The latest round of India-Pakistan tensions following the mutilation of the bodies of two Indian soldiers is unfolding as an old, tired and predictable script that has played so often over the past few decades.
The ‘drama’ begins with an aggressive, sometimes, as in this outrageous Pakistani move. Sections of Indian public opinion, media and political parties ask the government to take stern action and the airwaves get charged with strident rhetoric. The moderates urge caution and calm; so do the major powers, ever wary of India-Pakistan hostilities.
The government initially soft pedals to preserve whatever positive initiatives it may be taking to promote bilateral ties. As the pressure mounts, it gives in – its statements get sharper and the initiatives, at least some of them, are put on hold.
Bilateral official contacts continue even during such periods. They seek means to quieten things down. As tempers cool and national attention moves to other issues, diplomats seek ways to move on. The dialogue resumes. India and its leadership return to a Pakistan policy based on hope, overlooking the fundamental negativity of that country’s establishment. No lessons are learnt from the episode. There is no reason why it would be different now.
No country remains static and Pakistan is changing too. Contrary impulses are in play. While violent Jihadi forces have gained great ground, there are some civil society groups anxious to take Pakistan to saner and more progressive paths. The judiciary has become more assertive. New political actors such as Imran Khan seek to challenge the established political parties and other feudal elements.
The recent Qadri drama in Islamabad though will be, in the long term, only a minor diversion. However, through all this change the essential position of the Pakistan army in the country’s public and political life and its complete hold over the security and crucial aspects of foreign policy of Pakistan have remained undiminished. This is unlikely to change any time soon.
It is only wishful thinking on the part of Indian progressive groups who are in contact with their Pakistani counterparts, that the army’s role will get reduced. Our liberals need to realise that their Pakistani counterparts will have to fight their own battles and India can do little to help them.
The Pakistan army leadership has shown signs of some fresh thinking largely on account of Pakistan’s economic troubles. Thus the controlled opening on trade and visas. At the same time the army wishes to firmly sustain the image of India as Pakistan’s enduring and implacable enemy. There has been no dilution of support to anti-India Jihadi groups. Senior establishment figures say during unguarded moments, that despite the nuclear umbrella, Pakistan will never give up its capacity to wage sub-conventional war against India.
In other words it will not give up the terrorism option. The Pakistani army’s position is getting stronger now internationally. The US and the West need its goodwill to extricate themselves from Afghanistan with at least ostensible orderliness.
Successive Indian Prime Ministers, but none more than Dr Manmohan Singh, have worked for the establishment of good and cooperative relations with Pakistan. No sane Indian can deny the validity and desirability of this objective. However, objectives have to be based on an assessment if they can be achieved within a foreseeable timeframe. Equally, if not more important, is the criticality of the strategies to be pursued to attain the goals set out.
Our strategy has relied on the superiority of conventional forces and a nuclear deterrent to prevent Pakistan from acquiring any Indian territory. That is the line we have drawn. We have gone to war in 1947-48, 1965 and 1999 when Pakistan went over that line. However, we have not been effectively able to counter Pakistan’s policy of sustained low-intensity war against India and the intrusive capacities it has developed in some parts of our country.
To counter Pakistan, we have relied only on a policy of incentives encapsulated in various initiatives in the current dialogue process. The Prime Minister has, despite the Mumbai attacks, sought to insulate the larger relationship from Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism. There is little doubt that though he has spoken that it cannot be business as usual after the heinous LOC incident, he would wish that the cooperative process be resumed.
No policy of incentives can work without disincentives; graduated negative responses for unacceptable behaviour often bring sobriety and the Pakistan army is a professional force. Pakistan has fissures, failings, difficulties in its economic, social and political life. We now need to act to develop capabilities so that we can operationalise disincentives. That may change its orientation towards India. The cycle of now on, now off, dialogue has not and will not do so.
(The writer is former Secretary of Ministry of External Affairs.)
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