Inch by painful inch
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Inch by painful inch

India must realise that Pakistan is trying to turn the direction of ties away from conflict to engagement. It hopes that the present phase of the peace process becomes sustainable. Ayesha Siddiqa writes.

columns Updated: Sep 23, 2012 22:05 IST
Ayesha Siddiqa,hindustan times,news

Like most India-Pakistan peace initiatives, the recent round of talks between the Indian minister of external affairs SM Krishna and his Pakistani counterpart, Hina Rabbani Khar, have produced mixed emotions. While the delegation of visiting Indian journalists expected Mumbai to be mentioned very seriously by both Krishna and Khar, some of the Pakistanis were disappointed that the joint statement didn't mention anything about Manmohan Singh's possible visit to Pakistan. There is a sad cycle of India-Pak relations: tense relations worsening due to a crisis that is accompanied with at least a year or two of break-off of dialogue to be followed by détente and improved relations until something else happens again. It's always during the period of re-engagement that the level of expectation goes sky high to an extent that we want everything solved in an hour. This time is no different. People forget that the Krishna-Khar meetings were a part of the series of dialogues that had to happen in which Singh's visit was not a part of the agenda item.

The hawks and pro-establishment types have immediately announced their frustration and felt dejected. Many of the analysts in the larger security community in Delhi felt disappointed with the fact that Khar downplayed Mumbai. Immediately, many would draw an obvious conclusion that she may be nothing more than a doll whose strings are being pulled by the GHQ. It is a fact that, traditionally, Pakistan's politically powerful army and the broader security agenda have influenced its foreign policy. The security establishment is uncomfortable talking about an event in which some of its assets were involved. However, it is equally important to realise the fine balance that Pakistan's foreign minister has to strike between not annoying the establishment (or even keeping the generals happy) and making sure that the political government's objective is achieved.

The new trend in Pakistan that must be understood in India is that the majority of politicians and all political parties are keen on peace and there are others from civil society, including the business community, who have now joined the ranks. Some of the top businessmen in Pakistan had, in fact, approached the army chief and convinced him of the need for improving relations. Such an argument, however, does not seem to please a few after the foreign ministers' talks. Such people are quick in reminding that some of the politicians who seem keen on friendship had constantly challenged peace initiatives in the past.

Throughout the 1990s, for instance, every time Benazir Bhutto would take a step forward, her rival, Nawaz Sharif, would try to pull her back and vice versa. If only people would understand that such behaviour was not about how these people felt vis-à-vis the issue of improving bilateral relations but about their own competition and the overall state of civil-military relations in Pakistan. In 1989-90, Bhutto was in the early stages of turning the country's foreign policy away from her father's ambitious approach of challenging New Delhi geopolitically and militarily. The early 1990s was also a period when Sharif had not even begun to emerge from under the shadow of the GHQ Rawalpindi. As a result, the generals often tended to play one against the other. National security and relations with Delhi were part of the agenda items used to set one against the other. And, in any case, how is such internal realpolitiking any different from how it happens in India? Rival parties always provoke the other by accusing them of conceding a bit too much to the 'enemy'. Wonder if anyone notices that the two major parties, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League, Nawaz Sharif group (PML-N) or even the smaller PML-Q, the MQM and the ANP do not attack each other over mending fences.

It's worth explaining to an Indian audience that there is a lot of anxiety about 26/11 in certain circles in Pakistan which want the culprits to be apprehended. The political government itself was clear on the issue from day one after Mumbai that it had no role to play in the tragic event. This is also a government in Islamabad, which, with lots of imperfections, is trying to survive and get on with life by improving ties with a lot of regional actors including India, Iran, China and even Russia. The ruling party is making efforts to encourage trade ties with all regional States and more. It is in the strengthening of the position of the exchequer that lies the survival of the political system.

The growing conservatism and latent radicalism apart, a considered effort is being made in the country to turn the direction away from conflict to engagement. The political government, in fact, seems to be playing at two levels. First, focusing on trade with India with the objective of showing to the military how there may be greater dividends in peace. Second, in linking with all the regional actors with whom Islamabad can rally for a common cause to eliminate terrorism in the region. Today, one of the most critical demands of Pakistan from all its neighbours and extended neighbours is peace and abandonment of the policy of supporting non-State actors. Even if India has a lesser role to play in this regard, there are others like China who would eventually want to see the non-State actors go. Although Beijing seems to have engaged in a short-term policy of talking with individual terror and religious groups, keeping these groups active is ultimately an untenable policy. Enticing some of these groups, which have also developed business interests, with money or other material gains is not a lasting approach. The various militant groups have to be defanged and disengaged in the medium to long term.

A strategy to achieve this objective is complicated and will require patience and understanding. This may not appear sufficient but it is vital to understand that there are many in Pakistan who are keeping their fingers crossed and hoping that the peace process started this time around becomes sustainable. Meanwhile, fighting the army and the jihadi outfits in one go is a Herculean task that can only be achieved with planning and patience.

Ayesha Siddiqa is an Islamabad-based writer and author of Military Inc: Inside Pakistan's Military Economy

The views expressed by the author are personal (C) Right Vision Media Syndicate, Pakistan

First Published: Sep 23, 2012 22:00 IST