The ancient Greeks visualised the past as a long road stretching ahead while the future lurks behind their backs. That’s the image that sums up the Pakistani military’s role in India’s ties with its not-too-neighbourly neighbour. The recent foreign minister-level meet underscored that this bondage to the past forces the relationship into unacknowledged pressures.
The military has regained its pre-eminence in Pakistan’s political economy and the dialectics once again involve politicians propitiating the generals in the pursuit of self-seeking indulgences. In turn, they become vulnerable to the military’s manipulation. The United States acknowledges the Pakistani army chief as its single-most consequential interlocutor. This calculus has grave implications for India-Pakistan relations.
One, unless India closes its 26/11 file, ties with Pakistan will remain in a state of tension. The 26/11 attack was executed under the supervision of the Pakistani top brass. The military leadership simply cannot allow investigations to be taken to their logical conclusion.
Two, the true meaning of 26/11 needs to be understood: it was a grotesque form of ‘coercive diplomacy’. Unless India fulfils whatever expectations the back-channel dialogue of the 2003-2006 period may have raised in the Pakistani military leadership, Rawalpindi will hold the normalisation process hostage and may well repeat 26/11.
Three, Pakistan’s projection of power into Afghanistan has acquired a profound ‘India connection’. The military seems convinced that New Delhi used its influence in Kabul to destabilise Pakistan and, therefore, ‘Indian presence’ must be exorcised from the Hindu Kush. New Delhi, however, won’t roll over on a turf so very strategically important for long-term Indian interests. The Afghan endgame seems inexorably leading toward a surge in Pakistani influence in Kabul. Meanwhile, Washington’s ‘geopolitical engagement’ of Pakistani military offers the latter an unprecedented role as the arbiter of regional stability — a status that, in certain ways, weakens India’s case.
Finally, the military draws sustenance from US aid and is haunted by the spectre of this aid diminishing once the Afghan conflict dissipates and the US opts to ‘demilitarise’ its AfPak strategy. Quintessentially, the military establishment aspires to seek parity with the US’s strategic partnership with India. It may sound like a paradox but Rawalpindi’s unique dealings with terrorist groups make for a most dynamic template for Pakistan’s dealings with a range of key foreign powers that includes the US, China, Russia and Iran.
Pakistan’s military has a huge stake in calibrating Pakistan’s ties with India. This, despite having no need to create an India bogey at a time when it faces no challenge from Pakistan’s civil society or political parties.
MK Bhadrakumar is a former Deputy High Commissioner of India to Pakistan