Dialogue  July-September  2009, Volume 11 No.1


Indo-Pak Relations: Post Sharm-el-Sheikh


J.N. Roy


Indo-Pak relations have never been easy during the last sixty-two 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 fruits. 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 structures 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 (July 13), underlines that nothing has changed and that both the countries for the time being are condemned to live in their past.     

     For a moment let us move away from the controversy generated by the joint statement of the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan at Sharm-el-Sheikh on July 13, 2009, to pursue the dialogue process to resolve their problems and delink it from the acts of terror. In effect it sought to revive the process which had been on the back – burner   since March 2007 due to the internal upheavals in Pakistan. It was derailed after the Mumbai terrorist attacks (26-28-11-2008) from Pak soil by the LET killing nearly 166 people and injuring over 200. An indignant India asked Pakistan to deliver on its promise not to allow its territory to be used against India, punish those responsible for the Mumbai attack and dismantle the terror infrastructure against India functioning from its soil viz. LET/JUD, JEM etc, before the dialogue process can resume.

     The point is what had changed since then to revert to the peace and dialogue path. According to the PM’s statement in Parliament while responding to the debate on the subject, the dossier of action taken against the LET conspirators, delivered by Pakistan a few days before the joint statement convinced him of the sincerity of Pakistan. Let us not contest the subjective satisfaction of the Prime Minister. The straws were in the wind about the resumption even in the address of the President to the new Parliament and PM’s address to Parliament on June 9.

    Dialogue and 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. Were the responses of Pakistan and its present internal dynamics propitious for the change of course? Was the Prime Minister’s claim in Parliament that UPA, for the first time succeeded in compelling Pakistan to take action against the terrorists, was justified? Initial reactions after Mumbai attack of Pak govt. and media and even the civil society, were defiant and non-cooperative. It is the arrest of one of the terrorists (Qasab) and overwhelming evidence produced by FBI and other international agencies (as many US citizens and foreigners had been killed) that compelled Pak to take action and not the Indian coercive diplomacy. Pakistan resented Indian demands and felt that India was over-reacting.

     The change of course came at a time when Pakistan had emerged out of its earlier defensive shell. The all powerful Pak army, which had withdrawn to the background due to its unpopularity since the Musharraf days of assault (July 2007) on Lal Masjid and unsuccessful campaign in 2007-08 against the Pak Taliban (TTP), had resurrected its image with the ongoing actions against the Taliban in Swat and Buner Valleys and South Waziristan  -as the erstwhile “patriots” (Pak army chief after Mumbai attack) had started a spate of terrorist actions in Pakistan and were posing threat to the internal security and stability of the country.

      However, the main development which has really bolstered Pakistan and its confidence is its enhanced profile in the US calculations to pacify Afghanistan in what popularly goes as AF-Pak policy. The US is solely dependent on Pakistan for the success of the US/ISAF operations in Afghanistan and to control the Pak-based Mulla Omer led Taliban (good Taliban according to Pakistan). With the connivance of Pak Army the Taliban has got. considerable traction in Southern and Eastern Afghanistan in the last over a year. The earlier decision of the USA to replicate Iraq like “Surge” approach by inducting 40,000 extra boots, has now been abandoned as the consensus was that this war is not “winnable”. Hence only 17000 troops, with another 4000 as trainers for the Afghan National army (ANA) are being inducted. The change of course now aims at wearing down the Taliban by attrition to reach the goal of consensus /coalition for a stable govt. with US troops in fortified cantonments as in Iraq. In such a scheme Taliban has a role in future and Pakistan an enhanced role now and in any future dispensation. Pakistan is already touting its role in turning around the Taliban as a bargain.

     In substance the US’s crucial dependence on Pakistan, is being cashed by the latter to boost its economy and armed forces capability in the name of anti-terror operations against Al Qaeda and Taliban. All kinds of statements and riders emanating from the US Govt. and the Congress on use of funds are self-serving platitudes to rationalise its dependence on Pakistan which had been using terror as a policy tool against Afghanistan and India and hunting with the hounds and running with the foxes. Pakistan has no interest in fighting and quelling Mullah Omar led Taliban which operates in Afghanistan and is based in Pakistan. Its an asset and bargain chip.

