Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Pro-Talks Argument

India and Pakistan are talking again. If that is taken as good enough, then the fact that little progress was made in the latest round of talks is not taken amiss.

Those happy with the outcome argue that since Pakistan has not obliged India in rolling back terror infrastructure there is no case for meaningful talks. Pursuing these amounts to talking with a ‘gun to the head’, which no self-respecting nation can countenance. In the Islamabad joint statement, resuming talks required Pakistan to discontinue terror. Since this has not been done, Pakistan is remiss. The linkage of non-state actors to elements within the state indicates Pakistan’s double game.

Secondly, talking reduces the scope of intelligence and military pressure that can be mounted against Pakistan to act against terror. Not only does the deterrence value of possible military action reduce – the carrot being preferred over the stick - but ambivalence to use of force is conveyed, detracting further from deterrence.

Lastly, talking to Pakistan at this stage is giving it greater strategic latitude. It has managed to keep India marginalized in the emerging post London Conference AfPak scenario. India therefore needs to be circumspect in falling in line with Western pressure to ease pressure on Pakistan.

These reasons have led to an unproductive second round of foreign secretary level talks since 26/11. This indicates that the Prime Minister has yet to recover from being forced onto the back foot by the reaction to Sharm el-Sheikh. This was despite the wording in the joint statement being virtually a repeat of the formulation in the April 2005 joint statement during Musharraf’s visit to Delhi, “The two leaders pledged that they would not allow terrorism to impede the peace process.” This was the manner in which the peace process was to be made ‘irreversible’. Lacking the ballast of political consensus, talks are unlikely to prove consequential.

The alternative to productive talks being the hard line, a look at its effectiveness is warranted.

The Sri Lankan example of single mindedness in dealing with terror is gaining traction. The Fonseka arrest episode is but the latest evidence on the effect of the hard line on Sri Lanka’s polity.

Vir Sanghvi in his Sunday column in Hindustan Times mentions Dr Manmohan Singh’s view on covert means, that Sanghvi advocates. He recounts asking Manmohan Singh why India rejected the covert option and his answer summed up the mood in government, “because of the manner in which it would brutalize the Indian State and damage our moral psyche. Indians simply do not do such things.”

The fallout of reliance on military and intelligence instruments is on internal politics. This would expand their political clout which would give them disproportionate power in a polity vulnerable to conservative forces as obtains in India. The conflict with an external ‘other’ in the form of Pakistan, would be exploited by interested forces to bear down on an internal ‘other’, seen to be allied with the external ‘other’ by undefined terror linkages.

Both Pakistan and India have resorted to these instruments and these have not got either state anywhere. This is more obvious in case of Pakistan in the cross hairs of a backlash. Since Indian self-image is that of a defensive state that perpetually reacts, it is more difficult to argue that it has resorted to the hard line at all; leave alone whether this has been useful.

Pokhran II did not prevent Kargil. India has experimented with a ‘live’ Line of Control and with coercive diplomacy through mobilizing its military might. It has resorted to brinkmanship in bringing down a Pakistani military air craft. That intelligence action has been taken in Baluchistan as Pakistan alleges is not implausible; intelligence agencies not being known to advertise their ‘success’. The myth of India’s pacific behaviour is difficult to challenge, but it would be useful to.

Doing so would help view India as Pakistani decision makers - privy to Indian doings - may be viewing it. Their reaction is expectedly along realist lines since they are in uniform. Their actions can be interpreted as their end of a dialogue of violence. Therefore, is it not possible to argue that India’s hard line contributes to the threat it faces?

The observation that Pakistan has not done enough on the terror front is correct. But to expect it to do more is both unstrategic and unrealistic. To help it do more, the obligation that India would engage in talks meaningfully had found mention in the Islamabad joint statement. This obligation was met while Musharraf was in control. However, little progress thereafter is attributed to political disarray in Pakistan. Talks not having made headway, is it any surprise that terror continues?

The two states have constituencies favouring both approaches – dialogue and violence. The two are in political contest in respective polity. The talks constituency is at a disadvantage since pressure and the threat of violence helps justify itself in light of the counter it evokes. Incapable of delivering peace, it needs to be exposed as self-serving.

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