Gen. J. J. Singh, said that the Army had greatly reduced its offensive from the night of July 10. Obv iously, it was the old safe-passage formula which had been reworked to success by Clinton whereas it could well have been promoted in direct India-Pakistan exchange.

Jaswant Singh's sophistry is typical of our politicians. He said on July 12 that "there is no ceasefire, there is no cessation of hostilities," only an assurance to "the retreating Pakistani forces that their withdrawal would not be impleaded through fir e. This is a decision that has been taken between (sic) the two DGMOs. This is a military decision. Safe passage is a political decision and that has not been taken..." This is puerile. Could the DGMOs have taken that decision, in such a situation withou t the prior approval of their political leaders? Could they have even dared to meet at all without that approval? On July 18, he proceeded in this strain to add that "there is no place for mediation, even for intermediaries." Only two days later Vajpayee received a call from Clinton urging him to resume talks with Pakistan.

In an excellent analysis, Amit Baruah of The Hindu (July 14) nailed these falsehoods to the counter. He asked: "Why can't New Delhi be up front and say that to save the lives of our soldiers a comprehensive agreement has been worked out for the wi thdrawal of the Pakistanis? Is it because elections have already been announced in India and a 'military vijaya' for the BJP will look better than a mutually accepted pull-out?"

And which channel was used to work out the deal? Was it the Niaz Naik-R. K. Mishra channel? "Or, was the pull-out firmed up in Washington, when during a break in the Clinton-Sharif meeting on July 4, the U.S. President spoke to the Indian Prime Minister Mr. A. B. Vajpayee?" Evidently, the latter. "It is also a fact that Indian forces held their fire as Pakistani intruders pulled back from the Indian side of the LoC. It is imperative for the Governments to make public the exact nature of the political co ntacts which were first hinted at by the Pakistani Foreign Minister Sartaj Aziz on July 11." (The Hindu, July 21).

The External Affairs Ministry's official spokesman said on July 16: "The U.S. had mentioned a sequence of steps, like most other major world powers, that they wanted to be taken to end the conflict. They spoke about withdrawal of intruders. Cessation of hostilities and finally a return to the Lahore dialogue process." But, as The Telegraph reported, "In private, South Block bureaucrats admit that the role played by the U.S. was much more than what other countries did.... Few Indian officials deny that the Kashmir dispute has been internationalised. But they argue that by doing so New Delhi has benefited as most world powers have sided with it." (The Telegraph, July 17).

The conclusion is inescapable. The Government granted safe passage to the intruders, made a secret deal with Pakistan with whom it parleyed even while the intrusion was on and agreed to a ceasefire. It did all this in breach of claims it made foolishly a nd unnecessarily. And it went on this course under American mediation when it could very well have struck a deal with Pakistan directly. Every country of significance pronounced on the crisis. Consider the record the European Union's German Presidency sp oke on May 27 in Bonn; its council at Brussels, on May 31; G-8's Foreign Ministers at Cologne on June 10; its leaders, on June 25; and on July 20 neutral Finland which holds the E.U. Presidency urged Indian and Pakistan to start talks and a "Declaration of the Presidency on behalf of the European Union concerning Kashmir" was issued in Brussels and Bonn on June 24. In 1998, by the nuclear tests and in 1999 by its neglect and ineptness, the Government promoted the internationalisation of Kashmir.

India and Pakistan stood on the brink of war in 1950. Jawaharlal Nehru invited Liaquat Ali Khan to India. Their Agreement of April 6, 1956 saved the peace. They were far smaller men who came after them.

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