“An Exercise In Futility”: The Reason India-Pakistan Talks On Kashmir Fail

Posted on July 27, 2016

By Angad Mehta:

“East is east, and West is west, and never the twain shall meet,” is prescient advice when comprehending the bewildering saga of the India-Pakistan relationship. Talks between the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan had recently commenced after a hiatus of a few months, after the attack on the Indian Air Force base at Pathankot. But they were overtaken by a new environment in Kashmir, and the prism is back to potential enemy rather than potential friend. When the situation becomes comparatively cooler, they shall meet as potential friends again.

The relationship has been tumultuous, and it remains an enigma for the world and two countries alike. The continuing fascination of the citizens in each country with the other has been both a cause and a symptom of this. The intrigue of the ‘other’, the curiosity to inquire into life ‘there’ is central to the psyche of the Indian as well as the Pakistani mind. For the Indians, the relationship with the nation that left them and caused the Partition is tinged with overtones of rejection and grief. For the Pakistanis, the striking similarity in culture and the vibrancy of the economy and of the Indian public sphere is possibly a bittersweet reminder of the future that could have been.

The internal dynamics of Pakistan have resulted in a situation in which the effective control over foreign affairs and defense lies with the military establishment. And not only is there uncertainty over control vis-à-vis the military and the civilians, but it leads to the question of who should the Indians talk to. Every hope of a possible spring over the frigid heights of Kashmir has ended in unseasonal squalls. The Pakistani military maintains its dominance over Pakistani society through the bogeyman of the ‘other’, the threat on the eastern border, preferably on both, with the rise in tensions with the Ghani government in Kabul. The meta-narrative of Pakistani society provides the military establishment the avenue to coalesce society around its agenda and maintain its pre-eminent position in the Islamic Republic, as the ultimate guardian that has the overarching moral right to dismiss the civilian government if it serves the national interest.

However, to control the passions generated in the Pakistani consciousness and to prevent it from reaching the threshold of mass hysteria for war, the generals favour limited bilateral dialogue with India as a safety vent. To prevent an actual rapprochement and an atmosphere of cooperation, the generals order periodic attacks at soft targets in India that occur at the beginnings of an Indo-Pakistan concord, designed to force India to suspend dialogue due to un-resistible public pressure.

On the other hand, India has little motivation to engage with Pakistan. It has attempted to militarise the border and then forget about Pakistan, but the ceaseless inflow of terrorists and weapons forces its attention. As a status quo power in the region, it seeks nothing from Pakistan except peace to provide an environment for economic development. But the simmering boil benefits the establishments in India and Pakistan because the awareness against the enemy is an opportunity that can be exploited to divert public scrutiny. Thus, periodically, India gains occasional concessions such as at Ufa and at other instances Pakistan is able to show to its citizenry that it cannot be browbeaten by the overbearing neighbour. The delicate balance of insult and victory is carefully maintained and remains one of the defining characteristics of this special relationship.

The Pakistani policy has been to counter Indian domination of South Asia at every opportunity and it has consistently attempted to block SAARC initiatives that are undertaken with Indian technical and financial backing. It has sought as well to develop relations with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, erstwhile East Pakistan. Advocacy for the rights of the Kashmiris is trumpeted at every international forum possible, although to questionable effect. And thus the game continues anew. Neither can break off talks completely, but they cannot sustain them either.

Resolving the key issue of Kashmir is currently an unattainable objective and at least in this case “jaw jaw”, as negotiations were memorably described by Shashi Tharoor once, is an exercise in futility. And contrary to what some Pakistanis claim is the threat of invasion from an aggressive India under Modi, that would be highly unlikely. The last thing the BJP wants, or, at least, appears to, is more Muslims in India.

Featured image credit: Narendra Shrestha – Pool/Getty Images.
Banner image credit: Yasbant Negi/India Today Group/Getty Images.

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