      References to India and Afghanistan are proforma to lull India, with all the three parties, the giver (the US), the receiver (Pak) and attacked (India) fully know that it will be used against them and it has been so since 1950’s when Pakistan became a number of Cento. Pakistan has by now refined blackmail into an art form. The international community, keeps on repeating that Pakistan is the main epicenter of international terrorism with Al Qaeda and Taliban operating from its soil, who pose threat to other countries. The unfazed Pakistan puts gun to its own head and threatens that unless the US and others help her with funds and arms to fight its own creations, viz. Taliban, LET/JUD, JEM, etc, it will shoot itself and unleash the twin evils of Islamic terror and nuclear weapons which will devour the whole world.

     No wonder the US, and under its pressure the world Bank, IMF, EU, Japan and others, run with grants and loans to keep the “epicentre” of terror alive and flush with funds, to keep the ‘terror’ confined to the area and not affect the US and western interests.                   

     According to a rough calculation Pakistan has received or is receiving following as aid or grant, which is aptly described as “terror dividend”:

    (i)  Between 2001-2008 – 12.3 billion from US alone, and a total of $ 23.6 billion in international and with the US help (TOI 15.5.09 – Brahma Chellaney)

    (ii) (a) In Obama era (a) $ 2.8 billion over five years under Pak Counter  Insurgency Capability Fund for improving the capability of Pak armed forces. (b) $ 7.5 billion (1.5 billion per year) from the US under the Peace Act 2009 as civilian assistance (A& B total more than what the US gives to Israel and Egypt.) (c)  $ 100 million from US as humanitarian aid for Swat DP’s (d)  $ 500 million from the world Bank as interest free loan.

    Besides, considerable commitments under USA pressure, from the IMF, EU and Japan, which would ratchet upto few billions in due course.  

    With this kind of bank-rolling a country which is routinely denounced as sponsor of terrorism and proliferation by the US and Western Think Tanks and even political leaders, has wider implications. Punishment and not rewards reform countries and people. There is no inducement for Pak to dismantle its terror structures as these yield cash. Besides, the manifest blind pursuit of its interests by the US (howsoever misplaced) ignoring the sensitivities of its neighbours viz. India and Afghanistan, is typical of the US where its perceived interests are concerned.

     The USA is gambling on Pakistan to control Taliban and Al Qaeda to stabilise Afghanistan so that it can plan its ultimate exit strategy. The USA’s effort to reroute its supplies to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia has limited scope. Meanwhile Pakistan is testing the staying power and stamina of USA in Afghanistan to ensure its role in any future dispensation there by playing the good Taliban = bad Taliban card. Pakistan knows that the USA and Nato powers will sooner or later exit Afghanistan and has best of both worlds and getting paid for its delinquency. Pak’s claim that it was abandoned by the USA after being a front-line state in war against Russia in Afghanistan, is untenable. In 1979 it joined voluntarily to safeguard its northern borders and financial benefits and gained from the USA’s departure by planting its creation Taliban in Afghanistan for influence and strategic depth. Its pretence of victimhood is just a ploy. It was only in 2001 after the 9/11 that it was compelled to join the USA against Al Qaeda and Taliban rather reluctantly and has since then used USA as cash cow but at the cost of considerable social and political instability in Pakistan. infact in Afghanistan the US and Pak interests and objectives are contradictory. 

      In Afghanistan there is no conflict of interest with the US objectives and that of India. Infact the US/NATO are fighting for all the neighbours of Afghanistan for a stable moderate, democratic future. India should, therefore, support the US and Western efforts short of committing its armed forces. We have committed about $ 1.2 billion in the reconstruction of Afghanistan and all will go waste if Pak-Taliban strategy succeeds. Pakistan is bargaining for Indian exit from Afghanistan alleging interference in Balochistan etc. by the Indian Consulates.

