The Pakistan Army is widely believed to be the final word on the country’s foreign and security policy. This is not to say that the civilian institutions have no say in the evolution of policy.
In Pakistan, there is a vibrant public debate featuring different ideological strains, which sometimes play out in the life of public institutions. An instance of this is the policy recommendations on ‘Pak-India relations’ of the National Assembly’s standing committee on foreign affairs, which were released on Monday.
India has reasons to have mixed feelings about the recommendations. The committee urges policymakers to ‘continue to seek comprehensive engagement with India on all outstanding issues’. It calls for more people-to-people ties and the need to expand trade. While maintaining that Pakistan should continue moral and diplomatic support to Kashmir, the committee notably says that the country ‘should not encourage calls for active support of armed, banned, militant groups in Kashmir’.
It says that Pakistan ought to allay international concerns of not doing enough to tackle ‘Alpha Elements’ working for the Kashmiri cause, ‘by monitoring and taking action against violent armed groups’.
New Delhi doubts if the Pakistani State is capable of substantively discouraging jihadi activism on Kashmir or acting against non-State actors, and yet a clear parliamentary statement on moving away from the armed struggle is a useful step.
Indian policymakers, however, will be concerned about the way Pakistani parliamentarians have framed the bilateral dialogue. It recommends that Pakistan should ‘selectively engage’ India in four areas: Kashmir, water, trade and culture and communication. While India would be willing to discuss the four issues, policymakers here will question why terrorism does not figure prominently as an item for discussion, given that it is a major area of concern for India.
Defenders of Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif are likely to argue that action against militant groups was already addressed in the section on Kashmir and for political reasons the committee could not explicitly suggest terrorism as an agenda item. South Block may relate to such a rationale but the dissonance does highlight yet again that both sides do not accord the same priority to terrorism so far as bilateral dialogue is concerned. While disavowing the armed struggle is important, terrorism still warrants a separate discussion. The committee’s suggestion that water issues should be discussed holistically rather focus on particular projects — and that Pakistan must establish an independent office, with neutral experts from outside the South Asian region and working under the supervision of the UN — will interest Indian policymakers.