The incident of killing and mutilation of two soldiers of the Indian Army—and especially the beheading of one of them— by intruding Pakistani forces on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC) has threatened to derail the India-Pakistan peace process. On the back of the public outcry over the incident, a usually soft-spoken Prime Minister Manmohan Singh issued a statement that there cannot be “business as usual”. The government has decided to “pause” the implementation of the liberal visa regime on ‘technical’ grounds. Against this backdrop, the following questions come to mind: is India-Pakistan peace process sustainable? Can they be de-linked from the events on the ground, especially in Kashmir? Can Pakistan’s fledging democracy be a partner in this long and tardy path of peace?
Scepticism about the longevity of bilateral dialogue has been a perennial feature of discourse on India-Pakistan relations ever since the two countries restarted the peace process in the aftermath of the ghastly Mumbai attack with the Indian government extending a hand of peace in spite of certain reservations expressed in the country regarding the future of the peace process.
The two countries have been observing a ceasefire along the LoC since 2003, although the number of ceasefire violations has increased over time. From the Pakistani side there has been a slow move towards increasing contact with India without at the same time insisting on the ‘core issue’; in effect, Pakistan seemed to be adopting a holistic approach towards its relationship with India. Two reasons are self-evident for this new Pakistani approach. First, there appears to be a broad understanding among the political parties in Pakistan to stay engaged with India with the objective of reducing bilateral tensions. Second, there is a conscious effort not to over-emphasise India as a enemy, which inevitably empowers the Army and emboldens its position vis-à-vis the political forces in Pakistan.
For the past few months, Pakistan seemed to be balancing the interests of the political parties with the interest of the Army. While it may be difficult to segregate these two interests into water-tight compartments, nevertheless, a majority in the Army do strongly believe that India is an existential threat in spite of their recognition that the internal security threat remains the most critical challenge confronting Pakistan today.
This is not to deny that there are vested interest groups in Pakistan that have in the past tried to invent a link between non-resolution of the Kashmir issue and stability in Afghanistan. Even Zardari, perhaps at the behest of these forces, was seen to be raising the Kashmir issue at the United Nations. The attempt by Pakistan Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jillani to meet the Hurriyat Conference leaders in Delhi in July 2012 was not only to assure these leaders that Pakistan has not abandoned their cause but also to send a signal to the Pakistani establishment that the government is conscious of the ‘core interest’ while pursuing the agenda of peace.
While the Pakistan Army was on board on Islamabad’s decision to grant MFN status to India and broaden trade ties, it was clear that it was not in a position to oppose the decision at a time when its relationship with the United States had deteriorated over the Salala attack which killed 22 soldiers. Instead, it chose to oppose the government’s policy through its militant protégée, i.e., Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC)—a conglomeration of radical militant groups—which completely opposed the decision to grant MFN status to India. This led to a delay in the signing of the liberalised visa regime and grant of MFN status to India by the beginning of 2013. Pakistan’s flip-flop on the issue became obvious during Rehman Malik’s India visit when he made outrageous remarks equating the Mumbai terrorist attack with the demolition of the Babri Masjid and linking Abu Jundal to Indian intelligence. This created quite an uproar in India questioning the future of the process of engagement.
Yet, the fact remains that both countries have too much at stake in the peace process. For India, it provides an opportunity to rise above the narrow security paradigm and establish durable relations with Pakistan. For Pakistan, it is a way out of the multiple crises it is beset with. The internal security situation has worsened over time threatening the stability of the state and the societal structure. In the year 2012, 6,211 people were killed in terrorist attacks. The Army has been under constant attack by TTP militants. The economic situation is declining very fast. At this juncture, one would imagine that better political and economic relations with India would serve Pakistan well. However, one does not see much change in the Army’s security doctrine in spite of a realization in Pakistan that there is a need to ‘redefine and redesign a new defence doctrine’.
The current spate of ceasefire violations seems to have been prompted by the desire in the Army to create an opportunity to internationalise the Kashmir issue. This was evident when Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar suggested a UN probe into the ceasefire violations, knowing fully well that India is allergic to any such suggestion. Zardari’s speech in the UN earlier showcasing Kashmir as a symbol of the world body’s failure needs to be seen as a reassertion of the pro-Kashmir lobby in the government’s India policy in recent months.
In spite of the recent flare-up along the LoC, India must continue to engage Pakistan in dialogue especially at this moment when Pakistan’s experiment with democracy seems to be unravelling in the face of constant badgering from the Supreme Court and the military’s allegedly quiet intervention in politics through events like Qadri’s long march. Keeping the existing political turmoil in Pakistan in mind, any upping up of the ante by India would strengthen the very forces that seek to spoil the process of engagement. This could have potentially disastrous consequences for the democratic forces in Pakistan.
It is important to engage the civilian government in Pakistan as it is in India’s interest, in spite of the former’s occasional baiting on behalf of the powerful Army. In order to keep the Army out of politics, India needs to invest in Pakistan’s democratic constituency. The leaderships in both countries need to recognize that the peace process will face several hiccups and there will be continuous attempts to derail it. The move to de-escalate is a welcome development. Thus, even as it presses for action against the people responsible for beheading of Indian soldiers, India should take care not to disengage from the process of dialogue.