Policy towards India
MY previous article was about the importance of India in the context of our obligations towards our own people. This offers brief comments and perspectives on specific concerns. For so-called ‘leaders’ they will be water off a duck’s back! They are, accordingly, addressed to fellow Pakistanis concerned about our country’s future.
The Indian foreign secretary has come and gone. Pakistan will host the Saarc summit in 2016. Modi may attend or even visit before it. That could provide an opportunity for a joint statement of intent to progressively resolve core issues and draw up a road map for better and more substantive relations. Intense joint preparations will be crucial.
This will not be easy. There is zero mutual trust and even less political will. India does not feel the need to accommodate Pakistan. There is no domestic constituency for it. India sees itself as too strong for a weak and isolated Pakistan to do it any real harm. This perceived Indian ‘arrogance and inflexibility’ undermines the ‘liberal’ argument in Pakistan that it needs to develop a stable relationship with India in its own interest.
India and Pakistan have immediate concerns. India cites the infrastructure of terrorism in Pakistan that targets it; the reluctance of Pakistan to effectively prosecute or hand over suspects in the 2008 Mumbai atrocities; and alleged infiltration of militants across the LoC.
Pakistan refers to the political and human rights situation in Occupied Kashmir; the Indian refusal to negotiate a settlement of the dispute; the disproportionate Indian use of heavy artillery across the LoC and Working Boundary; and Indian political interference in Balochistan, Fata etc.
There are, of course, other important issues on the suspended ‘composite’ agenda. But if there is sustained movement on immediate concerns, movement on other issues becomes easier. However, attitudes and structural obstacles cannot be transcended at the bureaucratic level. Only the political leadership can enable negotiated progress on issues and their sustained implementation on the ground.
Pakistan and India cannot develop mutual cordiality overnight. But they should jointly acknowledge that in the 21st century they must jointly work towards it. Addressing each other’s core concerns must become a priority for both countries. This will require a shared and realistic vision to guide the policies of both countries towards each other.
Implementing confidence- and security-building measures; increasing economic cooperation, investment and trade; avoiding interference and conflict and strengthening procedures for this purpose; and reducing mutually hostile perceptions should become the focus of the bilateral relationship. This could set the scene for more critical progress that seems out of reach today.
Only the political leadership can enable negotiated progress on issues and their implementation.
All this is known. But it is never implemented. The blame game is easier. Zero-sum games thrive. Leadership absconds. Vested interests prevail. Public opinion is fed on negative assumptions and kept ignorant of imperatives and possibilities. Out-of-the-box or back-channel solutions are suffocated at birth. India misses opportunities. Pakistan pays the costs.
Skipping details, the following are observations on issues of concern:
Kashmir: Pakistan has the better case. But it has isolated itself internationally. Pakistan’s errors have obscured the centrality of Kashmiri human and political rights. Only a mutually acceptable settlement on the basis of these rights is feasible. The PDP-BJP alliance is not necessarily a negative development. The PDP has underlined the continuing relevance of Pakistan and the APHC. Modi has had to retreat on Article 370. In addition to UN resolutions, Pakistan’s position should also emphasise Article 257 of its Constitution. This could ensure harmony between Kashmiri and Pakistani positions in the event of talks with India for a compromise settlement. We need to seriously study the potential of the understandings reached in the back-channel talks of 2005-6.
Terrorism: The Pakistan defence minister’s statement on behalf of the Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura (the existence of which we have denied) in the context of an Afghan settlement is at odds with our statements after the Peshawar attack on the Army Public School. The foreign minister also spoke of militant organisations that had not targeted Pakistan. Are distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militant violence being revived? Pakistan looks confused, fearful and unreliable. Zarb-i-Azb risks being compromised. Our credibility suffers.
Mumbai: That was seven years ago, move on! This will not convince India or the international community. However, the domestic costs of bringing possible culprits to justice are considered too high. Once again our credibility suffers which is far more costly. Moreover, reports that suspects like Lakhvi are “living it up” in jail further damage Pakistan’s credibility. We seem to be our own worst enemy. The implicit argument is that those who may have been involved are too powerful to touch, and India should understand this! Well, it does. Accordingly, it sticks to maximalist positions which rule out compromise and progress.
LoC: The Indians misread the Shimla Agreement when they say it replaces UN resolutions on Kashmir. But it does require neither side to unilaterally change the situation on the ground. India violated Shimla on Siachen in 1984, and in 1999 we did the same in Kargil. We should both respect the 2003 LoC cease-fire agreement. Infiltration may ‘keep the pot boiling’ in India-held Kashmir and ‘lock up’ Indian forces. But it neither contributes towards a Kashmir settlement nor does it alleviate the human rights disaster for the Kashmiris. It also undermines Pakistan’s credibility in the so-called ‘war on terror’.
Balochistan: India denies allegations of its interference. Pakistan has not produced sufficient evidence in support of its charges. Nevertheless, India is probably involved in retaliation for its perception of Pakistani ‘interference’ in India-held Kashmir and India itself. The solution in Balochistan is fair and inclusive development and governance. That would reduce political alienation. This, of course, is studiously ignored.
Conclusion: India’s actions and policies, however provocative, should not lead us into irrational, irresponsible and inefficient responses. That might satisfy vested interests and raw emotion. But Pakistan loses every time. The record shows it. Even nuclear weapons cannot compensate for immature, stupid and self-serving leadership.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.