The relationship between India and Pakistan has not come out of its precarious mode. The Indian leadership is not serious about engaging with Pakistan in a formal, institutionalised format unless there is substantial progress on the Pathankot episode. This is part of their strategy to keep pressure on Pakistan so that it deals firmly with militant groups. Although there is a realisation by the Indian leadership that a gradual change in Pakistan’s establishment is in the offing, it will await a more robust demonstration of it. They are, however, willing to remain engaged at various levels where it suits them, politically.
Providing the Pakistani joint investigating team access to the crime spot is perhaps a demonstration of this policy, notwithstanding that it also provides good optics and a means of testing Islamabad’s intentions in dealing with terrorist crimes committed in India. Unsurprisingly, masked in this approach is the demand, though not spelt out in public, that unless concrete measures are adopted to neutralise Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), it will not be possible for India to move forward on the peace process. Besides, there is the latent threat that, in case of a high-profile attack, India will respond aggressively, especially if Pakistan continues to remain indifferent about clamping down on these extremist groups. Hopefully, the worst-case scenarios will not materialise, but this very approach of ‘no peace, no war’ is hardly a situation that could be in the interest of the two countries.
It is also difficult to fathom the quality of relations that Modi is seeking with Pakistan, even if Indian apprehensions were largely removed. In a recent track-2 dialogue in Bangkok, sponsored by Sherry Rehman’s Jinnah Institute, interacting with Indian counterparts one got the impression that Modi’s approach will bear its own stamp and will not be driven on the pattern of Vajpayee’s. Modi has several years ahead of him as opposed to Vajpayee and could afford taking risks. The Indian leadership also has to factor multiple centres of power and stakeholders in Pakistan while formulating policy. However, Modi’s focus on the economy gives hope that he could seek normalisation in the mid to long term and currently, would be satisfied with a modicum of stability. As of now, the foreign secretary’s visit is being awaited and even if it were to materialise, it may not necessarily produce any tangible outcome.
Meanwhile, irrespective, of India’s response, what is critical in Pakistan’s own interest is to fully rein in LeT and JeM. Addressing the root causes of terrorism in Pakistan is essential, but there should be no illusion that these groups will alter their behaviour.
The recent surge of ominous activities in India by the RSS, Sangparivar, Shiv Sena and others, and their attitude towards both Pakistan and minorities within India, poses a huge challenge for the Modi government, if it were to maintain the tempo of development to achieve its ambitious goals. Clearly, this being his important constituency, its hostility towards Pakistan will remain a major hurdle. The fierce opposition of these groups towards the Pakistan cricket team was a recent demonstration of it.
The Indian leadership is clearly unwilling to address the Jammu and Kashmir issue, apart from perhaps legalising the status quo. Atal Bihar Vajpayee had taken the process to new heights in 1999-2004, in contrast to the current BJP leadership that is averse to any conciliatory move. Dialogue between non-violent dissident voices has been discouraged, which could lead to them being pushed in a corner. Of course, there is no mention of demilitarisation or revoking the black laws, including the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Public Safety Act. In sharp contrast, political parties in Pakistan back the normalisation process and peaceful settlement of all outstanding issues. Meanwhile, confidence-building measures need to be strengthened and additional ones introduced, to stabilise borders. The Line of Control should remain calm, as it impacts the lives of those living close to the border and for the betterment of Pakistan-India relations.
In this tough political environment, is it possible that India and Pakistan separate security from economic and cultural links? After the 1965 and 1971 wars, the two countries had abandoned even the limited interaction that existed, thereby denying benefits of bilateral trade and transit that, on balance, would be more advantageous to Pakistan. This has prevented Pakistan from exploiting the full benefits of the globalisation process. After all, India and Pakistan successfully negotiated the Tapi gas pipeline project by separating politics from economics, only because they could rise above prejudices for the common good. There are several well-known examples of countries, such as China and Taiwan, and China and India, which have developed flourishing trade for the benefit of their people, despite territorial disputes. Trade volume between China and Taiwan has crossed the $200 billion mark and between China and India has the potential of crossing $80 billion. It is not the lack of ideas that is preventing us from moving forward but the strong legacy of the past, with deep and entrenched prejudices that stand as the huge mental barrier.
The other route that is now available is the people-to-people connectivity that new technologies — the Internet, Facebook, and Skype have created, by circumventing government red tape. This can reinforce and act as a great conduit for interaction between young people.
Experience has shown that adverse relations with India make our relations with Afghanistan more problematic and challenging. Afghanistan plays the Indian card to maximise its leverage against Pakistan. The Indian government uses its strategic partnership with the US along with its diaspora, to influence the State Department and Congress. This further vitiates the atmosphere and makes reconciliation difficult, pushing Pakistan to exploit its geopolitical and economic position by seeking closer collaboration with China. The CPEC is a manifestation of this and a game changer for Pakistan. Islamabad denies India the land route to Afghanistan and Central Asia as a part of quid pro quo. This negativity has its own burdensome dynamic. To pull these countries from this vicious cycle to a virtuous one would require strong leadership and vision.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2016.