Former national security adviser MK Narayanan, now the governor of West Bengal, has always been a hawk. That he differed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on improving relations with Pakistan, does not come as a surprise to those who have followed his career from the days of his service in the intelligence agencies. Even then, his reports are said to have been anti-Pakistan. Such bureaucrats, on both sides, have not allowed normalisation between the two countries. And they are still at it.
I was amazed when Narayanan was appointed as the national security adviser (NSA). I could tell why, when I was told that he was close to the ‘dynasty’. His loyalty was tested during Mrs Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian rule and he came out on top. In the beginning, there were two advisers, one for politics and another for security. When former foreign secretary JN Dixit, heading the political side died, both segments came under Narayanan, thanks again to his proximity to the ‘dynasty’.
I admire the patience of Singh who put up with Narayanan for such a long time. Maybe, the prime minister could not convince the ‘dynasty’ that Narayanan should be moved elsewhere because he was not on the same page with him when it came to relations between India and Pakistan. Probably, the history of rapprochement between the two countries could have been different if Narayanan had not been the NSA.
A US diplomat cable released by the WikiLeaks says that when Mamohan Singh spoke about India’s shared destiny with Pakistan, Narayanan reportedly said: “You have a shared destiny, we do not.” There is no reason to disbelieve the report, particularly when India’s Foreign Office (FO) has expressed its inability to comment on it. Narayanan is the one who can throw light but he has preferred to keep silent on this aspect, although he has said that India wanted the custody of David Headley, a US citizen, who has had a hand in the Mumbai terrorist attacks.
Narayanan’s successor, Shiv Shankar Menon, was high commissioner at Islamabad. I found him to be a person who believed that India and Pakistan should be on the best of terms. I believe he has, of late, undergone a change, not on people-to-people contact, but the limit to which India should go to make up with Pakistan. He was not in favour of separating terrorism from talks as Singh had agreed at Sharm el-Sheikh. Menon is not yet a hawk, like Narayanan, but reportedly differs with Singh, who is willing to go the extra mile to make up with Pakistan.
Even during a memorial lecture that Menon delivered at New Delhi recently, he was equivocal on India’s future relations with Pakistan. He gave all credit to Singh for the positive, forward-looking policy and for his keenness in burying the hatchet with Pakistan.
But Menon was diffident to share his vision.
Therefore, our FO and the NSA are often seen at loggerheads with the prime minister’s office on relations with Pakistan. I can understand the burden of history becoming too heavy for a north Indian or a Punjabi who has suffered because of Partition. But both Narayanan and Menon belong to Kerala, the tip of the south and it is strange that the two top officials, particularly Narayanan, who even sabotaged the prime minister’s effort, should continue to occupy key positions in the government.
But them and others, who oppose friendship with Pakistan, do not seem to realise that India cannot always be preparing for a war or defense of its territory if it has to grow economically. They may come to the conclusion one day, as some fanatics in Pakistan are realising now, that there is no alternative to peace. Even a hardliner like General Pervez Musharraf, who started with a policy of fire and brimstone, ultimately came to infer that Pakistanis and Indians had to live as friendly neighbours. He agreed to the present borders but proposed how to make them irrelevant. His formula is still lying somewhere in Pakistan’s FO, accumulating dust. But the formula should have been the starting point for the talks going on behind the scenes.
That Singh remains positive is a plus point to our otherwise wishy-washy foreign policy.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2011.