NDIAN Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh initially claimed he had been in secret contact with Pakistan’s Army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani for the last eight months negotiating peace, however when the heat was turned upon him from his domestic detractors, he decided to withdraw his claim. The revelation was made through a British media report and it is not understood what the Indian Prime Minister was trying to achieve through the disclosure. The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in New Delhi on Sunday denied the sensational British media report that Dr. Manmohan Singh had appointed an envoy to start secret unofficial talks with the Pakistan Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani to kick off an engagement that resulted in the cricket bonhomie last month. In a statement, PM’s media adviser Harish Khare said, “We have seen media reports quoting a British newspaper saying that PM Manmohan Singh contacted Pakistan army Chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani before the Mohali meeting between the two prime ministers. The report is false.” The PMO’s denial came along with the opposition BJP issuing a cautionary note on starting unofficial talks with the Pakistan Army, which it said was the institution most hostile to India.
The astounding media report raises many questions. First, there has been a longstanding feeling within the government and outside that India should open talks with Pakistan but it appears that the Indian PMO has mistakenly assumed that the Pakistan Army is the real centre of authority, much more than the civilian government which India deals with so it thought it opportune to pursue the khaki track. General Kayani, who now only meets defence ministers, prime ministers and presidents, has reportedly ignored the Indian envoy in Islamabad’s overtures. Indian media opines that there is a strong concern in India about the “inequality” of the interlocutors, which has prevented them from bringing the Pakistan Army into the dialogue process. So, while it’s not unusual for India to start talks with Kayani on an unofficial basis, it would have to be at a fairly high official level. Second, what would the talks be about? If Pakistan’s civilian government doesn’t give the go-ahead, the Pakistan Army wouldn’t be engaging in dialogue with India anyway. The Pakistan Army is under US pressure to open a fresh front in North Waziristan on the western border, which means it might make sense for them to open up a channel of communication on the eastern border. A more important subject of conversation with the Pakistan Army would be Afghanistan, where both Pakistan and India have deep interests, all divergent from each other. The endgame there is still a while away, though, but Pakistan is averse to any Indian military role in Afghanistan. Third, India has an unfortunate history of back-channel talks. In the Vajpayee years, the Indian government had used R K Mishra of Observer Research Foundation to start talks with Pakistan before Kargil, which, according to Indian government sources then, was an unhappy experience. Later, it was India’s national security adviser Brajesh Mishra who started unofficial talks with General Pervez Musharraf’s adviser, the late Niaz Naik, and later, Tariq Aziz, which all ended fruitlessly. However, for Dr. Manmohan Singh, to initially let on that he is keen to engage General Kayani and later to backtrack appears to prove his ancestry, infamous for such fauxpas.