Monday, December 24, 2001

The Pakistan conundrum

EVEN CONTRARIANS will concede that the decision by the Government of India to recall its High Commissioner from Islamabad and to terminate the New Delhi to Lahore bus service as well as the Samjhauta Express is reflective of the deep sense of public outrage at the terrorist attacks on the Indian Parliament on December 13 and on the Jammu and Kashmir Legislature on October 1. More critically, however, New Delhi's moves articulate a growing frustration at its relations with Islamabad and its inability, despite persistent efforts, to inject a modicum of civility and stability to bilateral relations. The Pakistan conundrum presents perhaps the most intriguing example in the history of state-to-state relations since the Treaty of Westphalia. Neither military defeat, nor constructive engagement, nor unilateral gesture, nor passive disregard, nor even international pressure seems to be able to reduce the pathological hostility that the Pakistani state bears towards India, and which goes much beyond the problems in Kashmir.
Consider the recent history of India-Pakistan relations, and the manner in which the whole spectrum of policies adopted by New Delhi towards Islamabad has floundered because of oppugnant Pakistani behaviour. Twice since 1998 New Delhi has publicly engaged Pakistan. The Lahore summit of February 1999 raised expectations that a new detente in the subcontinent was in the offing, and indeed the summit documents included an imaginative set of cooperative measures, particularly on the nuclear issue. So much so that several do-gooders prematurely nominated Prime Ministers Vajpayee and Sharif for the Nobel peace prize. But even more prudent analysts seemed to have been convinced that the overt nuclearisation of the subcontinent would help Pakistan acquire the confidence and maturity to normalise its relations with India without being burdened with existentialist fears that had plagued it since 1947, more so since 1971.
In the event, Pakistan - instead of seeking to project itself as a responsible nuclear power - sought to use the cover of nuclear weapons to escalate the conflict in Kashmir, burying the Lahore process under the heights of Kargil. Similarly, the Agra summit failed primarily because Pakistan was unwilling to concede that no normalisation of relations is possible until Islamabad discontinues its policy of sponsoring violence and terror across the border. Indeed, it is believed that India had been willing to concede at Agra much more than it had done during the last decade, including setting up of a high-level bilateral group to discuss Kashmir and only Kashmir. But whatever was left of the spirit of Agra evaporated after the September 11 terrorist attacks and particularly after the terrorist attack in Srinagar on October 1.
But Lahore and Agra were only the public face of a policy of engagement that New Delhi has been attempting to construct at various levels. More important, India has not been shying away from discussing what Pakistan has termed as the core issue of Kashmir. It is now well known that a special envoy of the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, had been discreetly meeting a Pakistani counterpart, in the weeks after the Lahore summit, to discuss a possible resolution of the Kashmir issue. It is even believed that the two interlocutors had been mandated by their respective Prime Ministers to find a solution to the Kashmir issue before the dawn of the 21st century, and met several times in Islamabad and New Delhi before Kargil and the military coup by General Musharraf derailed the process.
Similarly, New Delhi has persisted with its efforts to initiate a peace process with Kashmiri separatists, even with that section which it knows is deeply beholden to Pakistan and is in constant touch with elements within the Pakistani establishment. Even before Mr. K. C. Pant was designated a special interlocutor earlier this year, a quiet dialogue with Kashmiri separatists and militants had been continuing for at least a year. But it became clear that any time there was a real chance of translating discreet drawing room parleys into a more public political process, Pakistan would use all means at its disposal, including direct physical threats, to subvert the process. In other words, Islamabad was unwilling to even let Kashmiri leaders, whom it had sponsored, sustain a meaningful dialogue with New Delhi's representatives.
Neither have unilateral gestures of goodwill and cooperation made a difference. India's continued treatment of Pakistan as a most favoured nation has not been reciprocated by Islamabad and it is believed that the report of the SAARC Eminent Persons Group, which recommends imaginative time-bound steps to promote regional economic integration, has been given short shrift by Pakistan, despite the presence of one of its former Foreign Secretaries as part of the group. New Delhi's decision, before the Agra summit, to unilaterally relax visa rules or its decision to open further crossing points on the border have failed or had little effect in the absence of Pakistani reciprocity. Pakistani unwillingness to give visas to Indian artistes, its attempts at blocking Indian television channels, have meant that the hope that there could be a detente from below, a genuine breakthrough because of greater people-to-people contact, too have been dashed.
Ignoring the military regime in Pakistan has always seemed to be an attractive option. For more than a year, after the Kargil war and before the Agra Summit, India passively disregarded Islamabad. There were those within India who were convinced that Pakistan was in such a deep internal crisis that it was best left alone. Economically it was on the verge of collapse, politically it had descended into yet another praetorian phase and socially it was one of the most divided societies in the world.
On paper, this option may have seemed desirable, but in reality it was an option that was unsustainable. It is extremely difficult to ignore Pakistan if Islamabad does not want to be left alone. As long as Pakistan continues its support for militancy and terrorism in Kashmir and other places, and seeks to portray South Asia as a region on the brink of a nuclear war, it will be almost impossible to look the other way.
If both a policy of constructive engagement and passive disregard have failed, so has the policy of military defeat and international pressure. Although it would have been unrealistic to expect General Musharraf, architect of Kargil, to concede that the war of 1999 led to a total humiliation of Pakistan, militarily and diplomatically, it is a fact conceded by a wide range of Pakistani commentators. But the lessons of Kargil have not led to any change in the Pakistani attitude towards India. Indeed, in the past, even the defeat of 1971, and the dismemberment of the country, led to no rupture in Pakistani thinking.
Nor does Pakistan's global isolation, until September 11, its description as a failed state, or persistent international pressure, most memorably reflected in President Clinton's statements during his four-hour stop in Islamabad last year, seem to have forced the guardians of the Pakistan state to change their India policy.
What then are the options open for India? Will the future be different from the past? Very unlikely. In the long term, the only hope is that the Pakistani state and society, through introspection, or other means, will move away from its anti-Indian identity to becoming a country that has come to terms with itself and is able to construct itself in more humane, if not more modern, terms. But in the short term, India will have to live with persistent Pakistani hostility even while it may attempt, in vain if past experience is good evidence, a new cycle of policies, ranging from military action to constructive engagement.

(Source: The Hindu, 24/12/01)

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