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Anatomy of India and Pakistan Reconciliation

Brigadier (Retd.) Arun Sahgal, PhD, is Deputy Director Research and Head, Centre for Strategic Studies and Simulation, at the United Service Institution of India. He is a member of National Task Force on Net Assessment and Simulation, under the NSCS, Government of India.
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  • August 12, 2013

    There is a growing thinking in the West that the rivalry between India-Pakistan, the two nuclear armed neighbours, is the root cause for the current impasse in Afghanistan. It underscores that India-Pakistan are reaching a negative crest in their relationship owing to the dialogue process that is largely clogged and a growing economic and military asymmetry between the two. These according to Western policy analysts are enhancing Pakistani insecurities at three levels, with negative impact on Afghan reconciliation process.

    The first level of insecurity relates to growing conventional asymmetry that western interlocutors believe is forcing Pakistan to enhance its nuclear arsenal both in qualitative and quantitative terms. By linking tactical nuclear weapons with conventional warfare doctrine to deny India the space for limited war “under nuclear overhang” is even more dangerous.

    At the second level, it seems that Pakistan’s insecurities are based on the post-2014 scenario. The Nawaz Sharif government is attempting to leverage the insecurities at two levels: one, despite the popular anti-Pakistan discourse in the US, it has successfully positioned Pakistan, as a key actor with avowed influence over Taliban leadership, in the reconciliation and reintegration process in Afghanistan. Islamabad is simultaneously using its clout with both the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani group to emerge as an honest broker for a pro-Taliban swing in the reconciliation process. Pakistani influence over Taliban, supported by the Saudi, is seen by the US as being crucial for its overall Afghan strategy. Not surprisingly, Sartaj Aziz is advising the Afghan leadership on power sharing agreement with Taliban. Equally not surprising is the fact that John Kerry in his recent visit to Pakistan promised a five year 11 billion dollar assistance package to address Pakistan’s critical energy and other infrastructural needs, even as Sharif made customary protest over drone strikes.

    Despite the double game of being an important interlocutor in the US-led reconciliation efforts while simultaneously conniving with Taliban, the reality is that there are concerns in Islamabad over its future relationship with the Taliban. Equally important are the concerns about India’s increasing relevance and good equation with the Afghan government and political leaders of all hues. Like other donor nations, India’s continued effort will be critical for Afghanistan’s peace and stability beyond 2014. This is something which even the Taliban acknowledges. Currently it appears that the military establishment limited aim is to ensure a pro-Pakistan post-2014 Afghan government.

    The third level of insecurity is vis-a-vis India. There is a definitive diplomatic push by the newly elected Nawaz Sharif government towards improving relations with India, what is being highlighted in the West as the grand reconciliation. This is circumscribed by restarting the dialogue process through a focus on trade and commerce. The Indian gestures of providing much needed gas and electricity to energy starved Pakistan is seen as being part of this reconciliation strategy. The Sharif government is aware that long term development and economic stability can only come about by building bridges with India.

    Resolution of Siachin and Sir Creek are part of this strategy, although, at least, the Pakistani military is aware that Siachin remains intractable and linked to broader reconciliation of the boundary and Kashmir dispute. Efforts, nonetheless, is to mount international pressure and leverage soft political sentiment in India for a possible settlement. Thus a positive spin to bilateral relations is seen as a win-win for both Pakistan and the West. It gives Sharif the political space to keep the military at bay and focus on the deteriorating internal situation.

    The Pakistani establishment remains sanguine that as long as it can leverage both cross border terrorism as well as conventional asymmetry by playing the nuclear card, it can easily manage relations with India. In fact, Pakistan wants to use “regional security and stability” together with “building bridges” to extract maximum mileage with India supported, of course, by Western pressure.

    These developments need to be seen from a larger geo-strategic perspective wherein cornered international forces are willing to make any compromises and even arm twisting to ensure an early and somewhat credible exit from Afghanistan. It is this fear of an early pull out and probable instability that Pakistan is attempting to leverage. There is yet another perspective that recognises India being politically weak and susceptible to international pressure, something which number of analysts and commentators seem to allude.

    India would need to tread carefully as it attempts to reopen composite dialogue and work towards Af-Pak stability. Some of these are:

    • Give a clear message to Pakistan and the international community that if another Mumbai 26/11 attack was to take place, India reserves the right to act in self defence and restore deterrence credibility.
    • India must look at its engagement in Afghanistan from the prism of national interest. Three things are important: First, to strengthen operational efficacy of ASF in the fight against subversive forces for stability and sovereignty, India must continue to help Kabul in training and equipment. Second, India must continue with its developmental assistance, including investments in TAPI and other mining project like iron ore. Third, India must take a call on Afghan Taliban, and not be guided by western perspectives. The question to ponder is whether India supports their integration in the Afghan political process and if so, what are the bottom lines.
    • Pakistan must move forward on normalising economic relations with India. This should be on reciprocal basis with India offering greater concession provided Pakistan shows positive intent that includes MFN and transit rights for India among others. Given the right atmospherics the two could rethink on the IPI pipeline and a Free Trade Zone around Lahore, where large number of Indian industries can use Pakistani super highways as export routes from either Karachi or Gwadar.

    For India, the resolution of Kashmir, Siachin and even Sir Creek, should be put on the back burner, till such time that the bilateral relations gets the economic traction.
    For any upswing in the peace trajectory there is a need to shed the baggage of the past and look for innovative solutions. India, however, should make clear that improved relations with Pakistan cannot come at the expense of its core interests.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.