LONDON — Speculation has been building up on the Subcontinent that dialogue between India and Pakistan is about to restart. Last month Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir that if Pakistan showed “sincerity and good faith,” India “will not be found wanting in its response.”
Appealing to the government of Pakistan, Singh said “the hand of friendship that we have extended should be carried forward. This is in the interest of people of India and Pakistan.”
Singh stressed that terrorists “want permanent enmity to prevail between the two countries,” but avoided mention of both the Mumbai terror attacks of November 2008 and the continuing militancy in Kashmir. Later, at a press conference, Singh clarified that New Delhi’s demand that Islamabad put terror groups under “effective control” was “not a precondition” for resumption of India-Pakistan talks, but a “practical” way forward because “we are a democracy and if day in and day out terrorist attacks continue to take precious lives of our citizens, we cannot create a mahaul (atmosphere) for meaningful negotiations.”
After the Mumbai terror attacks, India suspended dialogue with Pakistan, asking it to first dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in its territory. Though India still remains dissatisfied with Pakistan’s efforts to bring to justice all the perpetrators of the assault on Mumbai, there is growing pressure on New Delhi to renew the diplomatic relationship.
The United States has asked India to talk with Pakistan. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in Pakistan last month, working to assuage concerns within a nuclear-armed state consumed by doubts about the value of its alliance with the U.S. and resentful of ever-growing American demands. The U.S. is also struggling to reassure Pakistan about the conditions imposed on a new American aid package of $7.5 billion over five years, which the Pakistani military has denounced as being designed to interfere in the country’s internal affairs. The perception in Islamabad is that the U.S. places greater value on its ties with India, and so is reluctant to push India to address Pakistan’s concerns.
Within India itself, voices calling for dialogue with Pakistan are also growing, especially as it is unclear whether the “no talks” policy is working. Diplomatic pressure from India forced Pakistan to concede that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks had come from its territory and agree, in principle, to prosecute them. The U.S. has also continued to demand that Pakistan bring all those involved to justice. Though Pakistan continues to drag its feet on actual prosecution of the main culprits, its acknowledgment of the trouble emanating from within its borders is viewed by many in India as a starting point for future negotiations.
India realizes that there are clear limits to its “no talks” policy, given that such a stance does not lessen the conflict or address potential hostility from across the border.
Pakistan itself has been quite keen on restarting talks. Reportedly it is contemplating appointing former Foreign Secretary Riaz Mohammad Khan as its special envoy on Indian affairs.
Yet it would be a folly to view these trends with any great degree of expectation. The state of Pakistan is under siege, with the nation reeling under a relentless wave of terror strikes, primarily targeted at security forces, police and government officials. The civilian government of Asaf Ali Zardari has lost all credibility and the military is once again ascendant.
The Pakistani armed forces have historically viewed themselves as guardians of the nation’s identity, and their need to view India as an adversary has long been a constant in Pakistan’s politics and foreign policy. Significant sections of Pakistani military and intelligence services continue to see themselves as being in a permanent state of conflict with India. They have little incentive to moderate their behavior as continuing conflict assures their pre-eminent position in Pakistani society. At a time when Pakistan’s Islamic identity is under siege because of its cooperation with the U.S. on the war on terror, the need to define itself in opposition to India grows even stronger.
Considering the uncertainty of U.S. plans in Afghanistan, and the strong sentiment in Pakistan that India is creating trouble in the restive province of Baluchistan and tribal areas, it is highly unlikely that the army would abandon the militant groups that it has relied on to fight as proxies in Afghanistan, and in Kashmir against India.
The ability of Pakistan’s political establishment to keep terrorist groups from wreaking havoc in India is crucial to the peace process. It is doubtful how much control the civilian government in Islamabad can exert, given that various terrorist outfits have vowed to continue their jihad in Kashmir. These outfits, Frankenstein’s monsters that Pakistan created to further its strategic goals, have now turned against the state and threaten to devour any future attempts at Indo-Pak reconciliation. There is little evidence of any significant effort on Pakistan’s part to dismantle terrorist’s infrastructure such as communications networks, launching pads and training camps on its eastern border.
While the Indian prime minister’s statements may seem like a significant move toward restarting the dialogue process, and though international opinion is gravitating toward that happening, the reality on the ground makes one rather pessimistic about such chances. Pakistan is facing multiple challenges and the dialogue process per se might be an inadequate means of meeting them. India and the world would do well to take that into account as yet another tryst begins in the so-called “peace process.”
Harsh V. Pant teaches at King’s College London, and is presently a Visiting Professor at IIM-Bangalore.
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