Is dialogue an option?

India-Pakistan ties

The seemingly successful Korean summit has prompted many people to suggest that now India and Pakistan should also engage in peace talks to resolve outstanding issues. These suggestions are coming at a time when the real wielder of power in Pakistan, its army, appears especially keen to open the dialogue process. It is now being suggested that things have become different in Pakistan after Qamar Javed Bajwa became the army chief. Pakistanis now blame India for not reciprocating its gesture. But is Pakistan really serious about peace this time? Or is it trying to play some game once again?

In the past, there have been suggestions that India, instead of talking to the civilian authorities in Pakistan, should directly engage Pakistani army as Americans do. Americans invite Pakistani army chief and directly do business with him. The interest shown by the Pakistani army to initiate a peace dialogue with India falls in line with this view.

However, it needs to be remembered here that the Americans do business with Pakistan army from a position of strength and the same leverage may not be available to India in its negotiations. It is true that a Pakistan army-blessed pace process will have a greater chance of success. But is the timing right to engage in a peace process with Pakistan when Pakistan is undergoing election process, and India will have general elections within next one year? In fact, no meaningful dialogue can be held in a situation where both governments would have their political survival uppermost on their minds.

It is also unwise to draw a parallel between the Korean crisis and India-Pakistan tensions. The nature of both the problems is qualitatively different.

In the Korean peninsula, an attempt is being made to persuade North Korea to opt for denuclearisation. This may or may not happen, but North Korea has agreed in-principal to do so. On the other hand, Pakistan is growing its nuclear arsenal at a fast pace, and it is believed that soon it will become the fourth largest nuclear power. It is also developing tactical nuclear weapons, which it actually plans to use in war. The rapid growth in the Pakistani nuclear arsenal creates doubt about its peaceful intentions. Under the prevailing situation in South Asia, denuclearisation at this point appears a remote possibility.

The second objective of the Korean summit has been to formally end the Korean War and to work for the unification of both the Koreas. History of the Indian sub-continent on the other hand, is quite different. Pakistan was created as a homeland for the Indian Muslims. It was created on the basis of religion. Though Jinnah talked about a secular basis of the Pakistani state, probably he never seriously meant it. In any case, all thoughts of secularism were buried later with Jinnah.

Instead of becoming a progressive state, Pakistan has opted for radicalism and Jihadism. If anything, the Pakistani state has further acquired religious/ theocratic nature and it’s not surprising that Jihadis of Pakistan want to turn it into an Islamic state. Clearly, unification of India and Pakistan is not on agenda here.

Basically, Pakistan has to learn to live peacefully with India for which no peace dialogue is required. Though Pakistani military says that now it has realised that it is fruitless to engage in an arms race with a country six times its size, it does not seem to have reconciled to the existence of its larger neighbour.

The attempt of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to break the ice with Pakistan by visiting Nawaz Sharif in Lahore is not seen positively in many quarters in India as it was followed by a terrorist attack on Pathankot air base where a direct involvement of Pakistan’s army was suspected. Since then, India has been careful for right reasons not to make any new peace overture.

It is well-known that Pakistan does not like the current dispensation in India. If Pakistan raises tension with India, this is likely to benefit the present Union government in India. On the other hand, a peace talk with Pakistan would be a risky proposal politically, because if Pakistan indulges in terror acts or similar such activity just before the elections, then it will be an embarrassment for the present government and will have a political cost at the hustings.

Cautious engagement

The Indian government would naturally be careful in engaging Pakistan at this point when it knows very well that peace with Pakistan is not going to happen in a hurry. Pressing a reset button in India-Pakistan relations is going to be different from pressing a reset button in India-Nepal relations.

Pakistan says that its western borders are now peaceful after anti-terror operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fassad. It claims that peace with India will allow Pakistan to develop economically. And to achieve this peace it made a peace overture by inviting the Indian Defence attache to Pakistan Day celebrations. Subsequently, Pakistan army chief General Bajwa also made the statement that Pakistan military wants peace and dialogue with India.

Peace is a noble idea, and no doubt will give peace dividend to both India and Pakistan. But on the ground, nothing has changed. Pakistan’s nuclearisation is progressing at a fast pace. Daily battles are being fought between Pakistan-sponsored terrorists and Indian security forces in Jammu and Kashmir.

Actually, Pakistan-sponsored terrorists and Jihadists appear to have lost some ground lately and a number of them have been eliminated. If Pakistan is really interested in achieving peace with India, it should first show by its actions that it is interested in peace. Gestures like inviting the Indian Defence attache to Pakistan Day celebrations are important but don’t mean much unless there is a change in the behaviour of the Pakistani state.

(The writer is visiting professor and Chair (India Studies) and Associate Fellow, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania)

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Is dialogue an option?

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