Indo-Pak Relations: Moving Beyond Binaries

ISSSP Reflections No. 7, November 11, 2013

Author: Dr. Arun Vishwanathan


Indian-visas-to-PakistanisWriting in the website of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, Sushant Sareen astutely describes India’s Pakistan policy as having been reduced to single binary. The main point of debate in New Delhi about its policy towards Islamabad boils down to whether we should diplomatically engage with Pakistan; whether or not our cricket teams should compete with each other; and whether or not our Prime Ministers should meet. On one hand, many like Rahul Roy-Choudhury of IISS, London call for continued engagement as they believe that talking to each other is the only way forward. On the other hand, this point of view has met with resistance and scepticism in New Delhi given the fact that there has hardly been any progress in Islamabad on Indian demands following the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Many in India believe that Pakistan has not changed track. This can be seen in the killing of five Indian soldiers in August 2013 by the Pakistani special forces  in the Poonch sector along the Line of Control (LoC) and the dastardly act of beheading an Indian soldier earlier in January. The terrorist attack (September 26) on the Army Camp at Samba and the police station in Hiranagar in J&K is indicative of the fact that Pakistan continues its policy of backing Pak-backed terror groups to carry out attacks inside India. As Praveen Swami writes, “it is evident that Pakistan’s generals don’t share the prime minister’s dreams.”

As a result of the above, there has been a growing constituency within India to take a more hard-line position vis-a-vis Pakistan. This view was most recently seen in the open letter to the PM written by a group of ex-Indian officials comprising of bureaucrats, diplomats, intelligence officials and military officers. The act was seen as significant as it was one of the rare occasions where such a group of Indian officials – many of whom had occupied high positions – publicly intervened in New Delhi’s Pakistan policy. These officials requested the Indian Prime Minister to call off his impending visit to Pakistan in view of the above events. Though the Indian Prime Minister’s visit seems to have been put on the back-burner, the two leaders met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly September meeting.

Given Pakistan’s Indo-centricity and the fact that it continues to support Pak-based terrorist groups who carry out terror attacks inside India; it is indeed a matter of great concern that India’s policy towards Pakistan has been reduced to such binaries. The question Indian decision-makers should ask themselves is the following. What will taking a hard-line position vis-à-vis Pakistan achieve? Rather, India should work towards building levers in order to be able to compel Pakistan to change its policies which are inimical to India’s interests. Such levers need not necessarily translate into a military-style ‘tit-for-tat’ policy viz. carrying out pinpointed aerial strikes on terror camps across the border, or assassination of terrorist leaders etc. but could also take the shape of a more constructive engagement on economic or other fields such as energy. However, for any of latter initiatives at constructive engagement to work, it is crucial that Islamabad also invests political capital to ensure the success of such initiatives. At the moment, Islamabad does not seem to be interested in taking any such steps. Also, Indian decision-makers need to seriously ponder as to whether growing mutual dependence of both countries could result in a more amicable relationship?

Of course, the rejoinder to that would be that Pakistan draws its identity and its raison d’être from its anti-India outlook and as long as the military or the current set of elites continue, they would not allow such a change to occur. One can agree with the former statement that Pakistan’s Indo-centricity and perpetuation of anti-India sentiments colour its relationship with India. However, many would hasten to point to indications of a change in heart in Islamabad with Pakistan’s Army and its leaders no longer perceiving India to be the major security threat. Another point to consider is whether the first-ever successful democratic transition of power provides a valuable opportunity for both countries to mend their relations. However, recent events on the LoC after Nawaz Sharif’s election point to the fact that the preponderance of the ISI and the Pak Army in the scheme of things does not offer much of a chance for a change in the tenor of Indo-Pak relations. Also, statements made by PM Nawaz Sharif on Kashmir during his October 2013 trip to Washington do not portend any change in the new civilian dispensation’s outlook towards Indo-Pak relations. That being the case, it becomes important for India to show Pakistan its resolve. The message that India should put across is, “we are willing to talk to you, but we are also ready to inflict pain if you continue your current policies.” This should be communicated unambiguously to Islamabad by New Delhi.

To this end it becomes important for Indian leaders to search for levers that could compel Pakistan into changing its existing policies. This could range across a wide spectrum ranging from a diplomatic initiative in order to increase international pressure on Pakistan to end its export of terrorism; to pinpointed military/covert action against terror groups operating within Pakistan. Other options could include heightening New Delhi’s economic engagement with other neighbours in the energy sphere or even enter into free-trade agreements with these countries thereby increasing pressure on Pakistan to economically engage with India. Working these diplomatic, military and economic levers so as to put pressure on Islamabad would necessitate a strong political will in New Delhi to take the hard decisions which would be required for such a policy to work. Not engaging diplomatically or not playing cricket with Pakistan certainly has not translated into a successful policy of compellence as evident from terror strikes like the Mumbai 26/11 attacks and the recent events on the LoC.

 About the Author

Dr. Arun Vishwanathan is Assistant Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies. He can be reached at arun_summerhill[at]yahoo[dot]com

Picture Courtesy: Tribune Pakistan

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