Friday October 07, 2022

Pakistan-India relations @ 75

August 14, 2022

Today, marks Pakistan’s 75th independence anniversary. Despite all the financial, political and social problems that it continues to face, one should be cognizant of the fact that a country that did not even have paper pins and other necessary stationary items for its government offices back in 1947, at present is an important player in the regional and global order. Since 1947, Pakistan and India are engaged in what late Stephen Cohen called a ‘paired minority conflict.’ It is a relationship based on open hostility, rivalry and deep mistrust.

Since the end of the cold war, the Indian nuclear test in 1998, the rise of China and its emergence as a serious challenger to the American dominance, the significance of India in the eyes of the Western power centres particularly Washington has increased immensely.

That India is an emerging power is not a recent claim. However, the jury is still out on whether it has happened. Historically, no country ever managed to rise to the status of global power without being a regional hegemon or having good relations with states in its immediate neighbourhood. In the case of India, this yet has to happen. At present, India has problematic relations with all its neighbours. For New Delhi, Pakistan’s continuous rejection of its greater power and hegemony in the region stems from the support China provides it to play the role of a spoiler in India’s rise to the status of a global actor.

Historically, New Delhi has followed different policies to deal with Pakistan at different times. For instance, it played a major and proactive role in the disintegration of Pakistan in 1971, pursued a policy of peace and engaged in bilateral dialogue as per the Gujral doctrine (a set of five principles to guide the conduct of foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbours, as spelt out by Indian diplomat Indar Kumar Gujral). In between these, it also actively pursued the objective of getting Pakistan declared a rogue or a terror-sponsoring state and sponsored terrorism in Pakistan. Since the nuclearisation of India and Pakistan, another trend has emerged in India’s dealing with Islamabad: every action or decision taken by India intends to be a signal to Washington to put pressure on Islamabad otherwise, New Delhi would be compelled to take action against Islamabad that might jeopardise American interests in the region.

Since the rise of Narendra Modi, India is undergoing Moditva (the term is used for Modi’s cultural nationalism anchored in the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) political doctrine of Hindutva, but extending beyond it). Modi’s politics revolves around anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan rhetoric. He has openly boasted about playing a role in breaking up Pakistan into two in 1971, supporting the Baloch insurgency and has used false flag operations to achieve political objectives. The draconian steps that he has taken in the Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) and against Indian Muslims in India are cases in point. He is using water as a weapon against Pakistan and declared that blood and water cannot flow together. New Delhi has adopted an uncompromising approach towards negotiations with Pakistan. Since Modi took over as the Prime Minister of India, New Delhi also wants Islamabad to acknowledge India’s supremacy in the region. As per Indian-British activist Satish Kumar, “Pakistan poses a long-term security threat to India which is inherent in the nature of the Pakistani state, its ideology, its power structure,” and that “India has to cope with this kind of adversary and its strategic capabilities and thinking, its national will and character must respond the situation accordingly.”

Indian and most of the western academic discourse on the subject, therefore, put the blame on Pakistan for this. Does this mean, India is clear on how to deal with Pakistan? If yes, what is India’s Pakistan policy? If not, how does India intend to address its Pakistan problem? When India engages in a military confrontation with Pakistan, what does it want to achieve? Or what is its end game? When it engages Pakistan in a peace process, what is India’s desired outcome? Does it want to manage the conflict or resolve it? When India argues for trade liberalisation, easy movement of people across the borders; most favoured nation (MFN) status and gas pipeline projects, does it mean, it is willing to accept Pakistan as a partner? What is India willing to offer Pakistan in return for that? Would India be willing to view Pakistan other than an enemy state? Does the Indian strategic and diplomatic community have any vision of Pakistan other than as an enemy state? The major obstacle in the way of establishing peace between India and Pakistan is a lack of a clearly defined strategic and foreign policy for Pakistan and an incoherent vision of the political and military establishment of India for how to deal with Pakistan.

A huge set of literature exists on enduring rivalries and how to establish peace between adversaries. One thing that is common in this literature is the element of reciprocity. Who must take the first step towards peace? We should evaluate whether Indian preconditions for starting peace talks with Pakistan are rational or not. Charles Kupchan, an American politician, in his magnum opus: How Enemies Become Friends: The Sources of Stable Peace, asserts that stable peace can only be achieved when the bigger and stronger parties in the conflict move toward peace and reconciliation. He argues: “the stronger party undertakes the ‘opening gambit’ and makes the initial concession to its adversary since its relative strength ‘puts it in a better position to offer concessions, since it is more confident than the weaker party that it will not suffer unacceptable costs should the target state fail to reciprocate. In other words, deft diplomacy, and not trade or investment makes peace.”

If peace is ever to be established between India and Pakistan and for the South Asian region to emerge as a regional block, India needs to rethink its Pakistan policy or what it believes to be its Pakistan policy. If this does not happen, in 2047, when Pakistan and India would be 100 years old, South Asia would still be amongst the most down-trodden and least developed regions of the world.

-The author is a Karachi-based security analyst