Friday, 1 June 2012

A grand bargain for India and Pakistan
The Financial World, 20 June 2011

THE FOREIGN secretaries of India and Pakistan are to meet this month to review progress made so far in the various strands during this ‘getting restarted’ round of dialogue. It would set the stage for the foreign ministers meeting due next month. However, if the foreign ministers’ meeting is not to prove a replay of last July’s Islamabad meeting, then there needs to be more on the agenda. This article makes a
suggestion in this regard.
That no headway was intended by either state owes to both following a wait and watch policy. They await Barack Obama’s speech that is to bring out his design for AfPak, in particular if the nature of the impending drawdown in troops is to be symbolic or significant. If the former, it would gladden India; if the latter, it would gladden Pakistan. Pakistan is waiting to encash on its relationship with the Taliban, nurtured assiduously over the past decade despite intense American pressure. It would prefer a negotiated end to the conflict to its north. Once its allies are ensconced in some kind of power arrangement there, it could turn its attention once again towards the west, assured of strategic depth to its rear and the vitality of its strategic assets. India for its part is aware that to an extent the return to normalcy in Kashmir since 9/11 owed to Pakistan’s preoccupation with its western front. It has taken advantage of the benign fallout to firm in and rests content that a falling back to the troubled years is unlikely. It would prefer to see western presence in Afghanistan till as long as a verifiable promise of moderation is not extracted from the Taliban. It has played hardball with Pakistan to keep up the pressure to this eminently reasonable end. Given that the Taliban has managed to whittle the West’s appetite for nation-building, for the west to be looking for an exit is understandable. Towards this end, Obama would progress the political prong of strategy, even while keeping the military prong on course for a while longer. US military presence would therefore continue, but its combat role may progressively be less visible. This means that Pakistan’s significance to the end game in terms of delivering a moderated Taliban increases even while India is not entirely disappointed. An argument would be that since they cannot together shape the region’s future, they are realistically hoping to make the best of what emerges from the impending changes in US course in the region. This is typical of a conflict management approach. The belief in India is that with Pakistan busily proceeding downhill, there is no need for India to be overly concerned. Pakistan would be less able to impose on India’s interests. The hard-line expectation is that Pakistan’s oft-aired obituary will ring true finally. India will then be at the vanguard of containment, in conjunction with its strategic partner, the US. Then it would be able to shape the regional future. It is precisely for this reason that India needs to pre-empt such a future. Expecting that India would not be singed by the outcome is unrealistic. AS A self-confessed regional power India needs to take charge. Here the suggestion is for Pakistan and India to arrive at a modus-vivendi. India wants Pakistan to re-examine its Kashmir obsession. Pakistan, beset as it is by the terror blowback, wishes to remain on even keel. India could permit increased political space for Pakistan in Afghanistan, while Pakistan could in turn walk away from Kashmir. The coming talks between the two foreign secretaries can be used to discuss a grand bargain. Specifically, it would mean assuring Pakistan of India’s support in its delivering the Taliban to the table. In return, Pakistan would require assuring India that any return of the Taliban to a share of power in Kabul would not be at the cost of India or its Afghan allies. More importantly, Pakistan needs to follow through on its oft-repeated intent of not allowing its soil for use by anti-India terrorists. This it can do if allowed to claim that India’s implementing of the impending report of the three interlocutors in letter and spirit is at its behest. The jihadis then - no longer required - can be rolled back non-militarily. Currently, it can be said that the Indian government is not keen on the hard-line. Yet, talks are for forms’ sake for both parties. India assumes Pakistan will fall out of the equation and Pakistan thinks it will bounce back. Even if India is right, the consequence in both cases makes such a future worth pre-empting. The two foreign ministries can flesh out the idea. The off-the-record agenda should be the trade-off suggested. It must lead up eventually to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh taking up the Mohali invite of Yousaf Raza Gillani to visit Islamabad, where Hamid Karzai could well join them to arrive at a regional solution to a regional problem. India can then be said to have lived up to its credentials as a regional power. Ali Ahmed is a Research Fellow at New Delhi’s Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses. He may be reached at