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Pakistan Policy reduced to a Single Binary

Sushant Sareen is Consultant, Pakistan Project, at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • August 14, 2013

    More than anything else, the latest flare-up along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has exposed the absence of any sort of strategic clarity at the political level and sheer lack of options at the diplomatic level on how India should deal with Pakistan. At one level, India’s Pakistan policy appears to have been reduced into a bird-brained debate on ornithology in which doves, hawks (even chicken-hawks, a new specie that has been recently introduced) and owls (those who advocate eternal vigilance) occupy the pride of place. But at a more fundamental level, it seems that India’s entire policy on Pakistan has shrunk into a single binary: to talk or not to talk. For a country like India with aspirations, if not delusions, of playing a major role on the world stage, to have degraded its capabilities to a point where it has only a single instrument, leverage and option on how to deal with a troublesome neighbour points to a serious deficiency of strategic thinking and culture.

    Clearly, over the last 67 years, India has failed to evolve a clear, cogent, cold-hearted policy on Pakistan. Merely declaring that a stable and prosperous Pakistan (some statements even claim a ‘strong’ Pakistan) is in India’s interest is at best a statement of desire, not a policy. If it was policy, then the next logical question would be what has India done to achieve this policy. The simple fact is that India just hasn’t made up its mind on what it wants from and out of Pakistan. India doesn’t know whether it even wants a Pakistan in its present shape, form and structure. This glaring lack of clarity on what India wants on its Western border is precisely the reason why India has only an ad hoc, tactical approach towards Pakistan in which talks or dialogue has become the single and sole instrument in India’s arsenal on dealing with Pakistan.

    In the process, India has neglected building other leverages that could be used to nudge, influence and even push Pakistan into compliance. These include: Economic – not only in terms of bilateral trade and investment but also in terms of influencing Pakistan’s export, import and currency markets; Political – building linkages with political parties and politicians and other influential sections of society to have a pro-India lobby inside Pakistan and also use the civil-military cleavage to its advantage; Diplomatic – using India’s economic and military clout within the international community to develop the necessary pressure on Pakistan; Military – raising the force differential to a point where Pakistan would be overwhelmed at the very sight of the Indian forces that even the thought of adventurism or asymmetric war would not be entertained; Religious – using the Islamic theological schools in India to influence the religious discourse inside Pakistan; and Cultural – soft-power of ‘Bollywood’, music industry, and other such institutions. This is by no means an exhaustive list but is only a pointer to some of the areas in which strategizing by India could have resulted in menu of options that could be used to turn the screws on Pakistan in a calibrated manner and not the knee-jerk way that is currently in vogue.

    Regrettably, not only has India failed to build these leverages, it has also frittered away whatever little benefit or advantage it could squeeze out of the single instrument it is left with – talks – by appearing to be a little too keen engage Pakistan. As a result, the talks or the dialogue has become an end in itself and to that extent has become simply a tactic for engagement rather than an instrument for achieving something tangible. It can of course be argued that it doesn’t hurt India to keep Pakistan engaged in a purposeless dialogue. But given that this is the only instrument with India, there is a case for it to used in a way that even if the process is desultory, the commencement of the process results in something substantial. For instance, the resumption of the Composite Dialogue process in 2004 yielded a commitment from Pakistan to not allow the use of its territory or any territory under its control against India.

    Since then India has preferred soft approach – Sharm-el-Sheikh and Thimphu being prime examples – to hard-nosed bargaining and lost the plot in the process. Over the last few years the Indian government has shown touching concern for Pakistan's sensitivities – in the last few months alone, India has refused to fulfil Afghanistan’s wish-list on defence equipment because it would rile Pakistan, not made an issue of the bombing of the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, gone back to ‘business as usual’ after the beheading of Indian soldiers on the LoC, and now played down the killing of Indian soldiers so that it doesn’t ruin the opportunity of a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif in New York on the sidelines of the UN general Assembly in September. There has however been no reciprocity from the Pakistani side on Indian sensitivities or concerns. This begs the question as to how come it is contingent only on India and not on Pakistan to ensure that the atmosphere is not spoiled between the two countries?

