The crash-and-burn denouement of New Delhi’s most recent attempt to resume engaging Islamabad is hardly tragic. If anything, the swiftness of the collapse of the proposed meeting between External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) might make Indian and Pakistani policymakers realise that fundamental contradictions in the framework of India-Pakistan engagement pre-ordain the failure of every peace initiative. On one hand, it is ludicrous for India to demand perfect conditions as a pre-requisition to dialogue; on the other, Pakistan tempts fate by keeping Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) on the boil with talks in the balance.
With dialogue in cold storage, the mood in Kashmir is bleak. Local body elections on Monday saw a dismal turnout. India’s army continues combating a renewed insurgency on the Line of Control (LoC) and in the hinterland. Ceasefire violations are up almost six-fold, from under 200 in the last year of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to 1,128 already this year. Compared to 2013, when 30 Indian soldiers were killed in J&K, more than twice that number died in each of the last two years. This year could be as bloody.
Militancy, which was declining precipitously after 2010, has revived robustly. In 2014, when the NDA government was formed, there were only 150 armed militants in Kashmir. But since 2016, Kashmiri anger at the growing anti-Muslim climate across the country and the killing of militant commander and social media darling, Burhan Wani, has fuelled a rush to the gun. Militancy flourishes, despite the killing of 500 armed militants in two years. Kashmiri youngsters are joining the fight knowing the odds are stacked against them and that they cannot expect to survive six months. And when they are killed, their emotion-charged funerals see other youngsters taking their place. Pakistan needs to do little to keep this meat-grinder churning. A Pakistan-fuelled insurgency has transformed smoothly into a predominantly Kashmiri one.
Meanwhile, tensions on the LoC remain inflamed with continued incidents of mutilation of soldiers’ bodies. India’s army chief has threatened more than once that Pakistan’s army would pay a price for its barbarism. However, India’s sensible restraint, given the dangers of uncontrolled escalation in a nuclear backdrop, restricts the punishment that can be imposed on Pakistan’s military. The bottom line clearly is: We can make the Pakistan Army hurt, but we cannot make it change.
That raises a fundamental question: Does the combination of stable nuclear deterrence and the Pakistan military’s implacable hostility render inevitable the continuation of the low-grade conflict between the two countries?
Well-informed observers of Pakistan, most recently India’s former ambassador to Islamabad, Sharat Sabharwal, have said Pakistan is not a monolith, but an amalgam of several constituencies, each of which must be engaged separately, on its own terms. There is the Pakistan Army with its supposedly unwavering institutional interest in low-grade tensions with India, in order to maintain its salience as the defender of Pakistan. There are the Pakistan Army’s jihadi proxies — India-focused groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Hizbul Mujahideen — which do the army’s bidding; and the increasingly anti-India television media. But there are also pro-India groups, such as mainstream politicians that vie with the army for political power, and business and commercial groups that see benefit in better trade relations. Then there are the Pakistani masses, who are not viscerally opposed to India, but who coalesce behind the military-led “deep state” when an Indian threat arises.
While this notion of “multiple Pakistans” is valid, the conclusions we draw from this are mostly fanciful. They centre on the idea that India should focus on the constituencies that favour better relations with India, most notably mainstream politicians, the business class and the aam Pakistani. This would supposedly generate pressure on Pakistan’s military not to hold them hostage to its self-serving enmity with India.
This is a seductive theory from the Indian standpoint, resting on the comforting presumption that many Nice Pakistanis are forcibly counterposed against All Us Nice Indians by a Bad Pakistani fringe — the army, the jihadis and the increasingly rabid television media. However, for the most part, Pakistan’s citizens adore their army. It is hard to figure whether this stems from a peculiarly Punjabi love for the uniform, or the absence of other functional institutions to admire, or simply that the Pakistan Army has channelised towards itself the fawning hysteria once lavished on world-class cricket, hockey and squash players that have left no successors. It surely says something that an ageing cricket superstar was elected prime minister, albeit with significant help from men in khaki.
Instead, a realistic peace process would have to evaluate and find ways to address the core concerns of the Pakistan Army. Indian “muscularists” would argue this is a fruitless endeavour since the Pakistan Army wants only to reduce India to smoking ruins, onto which it would stomp in jackboots and pluck off Kashmir. Even if that were true, the army remains a popularly trusted institution that controls the levers of power. And General Qamar Javed Bajwa, more than his recent predecessors, speaks like a practical man with more achievable objectives.
In evaluating what could attract the attention of Pakistan’s generals, New Delhi could draw ideas from its own strategic concerns about China. We in India know what it is like to neighbour a giant country with an economy, defence budget and military several times larger than our own, and which has once, not long ago, dealt us a shocking military defeat that still scars our collective psyche. To extend the analogy, that country too is rapidly outpacing us and we sneakily admire its success. Providing a model for emulation, we refrain from fomenting terrorism or internal discord in that country and it refrains from deploying serious military force on its border with us. Wisely, it refrains from issuing regular threats to teach us a lesson. The India-China model of managing a hotly disputed border and a conflicted strategic relationship provides a model to emulate in the India-Pakistan context.
Any discussion on creating security for India would have to be based on creating a mutual security for Pakistan — a radical idea in a relationship where both armies expend enormous energy into creating insecurity for each other. Broaching ways to fundamentally transform this dynamic has the potential to grab the attention of the Pakistani corps commanders. Whose security comes first — India’s or Pakistan’s — is a chicken and egg conundrum. But, to mix metaphors, you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.
(Ajai Shukla/ Business-Standard)