External Affairs

What can India Do About Pakistan?

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Delhi must look at talks as a means of enabling sustained diplomacy, rather than as a bargaining chip or form of penalty — whose denial will somehow become a pressure-point on Islamabad

File photo of Pakistan's Prime Miniser, Nawaz Sharif, with Army Chief General Raheel Sharif. Credit: ISPR

File photo of Pakistan’s Prime Miniser, Nawaz Sharif, with Army Chief General Raheel Sharif. Credit: ISPR

The India-Pakistan talks have been called off and the sense of relief in Islamabad and, one suspects, New Delhi, must be palpable. Within days of the joint statement at Ufa last month, it became clear that the calculations on which the resumption of a dialogue process may have been envisaged had come undone. Stung by the widespread political as well as public criticism of having omitted any reference to Kashmir from the joint statement, the Nawaz Sharif government went into overdrive to insist there could be no talks without J&K being part of the agenda. On the India-Pakistan border and Line of Control, ceasefire violations mounted and two major cross-border terrorist incidents followed, one in Gurdaspur, Punjab and the other in Udhampur, Jammu & Kashmir. A “living dossier” in the form of the Pakistani national, Naved, was captured during the latter incident. He cheerfully admitted to being a Lashkar-e-Tayyaba jihadist and expressed delight at having been given the opportunity to kill Hindus.

Nawaz Sharif has clearly been unwilling or unable to rein in the military leadership or the terrorist group, the LeT. If the Indian strategy is to engage the Pakistani civilian leadership, while retaliating robustly to cross-border provocations by its military—hoping thereby to strengthen a pro-peace constituency in Pakistan—this has proved to be a non-starter. The Pakistan Army has demonstrated time and again that it exercises a virtual veto over the country’s policies towards India, Afghanistan, the United States and China. Except for India, these countries maintain parallel and probably deeper relations with the Pakistan military, acknowledging the reality of its over-riding authority.

Once the Pakistani military had made its opposition apparent and escalated violence on and across the border with India, the proposed meeting between the two National Security Advisers was doomed.

The assumption that the civilian, democratically elected government in Islamabad, is in favour of better relations with India is only partially true. It is a complex but interpenetrated political, bureaucratic and military elite which rules Pakistan. There may be nuanced differences among its constituents, but they share a deeply adversarial perception of India. Furthermore, it is presumptuous to believe that India can significantly influence the domestic political dynamic in Pakistan. Change in Pakistan will come from how internal forces play themselves out. This is not to suggest that India should not play different constituencies in Pakistan differently. It should, but with only modest expectations.

Pakistani calculations

India-Pakistan relations are, by their very nature, adversarial. This is rooted in widely divergent but deeply entrenched historical and national narratives. Each side has a different view of why partition took place, how the Kashmir dispute erupted, or why the wars of 1965 and 1971 were fought. Even liberal Pakistanis believe that cross-border terrorism is explicable, if not justifiable, because of an asymmetric threat from India. Such competing narratives can be reconciled only over a long period of patient engagement in which historical fact is separated from its politically generated distortions.

The expectation of a spectacular and emotional grand reconciliation, as between long estranged brothers, is a seductive myth which a succession of Indian leaders and civil society advocates have fallen prey to. Reconciliation and expanded cooperation will be the cumulative culmination of a series of continuous, modest, but nevertheless, practical steps to improve relations. Conversely—and as we have seen repeatedly in the recent past—any suggestion of a more than modest initiative promising a transformed relationship has inevitably led to a backlash from elements deeply invested in hostility.

Whatever be the official rhetoric in Islamabad, there is a broad elite consensus that the use of cross-border terrorism has proved to be remarkably effective in advancing Pakistan’s aims vis-à-vis India and Afghanistan. The possession of a nuclear deterrent, it is believed, shields Pakistan from serious military retaliation. The military establishment also believes that Pakistan’s adversaries, either by choice or by compulsion, are unable to play the same covert game of tit-for-tat. In the case of India, Islamabad has escaped retribution despite Pakistan-based terrorists launching progressively more serious terrorist attacks against Indian targets, including the horrific assault on Mumbai in 2008. In Afghanistan, its use of cross-border terrorism is seen validated by the US withdrawal from the country and its acquiescence in a Pakistani lead role in any political settlement of the long-drawn out civil war. Unless this strategic calculus in Islamabad undergoes a change, it is unlikely that we shall see anything more than a tactical adjustment in response to immediate pressures.