     However, the allegations that India succumbed to the pressure to accommodate Pakistan so that it could help USA in Afghanistan, seems rather implausible. The US will like India to engage with Pakistan to ease tensions, on the eastern border, but will do so without any quid pro quo from Pakistan remains unexplained. Now Robert Blake Asstt. Secretary of State for South Asia in an interview with Dawn (Pak- 14-8-09) has categorically denied any pressure on India. In fact he has asked Pak to punish those responsible for the Mumbai attack and demolish terror structures against India before it can hope to resume dialogue – something which India should have said at Sharm-el-Sheikh. This emphatic statement puts at rest the US conspiracy theory.

      It is apparent that the phase of Pakistan being on the defensive after the Mumbai attack has passed. Soon after the Sharm-el-Sheikh statement, when the Indian PM was under attack, the Pak PM asserted that the Kashmir was a core issue and without its settlement peace was not possible in the sub-continent. He repeated in his Independence Day speech (August 14) ¯ that “the peaceful resolution of the Kashmir dispute is a cornerstone of our foreign policy”. India knows very well what the “moral support” and “peaceful” in Pakistani lexicon means for India. More violence and terrorist actions in Kashmir and other parts of India.

     Besides, there is increasing evidence that on the terrorism issue Pakistan has stiffened its back, and this time around it has also the support of its media and the civil society. Zardari may confess Pakistan’s short sighted policy in promoting terror groups and its media making similar allegations, but all this is grist for their internal politics, and no solace for India. Recent articles in media and statements, justify the existence of the terror groups in the context of settlement of Kashmir, Siachin and India’s role in partition of the country in 1971.

    There is a palpable resentment against India’s alleged coercive demands over Pakistan and belittling its establishment and leaders. Ejaz Haider a senior journalist and op-ed editor of Daily Times, responding (Indian Express- 12-8-09) to an article of Shekhar Gupta (A New Project Pakistan – August 8 in the Indian Express), alleged that India wants to live in peace with its neighbours only on its own terms. He added that “India has a Pakistan problem because Pakistan has a Kashmir problem”. He wants India to put Pakistan’s “perfidous” behaviour in the “context” of past history which will help in solving problems. Directly it means that Pakistan inflicting proxy-war and terror on India has the Kashmir context. He supports some American’s comment that instead of talking about LET guys, India should he engaging with Pakistan. It only carries forward many diplomatic hints in the past that solve Kashmir problem to Pakistan’s satisfaction and there will be no proxy-war and terrorist actions. We must remember that when Pakistan was in dire-straits following the 9/11 attacks in USA and was compelled to join the US war on terror, President Musharraf justified (Sept. 2001) this change of course in the interest of three core national issues, viz., to safeguard our strategic assets, for economic development and the Kashmir cause. In brief the revenge for the 1971 dismemberment of Pakistan, Siachin and Kashmir solution to Pakistan’s satisfaction, remain the core issues driving the Pak approach towards India, and there have been no dilution in determination to use all means below the hot war threshold to hurt India. There is thus a “contextual” justification to acts of terror and India must understand and not complain.

      We are engaging anew in the dialogue process, with political leaders President Zardari and P.M. Gillani, while the real power and decisions rest with the Pak Army Chief. It is the Army Chief who intervened and resolved the lawyer’s agitation and restoration of Chief Justice Chaudhury. Zardari enjoys no credibility and P.M. Gillani’s, mandate is subject to Army Chief’s veto on strategic issues. American’s are more realistic they deal with the Army Chief and no one else. India has no such luxury. There was a small window of opportunity when Musharraf was in power, but the window shut too soon with the return of a partial democracy, to which everyone is paying the lip service and dealing with the Army Chief and the ISI. As Pakistan’s involvement deepens in the US’s Afghanistan engagement and Pak based Taliban, the leverage of civilian rulers will further decline. Experts, barring unexpected developments, give three to five years to the new democratic experiment in Pakistan before the real rulers (army) return again. This farce of sharing of power structure cannot be prolonged beyond a point, without a constitutional arrangement.

