Dialogue April-June, 2015, Volume 16 No. 4
Indo-Pak Relations: Awaiting Better Times
Indo-Pak relations have never been easy during the last sixty-seven years. More one tries to change it, more it remains the same. Four wars, including Kargil (1999), numerous rounds of talks, efforts by outside powers to mediate directly or indirectly, has not borne any fruit. Baggage of history of partition, deep suspicions and lack of trust and perceived grievances have made India and Pakistan adversorial neighbours. Any change must address the need for an attitudinal and structural shift between a “status quoist” India and “Revisionist” Pakistan. Thus, the only way forward is to jettison the past and mutual prejudices and shibboleths it has spawned. Indo-Pak relations can only normalise if both the countries decide to live in future and not in the past. For this one requires statesman like political culture in both the countries, which was visible for a brief period between 2004-2007, but has, alas, disappeared. It is the mindset which is the main problem and has to change. The Mumbai massacre (26.11.08) by Pakistan based LET/JUD and strong protest against the Prime Minister of India for agreeing to resume dialogue at Sharm-el-Sheikh (13 July, 2009), and presently reservations over the NDA govt.’s decision to resume dialogue process underlines that nothing has changed and that both the countries for the time being are condemned to live in their past. Presently, it may also be subject to external developments in the region.
Even the disaster (from the Indian point of view) of the joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh (13 July, 2009), later disowned by the PM in the Parliament, to pursue the dialogue process to resolve their problems and delink if from the acts of terror, could not revive the process. A number of bilateral meetings in the past of the Prime Ministers and delegations have produced only inanities like confidence building measures, sputtering transborder trade in J&K, stillborn efforts at free trade and MFN status for India etc. Any number of track 2 efforts also add to the never-ending possibilities of improving the Indo-Pak relations. Lack of any substantial progress only underscores the difficulties and obstacles in the way.
Since the November, 2008 Mumbai attack by the Pakistan govt. linked LET/JUD, in which 166 people, including foreigners (six U.S. citizens) were killed and over 200 injured, Pakistan had been on the defensive over its alleged links with anti-India terrorist groups and Taliban and Haqqani groups operating in Afghanistan against the IASF and ANA. While denying its sponsorship of terror outfits against India and Afghanistan, Pakistan consistently portrays itself as a victim of terror. Some misguided Indians also seem to agree with it. Pakistan’s victimhood posture conceals the fact that it’s victim of its own policy options and radical Muslim modules and devices it helped grow. India and Afghanistan are victims of the Pak sponsored terror outfits, and not their own progenies like Pakistan.
The Modi govt. earlier in 2014 adopted a strong and pragmatic posture by calling off the secretary level talks in protest against the Pak High Commissioner meeting the Kashmir Valley secessionist leaders prior to the talks, and responding strongly to the ceasefire violations in the J&K. The govt. of India now seems to be considering opening dialogue with Pakistan again, starting with secretary level talks.
Dialogue for a peaceful resolution of any problem is a laudable objective and must be preferred over all other options. However, for it to succeed the timing and the prevalent objective conditions are important factors. Are the responses of Pakistan and its present internal dynamics propitious for the change of course from govt.’s earlier stand that Pakistan must cease assisting terror against India and bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai carnage to book. Infact, due to the dependence for the supplies to the USA/ISAF in Afghanistan, Pakistan has gradually strengthened its bargaining position and continued getting economic and defence aid from the USA and West. Following withdrawal of the US/ISAF in mid-2014 from Afghanistan, it has come in its own as a mediator between Taliban and Afghan govt. It is cocking a snook at international community and India, over the trial of Lakhvi and others in Mumbai attack case, with Lakhvi, and Hafiz Syed the JUD chief, free and being publicly lauded. The internal dynamics of Pakistan has also changed in favour of hardline Pak Army vis-à-vis the Sharif-led civilian govt. following the army orchestrated protest movement (2014) by Imran Khan and Maulana Quadri. Now the Pak army is again fully incharge of policies on India and Afghanistan and support to terror groups like Taliban. LET, Jaish-e-Muhammad, Haqqani group etc. Due to this and some recent developments in the neighbourhood, including the Chinese assertive drive to dominate Asia and Eurasia through ‘One Belt One Road’ and Silk Route initiatives, its closest ally Pakistan is now in an unenviable position, being courted by all e.g. USA, Russia, Afghanistan and China for its influence over Taliban. Saudi Arabia has always been its ardent supporter and mentor. With opening of defence links with Russia its importance in value chain goes up and is a notice to the USA.