Changing the Pakistani strategic calculus requires measures on multiple fronts. There is no silver bullet. What are the levers which, taken together, could raise the cost to Pakistan, of continuing with its current posture?

Inhibitions to be overcome

India must dispense with the implicit anxiety that the disintegration of Pakistan or its descent into chaos,will confront India with an existential crisis. Whether Pakistan descends into chaos or disintegrates will depend upon what its people want and how the domestic political dynamic plays itself out in the country. India is mostly irrelevant in this regard. To refrain from imposing penalties on Pakistan’s rulers for fear of stoking chaos, is a flawed proposition. Is it not strange that Pakistan’s fragility is advertised as a mitigating circumstance even while its resilience and survivability is lauded by one analyst after another? Pakistan is often said to be suicidal but it has always shown a remarkable willingness to cut deals which ensure its survival and maintain the privileges of its self-entitled elite. We should be clear that we are dealing with a state that is coldly calculating in its pursuit of its declared interests.

Pakistan also uses the linguistic and cultural affinities between the peoples of the two countries to arouse sentimentality, which it then uses to obscure its fully unsentimental aims as a state with hostile intent. The Indian side, particularly political leaders, often fall prey to such tactics, sometimes quite unconsciously.The affinity is a reality to be acknowledged and used to advance relations if possible, but it should never be allowed to influence the calculus of inter-state relations.

Once these unspoken but severely limiting inhibitions are abandoned, then one can begin to look at what one would normally do faced with an adversarial state.

We have several pressure points which we have been loathe to use despite there being no corresponding Pakistani restraint. We have a formal claim on Gilgit Baltistan but since the Simla Agreement we have rarely articulated it, let alone pressed it determinedly. We have been reluctant to receive people from Gilgit Baltistan or raise our voice when their rights are violated. Our silence on the horrific human rights violations in Balochistan is misplaced. Thanks to its harbouring of Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, Pakistan has earned its reputation of being an “epicentre of terror”. We could be much more active internationally to exploit that negative image. This should go hand in hand with the strengthening of our own security capabilities in preventing cross-border terrorism and retaliating against military provocations.

Denying dialogue does not help

At the same time, there are positive elements to be pursued through parallel, sustained and patient engagement. This means that talks should be pursued enabling sustained diplomacy, and not used as a bargaining chip or as a weak form of penalty. Doing so is acknowledgement that India has no effective levers to influence behaviour on the other side. In the past few years our response pattern has convinced Pakistan that after every crisis it is India which feels compelled to return to the table without a Pakistani quid pro quo. Therefore, any notion that holding back on dialogue is a pressure point on Pakistan, is no longer valid.

Other positive actions include promotion of people-to-people contact at all levels through a more liberal visa policy, unilateral if necessary. Even the limited visa liberalisation since 2004 has significantly increased the traffic between the two countries and there is a huge pent up demand in Pakistan for travel to India. There are close cultural affinities between the two countries and Bollywood is an indispensable part of the fabric of Pakistani life. These are underused assets.

The positive impact of increased exposure of Pakistani citizens to India will chip away at the contrived hostility that is encouraged by the Pakistani ruling elite, but this is a long-term endeavour requiring perseverance and patience. It should be our effort to promote exchanges among civil society, media and even the armed forces, such as NDC to NDC or Defence Staff College interactions. The promotion of bilateral trade and commercial exchanges should be a priority, opening up the Indian market to Pakistan’s key export commodities. The objective of these and other initiatives should be to foster, over a period of time, a more balanced and varied relationship between the two countries.

Managing Pakistan is a challenge but approaching it as a state with rational calculations which can be influenced through a varied set of political, economic, military and cultural instruments will do much to remove the self-imposed inhibitions on the conduct of our policy. The shift in mindset is fundamental. The rollout and use of the levers outlined here will need to be graduated and incremental, with careful regard to timing and opportunity. This is what we do with other states. This is what we need to do with Pakistan.

Shyam Saran is a former Foreign Secretary. He is currently Chairman,RIS and Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research

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  • nsathya1990

    This is the best article that I have come across on Pakistan.