     The initiative at the Sharm-el-Sheikh, thus has to be viewed in the background of Pakistan again reasserting its core concerns vis-à-vis India with little space to manoure. Infact India has painted itself in a corner due to two reasons. Firstly, there are no clear terms of engagement. Secondly, the Prime Minister did not take the country in confidence over the change of course and sprang a surprise. Explanations that since war is not an option, dialogue is the only course betrays not only a defensive but a defeatist mindset. In effect it admits that the dialogue process is a compulsion and not a preferred choice. The timing could not have been worse. No war –no-dialogue, situation was better than of dialogue with no direction. Atleast the former position provides a space between peace, dialogue and nuclear threshold to operate, as Pakistan is doing including the Kargil. You have Balochistan, Sindh, Afghanistan and the Northern Areas to play upon. 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 position to alter the present territorial reality without risking a nuclear war. 

      Our Pak policy unfortunately is based on expectations and optimism and not assessment of the realties. India was outmanoured from a position of strength at Shimla in 1972, and again at Sharm-el-Sheikh, when Pak was an international pariah, for no gain. Pragmatism dictated what PM said in Parliament that there will be no dialogue without action against the terror groups, should have figured in the statement. His statement  knocks the bottom out of a signed statement which claims to dislink terror from the dialogue process . We made ourselves vulnerable, when post- Mumbai, we started giving undue importance in our demands to the LET entities and JUD chief Hafiz Syed than the Pakistani state and its commitment to dismantle the terror infra-structure. Prosecution and punishment should have been the side issues and dismantling of terror structures a central point. We went for individuals rather than the state, and landed in Sharm-el-Sheikh with a dossier of progress in prosecution over which we have little say. In due course as Pakistan’s international profile improves, its prosecutory zeal will flag, and like Omar Sheikh sentenced to death in Daniel Pearl case, even if convicted Mumbai accused will have a protected existence. In the end, as in earlier cases of terrorist attacks, over 166 people would have died in Mumbai (Nov. 26-28, 2008) in vain and unavenged, simply because we failed to take a stand like the US did after 9/11. We are not as powerful as the USA to dictate terms, but not also inconsequential to be trifled with and short-changed, for prosecution of about half-a-dozen murderous criminals and inveigled into a dialogue of the deaf. Next time around there would be no Qasab, no foreign victims and Pakistan will lead us a merry dance demanding joint investigation, evidence and proof, till we stumble to another Sharm-el-Sheikh, with a nudge from the US or on our own. Pakistan's mindset has always been not to concede an inch to India. In the Mumbai attack case, while Pakistan allowed the FBI to question the LET operativers under arrest in Pakistan, it refused such access to India and on contrary had asked for joint investigation in India. In the current state of Indo-Pak relations only realistic approach towards normalisation is to raise the cost of proxy-war and terror acts against India.   

      Indian Prime Minster’s dialogue approach has been described by the media spin masters as a grand vision and strategy to transform the very basis of Indo-Pak relations and persuade other powers to dehyphenate their India policy from Pakistan. Intent no doubt is great but is it based on reality? Does it factor in the present and past Pakistani perception of issues between the two countries? Pakistan defines itself in relation to India and is yet to resolve the issue of its identity shaped by partition on religious grounds. Farzana Shaikh, a London based scholar in her recent book, “Making sense of Pakistan” has commented that there is no hope for Pakistan unless it sorts out its identity crisis which, according to her, is the root cause of the country being in dire straits. She further adds, that the efforts at defining Pakistan’s identity underline its historical claim to parity with India, which had been insisted upon by Jinnah viz “equality of the nations of Hindus and Muslims” should be the basis of any territorial division of pre-partion India. It is this “compulsive” desire for parity with India to establish its “Independent” identity propelled its foreign policy including alignment with and help of other countries. Besides, with the break-up in 1971 (Bangladesh) dented the very notion that religion could be the basis of a nation or state and revived its search for legitimacy as a nation state and allegations that India still does not accept its separate nationhood. Kashmir issue is linked with its quest for separate identity and nation-hood and hence cannot be compromised easily.