Pakistan at present is sitting pretty, being courted by one and all and is under no mood or compulsion to entertain India in any way. Pakistan was able to fob us off when it was in difficulties and to expect any response, beyond the diplomatic meaningless noises is not only improbable but demeaning, considering the past Pakistani conduct. We may even be rebuffed openly after Pakistan has succeeded in cutting us off in Afghanistan, both by the Afghan govt. and others including the USA. On Pak demand India is not part of the Istambul Process to mediate the Afghanistan problem. Afghanistan and Pakistan govt., including the Pak army, have become close in the hope that Pakistan will deliver Taliban and as a consequence India has been sidelined in Afghan affairs. Result is that anti-India rhetoric and postures of Pakistan are going up and is manifest in Sartaj Aziz. NSA and Adviser Foreign Affairs, during his recent visit to USA accusing India of assisting terror attacks in Pakistan and the Baloch rebellion. Its Army Chief Rahil Sharief on 3 June, 2015, while addressing the Pakistan Defence University function at Quetta, described Kashmir as an unfinished agenda of partition to be solved as per UN Resolutions. P.M. Nawaz Sharief accused (2 June, 2015) India of trying to interfere and sabotage the China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) project. He sounded contemptuous of Indian protests which China has also rejected. It is now back to the old times, with Pakistan unapologetic and on the offensive. Its latest fullminations against Indian Army operation on Indo-Myanmar border in June 2015, including a senate resolution, accusing India of hegemonistic designs and being responsible for terror acts in Pakistan defines the Pakistan attitude.
Therefore, the current efforts at opening the dialogue process with Pakistan is not only inopportune but a waste of diplomatic effort and goodwill. Neither the timing nor the internal and external dynamics of Pakistan’s politics and external environment is conducive to any meaningful engagement. The whole Pakistan approach towards India is rooted in its two-nation ideology for partition; its own insecurities due to larger India; crisis of a credible identity following the 1971- war and creation of Bangladesh and its penchant to define itself always in relation to India and an obsessive pursuit of “parity” with India in everything. Kashmir issue is now only used to rationalise its proxy-war/terror acts against India. However, for the Pakistan Army, which calls all the shots vis-à-vis India, the reference point has shifted from 1947 to 1971, when it lost a war and half of the country. Revenge and no-compromise, notwithstanding all the denials, defines its mindset. In the given current circumstances, to expect Pakistan to respond in any meaningful manner is puerile.
Another developing angle is the growing and enlarged Chinese factor. Sino-Pak relationship has always been under-pinned by a common strategic adversary viz. India. With the inaugural of the ambitious ‘One Belt One Road’ project of China meant to economically dominate Asia-Eurasia; the 3000 km China-Pak Economic Corridor (CPEC) from Kashghar – to Gawadar Port is its integral and most important part. China has committed, for the first time, $ 46 billion over 15 years to the project besides, six submarines, 100 jet fighters and three plutonium plants to Pakistan. Both driven by animosity towards India for their own reasons, China is too happy to use willing Pakistan to contain India to South Asia region. It is in a larger strategic context of the India’s growing proximity to the USA and Japan and the USA’s initiatives like Pivot to Asia and Pacific-Asia Project, excluding China.
For the first time China has made considerable financial committment to Pakistan, thus changing the earlier only security and defence oriented agreements. Its proposed investments far exceed that of the USA. In the long run it will be a game changer, with the emergence of China in the region replacing the USA, which seems to be on the retreat in this region, despite its Pivot to Asia, and Asia-Pacific initiatives. With China’s looming larger presence in Pak-Afghanistan region, the Indo-Pak relations, in the short run will have no traction unless strategic Sino-Indian relations improve, of which there is no immediate prospect.
The current realities affirm that peace and normalization of relations with India does not figure in the calculations of the ruling establishment and the dominent Pakistan army. Peace will upset the very rationale for the army’s grip on power and that of the Mullahs in the affairs of the State. The tightening strategic-economic embrace of China will also render Indo-Pak relations subject to its growing influence in the region of which there are incipient signs. There are hardly any prospects of Pakistan acting against the terrorist groups working against India, and even in Afghanistan. Expectations that following the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attack on the army school in Peshawar in December 2014, killing 133 school children, the attitude of Pakistan towards all the terrorist groups would change was soon belied. All the actions only target the TTP and none else. Despite all the bonhomie with the Afghan govt. in May, 2015 the Haqqani group, allegedly linked to the ISI, executed two attacks in Kabul city itself, killing 14 persons in an attack on a hotel, including 4 Indians, and in the other 4 persons lost lives. Over 1800 Afghan soldiers and policemen have been killed so far in spring offensive since January, 2015 by Taliban and its allies in Afghanistan. This is higher than last year. The expectations of the Afghan govt. that Pakistan will be able to restrain Taliban is under strain. Both are testing the will and staying capability of the Afghanistan govt. and army. Both Pakistan and Taliban did the same successfully to the US led ISAF for a decade. The Afghan govt. is in for tough terms of negotiations and even threat of a civil war.
