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Peace Process: Pakistan will have to walk the talk

Sushant Sareen is Consultant, Pakistan Project, at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
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  • October 03, 2013

    Long before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his Pakistani counterpart on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly a vigorous debate had started in India on whether or not India should re-engage with Pakistan. Queering the pitch was the fact that not only had India not received any satisfaction on the issue of cross border terrorism (the arrests of people like Abu Jundal, Abdul Karim Tunda and Yasin Bhatkal and the disclosures made by them during interrogation only added to the sense of disquiet over Pakistani perfidy on the issue of terrorism), but also the renewed hostility along the Line of Control where the ceasefire agreement of 2003 was being violated by the military-militant alliance in Pakistan. In such a situation, any show of manufactured bonhomie with Pakistan would not just be a political suicide for the government in Delhi, but also send wrong signals to the security forces in India as well as to the hostile elements in Pakistan.

    While business as usual with Pakistan was no longer a sellable proposition in India, there was nevertheless a case that could be made for using the meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as an opportunity to make the Pakistanis aware of the red-lines that they needed to respect. The problem was that apprehensions were being expressed in India that given Manmohan Singh’s soft approach towards Pakistan and his keenness to make a breakthrough in relations with Pakistan (which some people claim he wants to leave as his legacy), he would refrain from plain speaking with his Pakistani counterpart. That these apprehensions proved false was clear from the position taken by India, not just in the meeting between Manmohan Singh and US President Obama and in his speech to the UN General Assembly, but also in his meeting with Nawaz Sharif.

    In a sense, Nawaz Sharif himself created a situation in which the Indian side was left with no choice but to toughen its stand. Raking up the UN resolutions on Jammu and Kashmir (and in the process contradicting his oft stated desire to resurrect the Lahore process that was started between him and the then Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee) Sharif muddied the waters. Manmohan Singh responded firmly, first in his meeting with Obama where he called Pakistan an epicentre of terrorism, and then in his UN speech where he not only demanded the end to cross border terrorism from Pakistan but also strongly reiterated that J&K was an integral part of India and there could be no compromise on India’s territorial unity and integrity. Having clearly laid down his position, Manmohan Singh went into talks with Sharif, where for the first time in his interactions with Pakistanis, he effectively put forward the Indian viewpoint, a radical shift from the pusillanimous approach that until now had characterised his governments approach to Pakistan.

    While the Prime Minister sent a clear message of the things that Pakistan needed to do, the Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid also did some plain speak. In an interview to Voice of America, he made it quite clear that actions and not words will henceforth be the standpoint for judging Pakistan's seriousness in improving relations with India. The fictitious distinction between non-state actors and state actors was been done away with by Salman Khurshid. He said that regardless of whether the terrorists were state actors, or non-state actors or even quasi-state actors, if they operated from Pakistani soil or any territory under Pakistan's occupation, then it was the responsibility of the Pakistani state to take action against them; and if the Pakistani state is unable to do so, then it could ask India to help in taking action against such groups.

    While on the face of it, there isn’t any major take-away; in reality some significant new grounds were broken. For one, certain ground rules and red lines appear to have been laid down. Pakistan’s traditional tactic of entering into negotiations with India with two guns, one pointed at India’s head and the other at its own head, is no longer acceptable. In the past, if the gun pointed at India’s head didn't work (i.e. India refused to be coerced by the export of jihadist terrorists), then Pakistan brought the other gun which was pointed at its own head (i.e. made a pitch for concessions on the grounds that its own survival was threatened by the Islamic extremists and without any gesture from India, the Mullahs would take-over power in Pakistan). Second, India made it abundantly clear that both these guns will have to be off the table. In other words, there can be no progress in the dialogue process in a climate of coercion and cessation of terrorism has to be the starting point for any engagement process. Third, and this is perhaps the single most important take-away, Pakistan has agreed to respect the sanctity of the Line of Control and will work with India to put in place mechanisms that will ensure ‘peace and tranquillity’ along the LoC. The future of the peace process has now been linked to restoration of the ceasefire on the LoC and an end to not just cross-border raids but also infiltration of jihadist terrorists on to the Indian side.

    In a sense, India and Pakistan have gone back to square one, or if you will, the basic starting point, which was agreed in 2003. Before the landmark Islamabad Declaration between Vajpayee and Musharraf, which put in motion the dialogue process, interlocutors of the two sides negotiated a back channel deal which resulted in the ceasefire on LoC in November 2003. This was a major CBM and India agreed to let Musharraf take credit. This agreement has come under severe strain since the beginning of this year and has not only raised hackles in India but also called into question the entire peace process. Ten years after hence, the two sides have once again agreed to put that CBM back on track. Once again it will become the litmus test for judging both the intentions of the Pakistani establishment as well as the level of control that the civilian government headed by Nawaz Sharif exercises over the military-militant alliance. Only after this CBM is once again established on ground will the next steps be taken. This graded approach that is being adopted has clear deliverables built into it and every step forward in the engagement process will now depend on how much Pakistan lives up to its commitments and assurances.

    Equally significant is the mechanism that has been agreed upon – the meeting between the DGMOs of both sides - to restore ‘peace and tranquillity’ along the LoC. If the proposal for such a meeting came from the Pakistani side, then it probably is a signal that the Pakistan army and civilian government are on the same page. On the other hand, if this was an Indian proposal then it will test how much Nawaz Sharif actually controls the military. Be that as it may, if this meeting goes off well, there is an outside chance that it could become a precursor for a military to military dialogue that many people have been advocating on both sides. Any understanding or deal worked out between the two militaries might even have a longer shelf life than the deals worked out with the civilians in Pakistan. But in the ultimate analysis, what the two DGMOs achieve will depend in large measure on what the Pakistan army wants. And this is a question whose answer will be known within days of any agreement between the DGMOs.

    The New York meeting between the two prime ministers has managed to put engagement on a surer albeit slower trajectory. If these new set of rules work, something that will be clear over the next few months, the engagement process can shift a gear or two. In any case, any substantive dialogue will now have to wait until the general elections in India are over and a new government with a fresh mandate is in office. If by that time things between India and Pakistan deteriorate then it will be back to the drawing board.

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