     To a large extent Pakistan’s obsession about ‘parity’ is helped by India’s own Pakistan fixation in its strategic and security thinking during the last over sixty years. We should tailor our strategic approach towards Pakistan on realistic basis of a state which is in a mess in all the important aspects and is being propped up by the Western interests. It can only be a nuisance and does not deserve the significance we accord to it. It only feeds its psychological need of paranoia about perceived threat from India. Realism will also help India in putting in proper perspective the proxy war and terrorist threats from Pakistan and deal with it more effectively as normal business of any other state and in the idiom which Pakistan understands. A shift in India’s strategic approach towards Pakistan is overdue.

     Besides, the above historical perspective, the current realties affirm that peace and normalization of relations with India does not figure in the calculations of the ruling elite and army of Pakistan noises to the contrary notwithstanding. Peace will upset the very rationale for army’s grip on power and the clout of Mullahs in the affairs of the state. It will also diminish its usefulness to China and others who are willing to bank-roll a state rife with terror and extremism. Current usefulness of Pakistan is in its negative manifestations. Besides normalization enhances India’s image and releases it to fulfil its global aspirations. Simply it deflates Pakistan. Hence, Pakistan needed resumption of talks to restore its image after the Mumbai attacks in the international community that it has taken appropriate actions to gain trust and reopening of dialogue process. Otherwise, neither the timing nor the internal dynamics of Pakistan’s politics and atmosphere is conducive to any meaningful engagement. Within India also there is not much support for the initiative at Sharm-el-Sheikh. India seems to be already retracing its steps, if PM’s statement in Parliament, alleging renewed plans of terrorist attack from Pak groups while addressing (August 17) the Chief Ministers Conference and absence of any reference to this initiative in his Independence Day speech is read correctly.

    Another factor which limits any significant outcome is the limited template of the engagement totally predicated upon the geo-political and strategic issues. Economic, trade and cultural aspects needed to deepen and broaden the scope of engagement are missing. Pakistan insists that solution of Kashmir, Siachen etc. must precede any other terms of negotiations. Business relations both bilateral and multilateral (through SAARC mechanism) is subject to similar approach, fearing Indian economic hegemonic designs over its neighbours. In effect, the terms of Indo-Pak engagement are too narrow for a broad and conclusive outcome. This handicap renders the whole process unifocal, tentative and perhaps short on conviction.  

     In final analysis the desirability of resuming the dialogue with Pakistan is being questioned in India not on merit but credibility of the process given the reasons and justifications for it. The argument that both the countries are victim of terrorism is untenable. While India is victim of Pak sponsored/supported terrorism Pakistan is victim of its own devices created to as policy option to harm its neighbours. Promoting and helping democracy in Pakistan is the business of people of Pakistan and not India. We can welcome it but cannot make it an option for improving the relations. As bigger neighbour India is asked to be more generous and accommodating. It has become a cliche without specifying the areas and issues. We were trusting and large hearted at Tashkent (1965), Shimla (1972), and at Lahore (1999) when P.M. Bajpai paid respect at Minar-e-Pakistan, to be rebuffed on each occasion.  In Indo-Pak relations dialogue has become an end in itself without any goal. Only thing that can be said in its favour is that its better than war, but with “contextual” proxy war and terror as bonus.                  

    As regards the prospects of dialogue process, it has been best summed up by another respected Pakistani journalist. Moeed Yusuf in an article (Friday Times – 26/6-2/7, 2009). He traced the Indo-Pak relations at the conceptual, strategic and the tactical levels and tried to guess if the next phase of talks would be any different from previous rounds. His thesis is that India’s hegemonistic efforts to play the role of a “Hub” in the sub-continent and dominate other nations has been successfully resisted only by Pakistan, both at the strategic and tactical levels by managing a strategic arms build-up. In the event he has concluded that the Indian and Pakistani visions are structurally out of Sync. Hence all efforts at dialogue now or in future will be subject to stalemates. The article assesses that while an outright conflict is unlikely, so is complete normalization in the short run.


 Dialogue A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati

Astha Bharati