Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The ‘Pause’ in India-Pakistan Dialogue

India-Pakistan relations are once again in a trough, perhaps this is fallout of the terror unleashed by the jihadis on 26/11. While cutting off of the dialogue can be seen as fallout of their action, persisting with the ‘pause’ has moved beyond mere ‘fallout’ to become ‘strategy’. Ostensibly it is a way to keep up the pressure on Pakistan to act against the handlers of these jihadis. By now, some forward movement could have been expected, particularly because of the need to avoid another 26/11. Why has this not happened?

What accounts for India persisting with the strategy of ‘pause’?

India is mindful that response to terror directed at India would require Indian pressure, separate and in addition to any pressure mounted by its friend and partner, the US. It is the success of such pressure that results in Pakistani complaints – exaggeration apart - about Indian action in Afghanistan and allegedly also in Baluchistan.

By withholding from talks, India is driving home its advantage. In case it succeeds in pushing Pakistan to deliver, then it achieves its aims. In case Pakistan takes some action, this can be taken as success of the pressure. In case Pakistani action results in an extremist backlash, then the reaction would force the Pakistani state to keep up the action, if not enlarge its scope. This is a situation not averse to some in India. Pakistan has taken limited, if reluctant, action. It has not done any more, lest the largely Punjabi jihadi groups combine with the Pashtun Taliban and destabilize Pakistan’s core areas. India may then, along with the international community, assist Pakistan and in doing so extract Pakistani compliance with Indian interests.

A possible outcome is Pakistan not delivering on Indian demands, particularly the prosecution of mastermind, Hafeez Sayeed. While this is likely, by demanding it, India is compelling Pakistan to at least go after the smaller fish. It would also serve to justify India’s stand that Pakistan is not doing enough. This would permit India to pursue its containment of Pakistan by intelligence means. ‘No talks’ implies that no politically difficult concessions need be made. India cannot be held to the Pakistani requirement in the Islamabad joint statement. There being no buffer of talks, India’s possible recourse to military means in response to another 26/11 would deter Pakistani state complicity. In case of another 26/11, the Indian state cannot be put on the defensive internally for having resumed talks prematurely. India does not need talks anymore for controlling the situation in Kashmir since it appears to have arrived at a position of strength there. More importantly, talks serve little purpose in light of the political schizophrenia in Pakistan. The ‘talks as strategy’ route was to propel forces in favour of peace in Pakistan within its polity. This has not happened. Lastly, India, looking for parity with China, would like to end the hyphenation with Pakistan that talks only serve to reinforce.

For its part, Army-controlled Pakistan is hoping to transit its period of potential instability without overly compromising on its political ends and strategic means, both in Kashmir and Afghanistan. In retrospect, would India’s strategy of ‘pause’ be seen as time lost?

Pakistan has now tasted ‘blow-back’ intimately. It is barely managing to roll back Islamists and would not want them to rise inordinately again. There are also internal forces in Pakistan, such as a growing middle class, the civil society and the media, which are not in favour of continued hostility with India. Some sections, especially the commercial class, instead may want to profit from engaging with an economically vibrant India. There is also an increasing pragmatism in the political class on the issue of Kashmir, as seen in statements by President Zardari and former President Musharraf from time to time. The fact is that anti-American and anti-Indian sentiments exist. Therefore, the regime cannot go overboard in meeting aims either of the West or of India. It would not do so at the risk of compromising Pakistan’s stability. Pakistan can be pushed only so far. It follows that strategic prudence requires that these limits be respected.

There is no escaping the fact that only talks can help tackle the outstanding issues between the two states. Just as the military action, Operation Parakram, lost its sting after a while, the ‘pause’ strategy too could do so. Therefore, India needs to change gears soon. ‘Pause’ is not an ‘end’ in itself, but an instrument of pressure. The pressure having succeeded to the extent it has, it is time to change gears. The opportune moment to resume talks seems to be the first anniversary of 26/11. It has been a year since the last terror incident outside of Kashmir. Perhaps an announcement may be made prior to the PM’s state visit to the US and as with the Islamabad meeting, the postponed SAARC summit of this year could witness a replay of Islamabad 2004.

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