Wednesday, 30 May 2012

India-Pakistan Dialogue: Going Beyond Thimpu

Another opportunity for traction on the India-Pakistan front in the form of the just concluded SAARC summit appears to have been lost. The two states are to have the foreign ministers, aided by their foreign secretaries, review current straits in terms of mutual confidence. Presumably, India will await the outcome of the Home Minister’s visit to Islamabad for the SAARC meet in June. He would best be able to gauge progress in Pakistan’s sincerity against terrorism.

Given that the internal power hierarchy in Pakistan is currently indistinct, India’s strategy is to ‘wait and watch.’ It had earlier invested in Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf, only to be disappointed. This time round it appears to be placing its bet on Gilani, seen as having the backing of the Army and being more credible than Zardari. The underside is that this policy is dependent on uncertain internal political dynamics in Pakistan.

However, the underlying structural factor indicates that the Army is the consequential political player and in charge of Pakistan’s India policy. This article offers an innovative idea for furthering the dialogue process by recommending that the Army, at the core of the Pakistani establishment, be strategically engaged with directly.

The joint statement in Islamabad that heralded the resumption of the dialogue: “Prime Minister Vajpayee said that in order to take forward and sustain the dialogue process, violence, hostility and terrorism must be prevented…President Musharraf assured Prime Minister Vajpayee that he will not permit territory under Pakistan’s control to be used to support terrorism in any form.”

India had promised dialogue, while Pakistan promised to discontinue terror to facilitate it. An element of similarity can be detected in the phrasing, particularly in the Pakistani position. The current Indian stand requires Pakistan to end terror, prior to meaningful dialogue being pursued.

The ‘pause’ in talks ever since 26/11 owes to Pakistan not keeping up its end of the bargain. Nevertheless, terror attacks’ having undefined linkages with the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) implies that terror amounts to Pakistani pressure for movement on the Kashmir issue. The trust deficit prevents Pakistan from rolling back the terror infrastructure to avoid losing its leverage. Getting Pakistan to oblige requires India assuring it of ‘meaningful’ talks.  

Prospects for dialogue are becoming brighter. Pakistan has begun to understand the limits of terror as an instrument against India and that the strategy has costs, such as India’s continuing reluctance to talk. The growing power asymmetry with India would over time make India indifferent to an adversarial Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan is not averse to a change in its India strategy. This is best evidenced by the progress made during the Musharraf years, recounted earlier by AG Noorani in Frontline and recently by the Times of India.

For India, the benefits of dialogue are equally evident. The possibility of India being forced to respond militarily to a terror attack has loomed large. Since this could setback India’s economy, preventive measures are warranted. Expanding the constituency of peace in Pakistan, and thereby restricting the military political space, can only happen by engaging Pakistan. Lastly, India’s China strategy requires that its backyard be reordered. The ‘two front’ formulation is the ‘worst case’ scenario. This means Pakistan has to be brought round.  How can this be done?

The key player in Pakistan is its Army. A military dominated Pakistan can be expected to look only at the ‘stick’ end of India’s ‘carrot and stick’ policy. The Pakistani response can only be in the realist mode of power balancing. Pakistan’s Army is acutely conscious of the conventional imbalance. As a first step, diluting this perception of asymmetry can be done through a strategic dialogue.

The two routinely undertake strategic dialogue with friends, such as the one Pakistan had with the United States in February which was attended by its Army Chief. It is more important that the two adversarial nuclear powers also undertake such an approach. A strategic dialogue can help mitigate their mutual ‘security dilemma’.  This can be discussed in a standing strategic consultative mechanism to manage the South Asian ‘Cold War’, in line with the earlier Cold War model. Progress in strategic balancing can create the necessary ballast for resuming the composite dialogue and making it meaningful once resumed.

India is pledged to negotiations. How meaningful these could get depends on Pakistani responsiveness to its concerns. That is a function of the Army’s threat perception of India. Therefore, India needs to manage this alongside other concerns. A strategic dialogue can be a means to this end.  

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