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India-Pakistan relations: quo vadis? December 23, 2014

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

Maqsudul Hasan Nuri

It is ironical that while India and Pakistan are jointly honoured with Nobel Peace Prizes they should be lately engaged in cross-border skirmishes along their borders.

The Indian view is that Pakistan first provoked the border tension by sending cross-border militants. Also, many Indians took umbrage over Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech in September 2014 UN General Assembly session in which he raised the Kashmir issue. Another contributory factor could have been the exceptionally warm reception by US during the UN session. The US “pivot Asia” policy has also encouraged India as a partner against China in East Asia. The Indian stance, moreover, maintains that the perpetrators of 2001 Mumbai attack have still not been punished by Pakistan.

Justifying cancellation of Indo-Pakistan secretary-level talks, it seems the Indian forays were meant to divert the focus of the Pakistan military from fighting in FATA. In the wake of the US military exit post-2014, so the argument goes, India would not let its bargaining position weaken vis-a-vis Pakistan.

Pakistan’s stance is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda always carried an aggressive line. For domestic and international reasons, Modi needs to highlight Pakistani militancy by painting Pakistan as a ‘terrorist state.’ For its part, Pakistan has exercised restraint and proposed negotiations. Beset with domestic problems, it wants to keep hostilities at a low level.

Narendra Modi, the 14th Prime Minister of India is an ideologue of Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose parent outfit is the Hindu nationalist outfit, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The latter has been anti-Muslim and stoking old rage and shame by evoking Hindu subservience to Muslim and British rule. About Gujarat state riots in 2002, he is neither regretful nor apologetic; in his election speeches he railed against Pakistan and Muslims. The Indian chief of army staff also threatened Pakistan, and Modi is relying on civil bureaucracy and new upper middle class in stoking hyper-nationalism.

For most of its history, Pakistan has been dominated by the military—still the public’s most trusted and admired institution. Nawaz Sharif has had a proverbial tiff with the army when, after being deposed, he was hounded out of the country and lived in exile. Ever since coming into power in May 2013 he has locked horns with the judiciary and, occasionally, the army in investigating generals and ISI chiefs before the Supreme Court. Now General Musharraf (retd) is being dragged into the courts and awaits trial on charges of “treason.” Many suspect it as a ploy of Nawaz Sharif’s to settle old scores. If Zardari government was disdained by the military for incompetence Nawaz Sharif’s remains an anathema.

Besides, Nawaz Sharif’s agenda to open up trade and businesses with India is looked askance by the military. Upon assumption of power the much contemplated military action against militants in North Waziristan was delayed and reluctantly agreed in June 2014.

A re-empowered Pakistani military is likely to further slow, if not halt, the modest movement toward increased trade and economic relations with India. The textile industry has suffered since Modi assumed office. In 2013, trade between India and Pakistan grew by 20 per cent to nearly $2.5 billion. Presently, trade takes place mostly via Dubai, is over $4 billion level with potential for $6 billion. Experts believe that should it reach $10-15 billion, it would be powerful enough to outweigh geo-strategic concerns.

Nawaz Sharif’s government is partly to blame for stalling important decisions and this has been compounded by hawkish policies of a pro-business Modi government. Most-favoured-nation (MFN) status and other major trade issues face tough negotiations in future. Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India(TAPI) gas pipelines deals remain in the doldrums.

PM Nawaz Sharif sought the army’s late August intervention as he lacked civilian control over domestic security. The long dharna left him badly exposed on charges of massive rigging, corruption and poor governance and conniving with some militant elements.

On counter-terrorism and domestic counter-insurgency, Washington has been disappointed with Pakistan army’s sponsoring certain Islamist militant groups while using others as proxies against Indian or Afghan influence. However, Afghan instability and Islamabad’s relations with New Delhi, and any marginalization of Sharif government, could bear negative implications for US interests. These are e.g., the ‘Silk Road’ initiative, regional connectivity, and opening of India-Pakistan trade and lesser dependence upon China.

The army has regained respect in the wake of summer floods, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and law and order. Miffed in the last few years, the military has been provided another opportunity to refurbish its image. After being dragged into the courts, especially over Musharraf’s trial, the Sharif government is to blame itself for poor performance and policies. The army is the only disciplined and well-funded organization; it is like a ‘political party’ with a strong stake in government, corporate businesses, national affairs and security. While the military is hesitant, at least for now to assume direct control, it is unwilling to abdicate power on national security.

Future Pak-India relations are likely to fluctuate between appeasement and occasional crises. There is little chance, however, of a major conflict but worsening of security on the fringes in Afghanistan and Kashmir could revive terrorism.

The border skirmishes are neither the first nor the last. Eventually, they shall fizzle out but tend to perpetuate mutual distrust. India nourishes ambitions to graduate into the league of big world powers. Its troubled relations with immediate neighbour, Pakistan, will affect its socio-economic rise as envisaged in the election manifesto.

But Pakistan has to share the blame, too, for lack of state writ, support of favored militant groups and pursuit of ‘strategic depth’ policies in Afghanistan. The Nawaz government has not been delivering even after coming into power for the third time. The recent sit-ins have moreover enfeebled him politically.

It is hoped that the ‘terrible twins’ of Partition [India and Pakistan] will finally mature as responsible nuclear states in defusing present tensions and strive for durable peace and development.

Dr Maqsudul Hasan Nuri is Adviser, International Relations (Dept of Humanities), COMSATS Institute of Technology, Islamabad, and an alumni of The Australian National University.


1. aly ercelan - December 24, 2014

Responsible nuclear states? A contradiction so bizarre that it can only be uttered by a pakistani, indian, and american in service to the study of ‘humanities.’