Why Peace Talks Between India And Pakistan Are Likely To Remain Just That, Talks

Posted on July 5, 2016 in Politics

By Sumit Jain:

Hypothetically speaking, if there would be a World War, say in the Middle East (with Saudi Arabia and allies on one side and Iran accompanied with China and Russia on the other), I believe there is only and only one country which will be able to act as a credible and stable mediator. Yes, you guessed it right, a country known for its peace-loving image, India.

Ours is a nation which has been widely recognised for propagating peace and giving up the path of violence. Perhaps it is due to Mahatma Gandhi or the foreign policy of Jawaharlal Nehru, but I feel that we have been able to convince the world that the way forward is in pursuing peace. Even after such tremendous credibility, we have failed at one front and that is in dealing with Pakistan. So what is it that makes this situation extraordinary? Have we failed to convey our intentions to our neighbour or is the other side that is hell-bound to pursue violence? Let us track some instances in the recent past to make an honest judgement.

India’s foreign policy has been (more or less) consistent regardless of which political party is in power but for the sake of understanding, the analysis of events pertaining to this article will start from May 2014 when the BJP-led NDA government took charge. Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi scored a lot by riding the anti-Pakistan sentiment during the run-up to the elections in 2014, he was the first one to extend an invitation to Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, for his swearing-in-ceremony at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Since then, India has approached its neighbour at various levels from the National Security Advisor (NSA) to the External Affairs Ministry (EAM) but to no avail. Our resumption of bilateral talks on the issue of terrorism almost fructified in 2015 but then Pakistan brought the issue of Kashmir once again and called-off the talks. Not to forget, the bold surprise visit of PM Modi to Pakistan to greet PM Sharif on his birthday (a great diplomatic gesture) which was unfortunately followed by the attacks in Pathankot. So what makes this relationship so unique? I would like to probe it further.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets SAARC leaders
Sushma Swaraj with Nawaz Sharif. Source: Yasbant Negi/Getty

India has been a democracy since its independence and it elects a civilian central government every five years. While the role of the elected officials is to take care of civil administration, the role of the Indian Army is limited to India’s borders and to assist the civil administration whenever there is a situation of emergency like the Mumbai attacks or the natural calamities in Uttarakhand and Chennai. The policy making is left for the legislators and the Army Generals really have no say in it unless the issue is of security concern. Unfortunately this is not the case in Pakistan.

Our neighbour has a nascent democracy. The country has survived several coup attempts and was under military rule for decades since the country parted with India in 1947. Though the nation has been able to resist coup attempts since 2008, the Pakistan Army still calls most of the shots behind the screen. Shashi Tharoor’s “Pax Indica” describes how the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) work in resonance and their functioning is above everything in Pakistan. The Army has given clear red lines to the civilian government, crossing which, can have serious implications for the elected representatives (in fact, the US openly deals with the Pakistan Army Chief over security issues in Islamabad even when there is a civilian government). This is our major source of problems as the elected government in Pakistan has limited powers.

We have fought multiple wars and been in multiple conflicts with Pakistan and the result of the same has worsened the situation. Whenever India tries to have cordial relations with its neighbour, what is seen is an increased insurgency at the borders. Nothing can illustrate this better than the Pathankot attacks which followed PM Modi’s surprise visit to Pakistan. To quote the number of times the government has shown its intention to maintain peace with Pakistan has become a futile exercise.

The way forward to see is quite difficult from here. The only nearly impossible solution to the problem is to fully engage in talks with Pakistan at the highest level with international media coverage (similar to PM Modi’s latest US visit) and to continue taking being on the defense at the border. Meanwhile, India has to get its diplomats in full-swing at the same time and convince the United Nations that it is Pakistan which supports terrorism. If it is able to do this, Pakistan will either face sanctions from the world-governing body or has to regretfully give-up violence. However it is hard to assume that Pakistan will accept sanctions further crippling its poor economy. Nevertheless it is easier said than done.

If there is one thing in India which constantly garners attention, it is Pakistan. Anything related to our neighbouring country is sure to get more attention because of our seemingly negative views for the same. Any slightest of the attempts made by the Indian government to reconcile things come under the scrutiny of the electorate and make it politically infeasible. Despite all this, I hope that our PM displays further courage and takes the initiative. Another visit to Pakistan with a follow-up from the EAM will not be a bad place to start. I keep my fingers crossed!