    I would add a little to the last part:
    It is nations such as US which forces India to talk to Pakistan. So, we can in turn ask US to pressurize Pakistan to open up its border to India (for trade), provide India with MFN status. Such initiatives would get less publicity, which is what needed for India-Pak relationship for now.

    • Kumar

      US can’t force India but do anything unless India want to be get forced.

    • Ghulam Lone

      I agree that Pakistan would be best served by opening lines of trade with India, but the USA will never step in. The US has bilateral relations with countries on an individual basis, while taking in the larger context. That means the US-Pak relationship is separate from US-Ind ties. Yes, America does take note of each countries context in the region/world, but it will not act on behalf of the other. America will only act in America’s own interest – it will not sacrifice its influence in Pakistan in order to press it to open up to India when such trade relations aren’t a central goal of US policy. Sure, America would indeed like to see open trade, but it won’t step on any toes in Islamabad to make that happen. American support of Indian aims is only undertaken to support America’s own interest. For example, America really doesn’t care about Pakistani support of a group like Hizbul Mujahideen or even Jaish e Muhammad, but it cares about LeT because the LeT killed American citizens in Mumbai attacks. Otherwise, the US has a fully hands off approach to the region, and Pakistan understands this more than Indians do, since the US has refused to mediate in Kashmir.

  • Gus, USA

    when are we reaching people of Gilgit baltistan , or POK who are opposing to Pakistan ? We also initiate discussions with them. Also support balochistani people morally.

    • Mano Ji

      and should Pakistanis Support Khalistan, Kashmir, and Assam morally?

      • Kumar

        Then what u have read in article. Your question is akin to folklore joke in North that one intelligent person after hearing Ramayan from Pandit for whole night asked him in morning whether Sita was mother of Ram.

        Can’t you observe/understand that Pakistan is already doing it with full vigour. Its only that its economic & inherent limitation have held it back.

      • Gus, USA

        Pakistan is doing that openly, you tube videos are available where Pakistani guest openly admit supporting all that inside India. Kargil, Osama and open support to Kashmiri terror and Khalistan terror shows duplicity of Pakistan

        • Ghulam Lone

          Yes, random Pakistan guests may say that. Then you have an actual Indian minister, Ajit Doval, who openly speaks of supporting rebels in balochistan. Which words are more important? That of a Pakistan political commentator, or an actual member of Modi’s cabinet? You cannot condemn pakistan unless you condemn Doval too. Otherwise youre a simple hypocrite.

          • Gus, USA

            Per my knowledge Ajit did not say he supports, but he said that he can support as there is unrest. Doval is not a minister he is a security advisor not even equivalent of Army chiefs ..like of Raheel Sharief who also threatens India

    • Ghulam Lone

      Who in “PoK” is opposing Pakistan? A very small minority. In fact, the people of Gilgit Baltistan have been pressing Islamabad to declare them as a fifth province. That’s sort of different from opposing Pakistan…

  • Akbar Sait

    It is tiresome and very difficult but isnt it time that the successors of the British Raj on both sides of the border get to grips with reality. For example the objective of the struggle for independence surely was a better life in every sense : freedom .to achieve meaningful self governance and through that better life for everybody, not just for much fewer than half the population. Why do we imagine in the sub-continent that we necessarily have to go through the historical processes of 20th century Europe, war, destruction, waste of resources on militarism to prove what? Surely the age of the imperialist is over, what the British faced in India and Africa, the Americans in Vietnam and Iraq , the apartheid regime in South Africa is living testimony to the reality of todays world. A world which surely needs a strong defence to deter aggression, but equally governance that meaningfully and sincerely responds to the aspirations of the people.

  • monsoon23

    Pakistan is economically and politically ruined by it’s military–it’s a failed welfare state, unwilling to invest in it’s infrastructure. China plans to spend tens of billions on aid to Pakistan by building coal energy plants that will help in the short-term, but in the long run, won’t solve their energy problems and will create pollution problems. China seems poised to join the US in keeping Pakistan from facing the truth about their nation and will delay Pakistan from making the necessary changes to prosper: Strong partnership trade deals with India. So strong, that any conflict would hurt both economies. So strong, that they need each other to survive. Otherwise, peaceful India-Pakistani relations will be blocked forever by their religious differences and religious intolerances. And Pakistan’s delusional belief that they are the chosen people to rule the region, when they struggle to provide one hour of energy to their people on any given day.

