Perspective - Musings

A new page in Pak-India relations?

Updated Mar 10, 2017 08:14pm

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It’s been almost seven years since the Mumbai attacks — seven years without improved relations between Pakistan and India, and no end in sight. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has at least publicly announced a visit to Pakistan, though, something his predecessor never managed to do. Repairing ties with Pakistan has not been a high priority for Modi, who reaches out to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif when regional leaders gather. To remain aloof during these events would frost relations more than Modi would like, and New Delhi gets annoyed when outsiders – especially Washington – worry that ties between India and Pakistan may be spiralling downward. So there are photo opportunities and telephone calls, carefully choreographed so as not to seem too bilateral, after which not much happens, except firing across the Kashmir divide.

The ceasefire across the Line of Control, arranged a year after the Twin Peaks crisis sparked by the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, is long gone. Whatever was left of the ceasefire eroded badly in late 2012. Modi and other senior Indian officials have warned that firing on Indian soldiers and civilians would be returned many times over. This deterrent message hasn’t stopped the firing, which now approximates pre-Twin Peaks levels.

Pakistan doesn’t like to be ignored by India, but stratagems employed to increase its leverage have backfired badly

After the Indian Parliament attack and subsequent war scare, bilateral relations stabilised with the ceasefire and a few confidence-building and nuclear-risk reduction measures. In contrast, after the 2008 Mumbai attacks, India-Pakistan relations have flatlined. Even before Modi’s arrival, sentiment in New Delhi congealed that improved relations with Pakistan was a pipe dream as long as army headquarters in Rawalpindi remained unwilling. And if Rawalpindi wasn’t on board, it made no sense to undertake diplomatic exertions with Islamabad. New Delhi has since gone about its business without much regard for Pakistan. And business has been good.

Pakistani strategists have long held that New Delhi needs to engage its nuclear-armed neighbour; New Delhi is demonstrating otherwise. Serious diplomatic re-engagement is not beyond reach, but Pakistan’s means of suasion have diminished, along with its domestic health. India doesn’t need Pakistan’s market, and it intends to reach the markets of Central Asia though Iran. Pakistan’s economy, on the other hand, needs the Indian market.

Pakistan doesn’t like to be ignored by India, but stratagems employed to increase its leverage have backfired badly. Before barriers were constructed along the Kashmir divide, it was easy to get India’s attention (and everyone else’s) by stoking insurgency in the valley. These tactics have hurt Pakistan more than India. The nuclear competition also draws attention, but too much attention to Pakistan’s build-up is unwanted. And besides, weapons that are not usable do not provide leverage. Attacks on iconic Indian targets by violent extremist groups also draw attention, but not the kind that helps Pakistan. Ineffectual judicial proceedings against Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi are an enduring embarrassment. He has become the symbol of Rawalpindi’s past misdeeds and the most ostensible reason for New Delhi’s current disinterest.

The meeting between Sharif and Modi at Ufa provided an opening for sustained high-level dialogue. But meetings can be postponed when they are deemed ill-timed. The most obvious place to start improving bilateral relations and to keep high-level meetings on track is to reinstitute the ceasefire along the Kashmir divide. The 2003 ceasefire was initiated by General Pervez Musharraf. The initiative this time must come from Modi. Stopping this fire would be a boon to non-combatants and would clarify that Rawalpindi and Islamabad are on the same page — at least on this matter. Only then might more pages be turned.


This was originally published in Herald's August 2015 issue. To read more, subscribe to Herald's print edition.

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