Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Talks As Strategy

India has engaged Pakistan through dialogue in the six rounds of talks in 1963-64, in the seven rounds of talks in 1990-1994, in initiating the Composite Dialogue process in 1997 and in five rounds since its resumption in 2004. The aim has been to expand the constituency of peace in Pakistan, not only through the talks in themselves, but also through the achievements of these talks, such as additional people to people contacts and trade. In keeping with theories in the field of peace studies and interdependence, progress on less controversial issues could impart the necessary momentum to tackle the more difficult issues.

The idea has been that an expanding stake in peace with India would undercut the stranglehold of the Pakistan Army over Pakistan’s security and Kashmir policy. Eventually, with internal power equations in Pakistan tending towards the peace-inclined constituency, the Army would be forced to downgrade its dependence, through the ISI, on terrorism as a ‘strategic tool’. Also, in the Musharraf years, it was felt that since he could carry the Army along, there was a possibility of arriving at a modus vivendi on Kashmir through the up front dialogue and the ‘back channel’. Thus these talks can be said to have served a purpose. The drawdown in terror incidents in Kashmir is evidence of this. However, the terror attack in Mumbai on 26/11 is also testimony to the distance that remains to be traversed.

The Mumbai attack brought out the third dimension in domestic political space in Pakistan, that of the jihadis. The autonomous tendency in this group cannot be discounted. Drawing sustenance and legitimacy from their anti-India activity, the jihadis can be expected to attempt to derail any progress towards peace. Being dependent on ISI largesse to an extent, they can also serve the Army’s interest in sabotaging peace. They are used largely to sensitize India to the need for movement on the issue of Kashmir, which is viewed as the ‘core’ issue by the Army. As noted in the aftermath of the Mumbai attack, they can serve to deflect pressure on the Army to do more against the Taliban.

Resuming the paused dialogue was inevitable. Internally, the ‘pause’ had proved useful in the return of the UPA to power at the Centre. Externally, Pakistan appeared to be taking credible action against the LeT, as conveyed in the dossier recounting these actions. There was a need to shore up the Zardari-Gilani administration against the Army. Lastly, the US was interested in stability so that their concerns in the Af-Pak region were met more purposefully by Pakistani army action against the Taliban. Thus, the initiative towards a resumption of talks of the Prime Minister at Yekaterinburg in his meeting with Zardari on the sidelines of the SCO summit, and thereafter furthering it in his meeting with Gilani at Sharm el-Sheikh, was timely. The Joint Statement at the latter meeting points to a ‘limited’ resumption, with foreign secretaries to meet as required and report back to the Foreign Ministers.

The statement of the PM in the Lok Sabha meant to lay at rest the controversy surrounding the Joint Statement, brings out India’s dual-pronged Pakistan strategy: shoring up the defence and security while engaging in talks. For the first time, the strategic dimension of the talks has been brought out. The need to follow this strategy is evidenced in the Indian Prime Minister’s words, “I believe that there is a large constituency for peace in both countries…We know this, but in the past there have been hurdles in a consistent pursuit of this path. As a result, the enemies of peace have flourished….In the interests of our people, and in the interest of peace and prosperity of South Asia, we must not let this happen.”

The adoption of talks as strategy implies persisting with dialogue despite hurdles, which are only to be expected. Since the disposition of the Pakistan Army cannot be changed militarily in light of the nuclear backdrop, dialogue has greater potential. Dialogue however, needs to meet a strategic end in order to be meaningful, especially with respect to issues that are relatively less difficulty. If used as a means to exhaust the Pakistani Army by having talks-for-talks sake, then India would continue to remain vulnerable to terror. Transferring the onus of stopping terror on Pakistan is a good tactic, but poor strategy in light of the current uncertainty surrounding Pakistan’s internal politics.

It is unfortunate that the controversy over resumption of the dialogue process has placed the Indian government on the defensive and stymied resumption of talks. While Pakistan will take action against the set of jihadis identified with the attacks, it can be expected to continue to hedge; witness its attitude to Hafeez Sayeed. The Islamabad Joint Declaration had linked ‘positive results’ to a drawdown in terror. Pakistan’s inaction on the issue of terror due to the absence of institutional mechanisms, exposes India to a recurrence of 26/11 and this is implied in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s words, “There are uncertainties on the horizon, and I cannot predict the future in dealing with neighbours, two nuclear powers.”

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