To anybody who can hear, the Pakistan rhetoric against India is rising by the day. Pakistan will insist, as in the past, that settlement of Kashmir and Siachen etc. must precede any meaningful negotiations. Pakistan army chief has already stated so on 3 June, 2015, at Quetta Defence University function. Our Pak policy, unfortunately is based on expectations and optimism and not assessment of realties. There are number of experts who feel that India has no choice but to engage with Pakistan, that includes some foreign govt.s, like the USA. NDA govt. seems to be succumbing to such notions. Such an idea can be welcome but it has to have a perspective and not a blind formulation.
Our own Pak fixation in our strategic thinking helps the Pak cause and obsession
for ‘parity’ with India which drives most of its policy and alliance options.
The support of USA to Pak even after withdrawal of ISAF from Afghanistan remains
inexplicable. Over $ 1 billion in security and economic aid was announced in
April 2015, besides over five billion given since 2010 during the US campaign in
Afghanistan. All this while Pak supported Taliban and Haqqani groups who
inflicted over 1400 causalities (mostly US) on them as a thank you gesture. Now,
the same Pakistan is a reliable interlocutor for Taliban in quest for peace and
stability in Afghanistan. Hopefully, President Ashraf Ghani, left with not much
of choice, has put his trust in Pak Army to bring the Taliban on table; will not
be tested and deceived as the US were; as was India in Shimla Accord and promise
of President Musharraf (2005) not to allow Pak territory to be used against
India. Mumbai attack (November, 2008) by the Pak proxies was the outcome. There
is no hope that its perpetrators will ever be brought to justice. After all Omar
Sheikh, killer of Daniel Pearl in 2001 was sentenced to death, remains free and
so will Lakhvi and others even if convicted.
In fact, the basic mindset of the Pakistan establishment including its much vaunted civil society, is anti-India. It revels in embarrassing India and justifies its anti-Indianism in terms “India has Pak problem, because Pakistan has a Kashmir problem.” Besides, despite ubiquitous terror attacks and violence in Pakistan, Pakistanis in general are content with their situation, where they are being bankrolled by both the super-powers, besides Saudi Arabia. Pak expatriates, in west Asia send over $ 13 billion yearly. Only some of our own experts expound about Paksitan being a failed or failing State; while the Pakistani elite is content in its skin and knows that the Saudi Arabia, USA and China will not allow it to sink for their own reasons. The recent, strain with Saudis over the troop deployment in Yemen was only a blip. Pak PM and Army Chief personally went to Riyadh to make up. After all, if the US-Iran nuclear negotiations succeed, the Saudi’s will need the Pak nuclear know-how to neutarlise Iran advantage, if it goes nuclear. The USA can do little to prevent it, with new alignments emerging in the region with even Russia being driven in the Chinese camp. Russia’s new defence link with Pakistan is only an indication of the changing alignments.
A lot rides on the current dual efforts by the USA in Doha and China in Beijing to bring Taliban in Afghanistan peace mix. Pakistan is the “honest” broker in both efforts. Taliban is putting tough conditions to Afghan govt. for cooperation with its strong spring offensive as a bargaining ploy. If talks fail, which seems likely, and Afghanistan is again ravaged by a civil war, its fallout may be unpredictable to all the protagonists, particularly President Ghani, who has invested a lot in his trust on Pakistan. The moot question remains if president Ghani has any fall back option if Taliban talks fail? Let us, wait till the roll of the dice comes to a stop. Then only we will know which way Indo-Pak initiatives can go. External factors continue to bedevil our relations with a difficult neighbour.
Then, what should be India’s response and approach? Infact, a shift in India’s strategic approach towards Pakistan is overdue. While making our preference for a dialogue to resolve issues explicit and windows kept open, we should not betray an anxiety and keenness unless the conditions are propitious. No war no-dialogue situation is better than of a dialogue with no direction. Atleast the former position provides a space between peace, dialogue and nuclear threshold to operate as Pakistan does, including the Kargil and Mumbai massacres (November, 2008). Pakistan offers several options to India to retaliate. Besides, India must leverage the fact that the nuclear status of both the nations has in effect “frozen” the status quo as neither side is in a position to alter the present territorial reality without risking a nuclear war. The Indian experience at Tashkent (1965), Shimla (1972), and Lahore (1999) has been of a rebuff and betrayal of trust. In Indo-Pak relations, for some experts and foreign interlocutors dialogue has become an end in itself without any objective, goal or prospects of meaningful progress. We need to be pragmatic, correct and patient and above all not anxious. Our responses should be measured, firm and predictable to all. All the problems in the world do not get resolved; some never. Lastly, let us move beyond Paksitan, despite all the provocations. Take them in stride. That’s the way to deal with Pakistan; keep it as simple as possible. Paksitan will understand and so will Kashmir Valley secessionists and others fond of meddling in troubled waters. Lastly, all these will work only if we continue to strengthen India's economic and defence muscles. It is a cruel reality that in international affairs the true measure of one's respectability is one's strength. Nothing else counts in the end.
*Shri J.N. Roy IPS (Retd.), a security analyst, and consulting editor of Dialogue.