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Recent developments in the India-Pakistan peace process: glass half full or half empty? November 22, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Guest authors, India, Pakistan , trackback

Rizwan Zeb

In the article India-Pakistan visa deal: a glass half empty? (South Asia Masala, September 14, 2012), Sandy Gordon declared the recent changes in the visa regime between India and Pakistan and Pakistan’s indication that it will grant India the most favourite nation state (FNS) status by December as positive developments.  He stated: “India sees such developments as consistent with what Krishna refers to as its ‘step-by-step approach’ to the relationship. India has for many years held the view that this is the best way forward, rather than pushing for dramatic developments in relations, for instance over Kashmir. New Delhi believes that a Pakistan more solidly stitched into the Indian economy is more likely to abjure the highly disruptive tactics in support of trans-border terrorism that have been witnessed from Pakistan in recent years. India is also keen to support what it sees as the delicate process of civilianising the Pakistani polity, consonant with its belief that it has been the military – and especially the ISI – that has been most heavily engaged in supporting terrorism.” Using Oscar Wilde’s dictum, these are noble sentiments, indeed! But how exactly does New Delhi want to achieve it?

A peace process is a two-way street. If one side tries to dominate it, however noble the intentions might be, the peace process fails. A lot has been already said about what Pakistan has to do to put its house in order and how to make South Asia peaceful as it is considered to be the problem.

However, a bigger problem the peace process is facing is the prevailing strategic thinking in India. According to this strategic vision, New Delhi intends to articulate its own Indian ‘Monroe Doctrine’, by creating a cooperative security web, anchored at the two ends by its allies, with a well-armed South-East Asia and a particularly strong Vietnam. By doing this, New Delhi intends to create problems for China. That is the only understandable reason why Vietnam is considered important in this plan. New Delhi wants to establish a strong military/naval presence in the region. The ultimate objective is to be in a position to be able to provide security to the vital sea lines, Malacca and Hormuz. Eighty per cent of the world’s oil passes through these lines.

Where does Pakistan stand in New Delhi’s strategic vision for its emergence as a major global player? A number of Indian strategic thinkers are of the view that Pakistan is a failed state and that the country is under a strong military grip, with no likelihood that it will loosen up in the near future. Satish Kumar in his 2004 paper, ‘Reassessing Pakistan as a Long Term Security Threat’ (Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi) stated: “…Islamic extremism and militancy have become as important a reality in Pakistan as the army of Pakistan. Both of them are durable. There is a symbiotic relationship between them which cannot be wished away. Both of them are hostile to India and acting in unison their hostility will remain formidable” (p.17). He further states: “…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 the imperatives which determine the behaviour of the ruling establishment. These factors are not likely to change in the next 20 to 30 years. India has to cope with this kind of adversary and its strategic capabilities and thinking, its national will and character must respond to the situation accordingly” (p.26).
According to this strategic vision, in the post-9/11 world the Indian foreign policy establishment views Pakistan as under tremendous pressure internally and externally. In New Delhi’s view, the power configuration at the national, regional and international levels favours India and it is time to do things according to its own terms.

Realising that a military approach is not adequate (its nuclear capability notwithstanding), New Delhi is working on a new way to address its Pakistan problem. It is using the water weapon against Pakistan, a lower riparian state, through its various hydro projects, especially those on the headwaters of the Indus River on the Indian side, and by what Pakistan perceives as manipulating the Indus Water Treaty.

What does New Delhi want to achieve when it engages Islamabad in a dialogue? New Delhi wants to focus on improving contacts between the two countries. It wants to see an easy movement of people across the borders, not just across the established boundaries but also across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides the two parts of Kashmir. It would also like to have trade liberalisation, most favoured nation status and pipelines. What New Delhi is willing to offer in return is anybody’s guess.

An obstacle to any success of the peace process is the different approaches of Islamabad and New Delhi: Islamabad wants to resolve the conflicts; New Delhi wants to manage the conflicts. New Delhi is not willing to accept any solution that involves major territorial alterations, especially on religious lines because it believes that it would be detrimental to its secular identity. Islamabad is not willing to accept the current LoC as a solution.

However, another view is emerging in India which believes engaging Pakistan in a meaningful way is mutually beneficial because only this approach can encourage Pakistan to address New Delhi’s larger considerations such as terrorism. Pakistan, for its part, is open to the idea of normalization of relations with India because engaging New Delhi in a peace process and making progress in trade and at the people-to-people level does not necessarily change Islamabad’s position on what it believes to be the core issue between the two countries and because this is the only way that Islamabad can push New Delhi to reconsider its position on issues which Islamabad considers vital.

Pakistan, at the moment is going through a very critical phase of its history and is at war with its demons. Islamabad understands and has accepted the existence of spoilers to the peace process on its soil. But this is exactly what such elements are: spoilers that want to derail the peace process. They have already tried twice: with attacks on the Indian parliament and in Mumbai. However, unless New Delhi is willing to accept their exclusiveness, the fate of this peace process is anybody’s guess.

While there is no disagreement that a miracle is not going to happen in South Asia any time soon engagement appears to be the only way forward. But this is something which has happened so many times before and always ended in a stalemate. Is there any chance that this time the result will be different? Observers of peace processes understand that they always suffer from stalemates and the India–Pakistan peace process is no exception. With the passage of time, both sides would have to do much more to make any meaningful progress. Patience, trust and a result-oriented approach is the way forward. At the moment, New Delhi believes that it is holding the stronger cards in this game of (peace process) poker (which many would agree is true). However, the sooner New Delhi wakes from the illusion that they are ‘bargaining from a position of strength’, the better it is for the peace process. Otherwise Sandy Gordon and this author will be writing along more or less similar lines in 2014–15.

Rizwan Zeb is a doctoral candidate at the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, University of Western Australia, and a Senior Research Analyst at the Institute for Regional Studies, Islamabad, Pakistan. He is also Associate Professor at the Iqra University in Islamabad, and visiting faculty at Quaid-e-Azam University. He has held several international visiting fellow positions: Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor in Politics and Charles Wallace Visiting Senior Research Fellow, department of Politics, Governance Research Center, University of Bristol (2006); Visiting Scholar at the India-South Asia Project, Foreign Policy Program, Brookings Institution in Washington, DC (2004); Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (Colombo, Sri Lanka) Mahbub-ul-Haq Fellow (2003–4); and member, International Institute for Strategic Studies, London (current). He is co-author of Indo-Pak Conflicts: Ripe to Resolve? (Manahor, 2005), and is currently working on a book on the history and future of Pakistan. At present, he is also guest-editing a special issue of a peer review journal, Journal of South Asian Development on Afghanistan and the Region: Post 2014 (Sage).


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