    • Ghulam Lone

      This idea of a “Failed state” is so tired. Its constant repetition is the result of intellectual laziness. Here’s a statistic, India’s per capita income is about $1650, while Pakistans is $1513. So “booming India” has a per capita income only $140 more per year than “Failed State Pakistan.” Either Pakistan isn’t such a failed state, or India isnt booming. I think India IS booming, and I also know Pakistan is NOT this state which is lightyears behind India. Statistics and data just don’t support the idea that India is light years ahead of Pakistan. Further, Pakistan’s economy has already turned around, and violence is down by 70% even in Balochistan. Clearly it isn’t a failed state. Such statements might stoke your own ego, but are not based in fact.

      China would actually prefer Pakistan to make peace and trade with India. China itself has trade relations with India. The Chinese are not out to trap India or prevent peace between the two countries. The only thing standing between trade is the Modi government and the Pak Army. Modi’s government has tried unsuccessfully to dictate terms of engagement with Pakistan by insisting that Kashmir never be brought up ever again. This is wholly unrealistic, and its even more unrealistic to think that India can simply dictate conditions to Pakistan when even Nepal refuses to take order from Delhi.

      Also, your idea of Pakistanis seeing themselves as a chosen people is a theory from the 1940s about the Punjabi Muslim martial race. No one in Pakistan thinks like this anymore, which is why it has such an emphasis on nukes now. But this line keeps being tread by India, yet it really serves no purpose than to fire up Indian nationalists with no real use for such jingoism.

      In fact, I’d argue that much of the reason there is no peace in South Asia is because both sides have reduced the other to a cycle of stereotypes that truly needs updating. Just look at all the Indian comments about Pakistan on here, and see how they’re basically just rehashed statements from 30 years ago.

      I do 100% fully agree with your statement that India AND Pakistan will continue to suffer from this stupid rivalry. India will never reach her full potential without a peaceful neighborhood, and Pakistan can’t count on CPEC from saving its own economy when the giant next door is ignored. When foreigners visit India and Pakistan, they can barely tell they’re in a different country. Whatever differences we exaggerate and amplify are completely overwhelmed by our similarities.

  • monsoon23

    In addition, Pakistan should end it’s delusion about war with India and get India to be it’s best friend and investment-trading partner.

    • Ghulam Lone

      I agree about the trade, but lets not pretend this is a one way street. The fact that Indian law actually forbids maps from depicting the ground realities in Kashmir shows who is also delusional.

  • Bharat Mata Ki Jai

    That’s a lie made by your military! All terrorists in your country are due to blow backs for cultivating good terrorists aka mujahideen by your pakistani army.The pakistani army blames its own failures by blaming India thus has created a state of impunity for its own flawed policies.Pakistan is very much like North korea where its leaders spoon feed its civilians with conspiracy theories and propaganda(usually radical ideology against Hindus) to divert attention from its internal mess and to continue its hostilities towards India without any repercussions from its civilian population.

    • Ghulam Lone

      What are you basing your outrageous claims on? Do you think Pakistanis are truly like North Koreans, or do you admit you’re exaggerating. Because clearly you must know nothing about NK, and even the most ardent anti-Pakistan voices should know that the two countries are completely different. Pakistanis arent just spoon fed propaganda by the government, but it seems the Indian media has very successfully convinced Indians such as yourself with this nonsense propaganda. The fact that you could compare a country like Pakistan to North Korea just shows how shallow your insight truly is.

      The reality is, most Pakistanis either are completely apathetic towards India, or want friendlier ties. It is only a very tiny, albeit vocal, minority who are rabidly anti-Indian. I read news from both countries, and Indian papers are reliably far more vicious in their reporting of Pakistan rather than vice versa. Your stereotypes of the anti-Hindu jihadi are hilariously overblown.

      In fact, there are some Pakistani jihadis who are radicalized and trained to kill Hindus. That is a fact. However, in Gujurat, Muzaffarnagar, and Bombay, crowds of regular and ordinary Indians went on a rampage killing Muslims. And yes, there are a suprisingly high number of Hindus still in Pakistan, and they are very visible in volatile Karachi, yet aside from Partition and riots after the Babri mosque, Hindus have not been targeted in Pakistan (even in Karachi!) in the same way. A few hundred trained Pakistani radicals killing Hindus versus thousands of ordinary Indians killing Muslims.