In its second year, the political aspects of the current India-Pakistan peace dialogue appear to be running out of energy and initiatives. With looming electoral cycles and pressing domestic challenges in both countries, no dramatic breakthroughs are expected. Yet, emerging economic linkages and evolving regional dynamics provide opportunities to sustain the peace process.
India seeks the speedy trial in Pakistan of seven Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) co-conspirators in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack. This has not yielded results.
The judge of the anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi hearing the case has been changed six times in three years, several adjournments of the trial have taken place on frivolous grounds, and only six or seven of more than 60 prosecution witnesses have been examined so far.
LeT chief Hafiz Saeed remains free in Pakistan. At the same time, Pakistan seeks progress on the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, but positions on Siachen have hardened with no sign of compromise by either side. A ‘back channel’ between the two governments on Kashmir lies dormant.
Yet, with no Pakistan-based terror attack on India in the past four years, unprecedented progress on economic and trade issues is taking place. The prospect of trade normalisation looms large for the first time in decades. Pakistan’s bold gesture in this regard, partly determined by the domestic economic crisis, surprised India, which assumed this would only be determined by progress on resolving the Kashmir dispute. The Pakistani army so far appears supportive of this endeavour.
If and when Pakistan implements the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status to India, business communities, especially in Amritsar and Lahore, will take advantage of it. As a prime minister who understands only too well the importance of regional economic stakeholding, Manmohan Singh should soon afterwards travel to Pakistan to mark this historic development and encourage it further.
This will be a major Confidence-Building Measure (CBM) to sustain the peace process over the next few months.
Such a proposed visit has unfortunately become shrouded over issues of substantive deliverables, while its symbolic impact on Pakistan’s civilian leadership is neglected.
At the same time, India needs to attempt to engage with arguably the most influential constituent in Pakistan, the army.
Delhi has deliberately avoided any high-level military-to-military-led contact out of concern of weakening civilian influence in Pakistan amidst a sense of futility as Kashmir remains the raison d’etre of the Pakistan army. Yet, the Pakistan army’s focus — for now at least — has shifted to counter-insurgency operations in the tribal areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where some 150,000 troops are currently deployed. Six army divisions were withdrawn from the Indian border for this purpose. Pakistan’s army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani recently stated that the priority for the army is countering domestic terrorism.
Engaging with the army
Currently, military-to-military interaction is limited to weekly DGMO communications and participation in conventional and military dialogues and Siachen, led by senior civilian officials on both sides. It is time now for India to test the Pakistan army leadership to see if it is willing to respond on a whole range of military CBMs. India’s proposal to begin an exchange of visits between defence university commandants and defence-related think-tanks should only be a first step in this direction.
Finally, as NATO/International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) combat forces withdraw from Afghanistan, both India and Pakistan appear to be moving away from traditional ‘maximalist’ positions to buttress their influence. New Delhi has made it clear that it has no intention of deploying army troops or military trainers in Afghanistan; no new major Indian construction projects have started in the past three-four years. With the emergence of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), there is increasing realisation in Rawalpindi that any Taliban victory in Afghanistan could set up a model of success for the Pakistan Taliban within Pakistan with devastating consequences. Pakistan now appears to be accepting a limited role for India in civil, developmental and economic issues in Afghanistan, even as Indian diplomatic assets and personnel remain under threat of further terror attacks.
Both countries now need to see how they can work together to help make Afghanistan an economic and transit hub between Central and South Asia. Indeed, in May, India and Pakistan, along with Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, inked a crucial gas sale purchase agreement for the TAPI pipeline project, with India agreeing, in principle, to pay a transit fee of $600 million annually to Pakistan for the flow of gas. Perhaps, both sides could usefully collaborate on developmental projects in Afghanistan under the aegis of SAARC? The start of a formal India-Pakistan dialogue on Afghanistan could help.
Rahul Roy-Chaudhury is a Senior Fellow for South Asia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London. Write to us at