    India has also made the mistake of not only showing unseemly excitement and keenness over engaging with Pakistan's new government led by Nawaz Sharif but also coming up with all sorts of specious arguments to justify this approach. There is a view among some analysts and even policymakers in India that Nawaz Sharif will be able to break the logjam in relations with India not just because he has been very forthright and emphatic on improving relations with India but also because he is unlikely to tow the Pakistan military establishment’s line on India. It is being argued that India needs to cut some slack for Nawaz Sharif so that he gets the space to marginalise the military’s role in making Pakistan's India policy. A related argument being forwarded is that by holding back on talks with Nawaz Sharif because of the LoC incidents, India is giving a sort of veto to Pakistan's military-militant alliance to sabotage any move towards normalisation of relations.

    Frankly, these arguments don’t hold much water. Instead of jumping the gun to embrace Nawaz Sharif because of the extremely encouraging statements he has made not just during the election campaign but also after assuming office, India should have held its horses and waited and watched how much he was in fact in control over the army and how far he was willing to address India’s serious concerns and whether or not he could push the peace agenda with India in the face of opposition from naysayers within his country. Notwithstanding his standing firm on his desire for normalising relations with India despite the LoC flare-up, the knives are already out for him and the portents are not very good. Elements in the Pakistani media and other sections of Pakistani society and polity who are reputed to be deeply embedded in the ‘deep state’ have started a strident hate campaign against India. How much Nawaz Sharif will be able to resist this mounting pressure – the LoC incident and the upsurge in pushing terrorists across the LoC are in all probability part of a move to tie his hands – remains to be seen.

    It is all very well to argue that it is precisely to defeat this sort of a thing that India must make gestures to strengthen Nawaz Sharif’s hands. Quite asides the fact that for the last six decades, India has been hearing the refrain of providing succour to successive Pakistani rulers from Ayub to Zardari and now Nawaz Sharif to save them from either the military or the mullahs, the truth of the matter is that it is not the job of the Indian government to protect the interests or ensure the survival of any Pakistani ruler. The primary responsibility of the Indian government is to secure its own territory and people. And by falling for this argument, India risks the trap of getting caught in a parallel track situation wherein while on one track it continues to be beguiled by the nice words and sentiments being expressed by the civilian rulers, on the other track, proxy war and terrorism continue unabated. Unless India too is willing to play this game of sweet talking on one track and hitting where it hurts on the other track, it should insist that talks and terror cannot go together. If Nawaz Sharif is genuinely interested and sincere in a ‘new beginning’ with India, he must walk the talk and demonstrate his control over the Pakistan military, intelligence and jihadist conglomerate. Else, whatever he expresses are empty words.

    India must in the meantime put in place mechanisms for giving an adequate, proportionate and prompt riposte to any adventurism from the Pakistani side. While the main LoC must be made impregnable, the other LoC (line of communication) must be kept open. At the minimum this means the existing channels of communication i.e. the High Commissions, DGMO hotline, back-channel etc. As regards the resumption of dialogue, or for that matter a political level dialogue, India needs to review the level, depth and structure of engagement before entering into any such dialogue. By all accounts the old Composite (or Comprehensive) Dialogue process has run its course and outlived its usefulness. What is more, many of the issues in the CD process have become redundant, for eg. Siachen.

    Finally, India needs to guard against two imminent blackmails. The first is pressure by the US to cool things down and not respond in a muscular manner to any provocation from Pakistan. The other is Pakistan’s empty threat of shifting troops from its western frontier to the eastern border with India. This is clearly aimed at inviting US intervention in the region. The sooner this is shot down by India the better because the fact is that unless Pakistan has reconciled to having an Islamic Emirates of FATA, and has decided to fast forward the future by making a compact with the jihadists as part of a jihadist joint venture against Afghanistan and India, it is in no position to pull troops out from the western borderlands. And if indeed Pakistan decides to go the jihadist way, then all the more reason for India to beef up its border management and internal security to handle the fallout of such a development.

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