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Decoding Indo-Pak ties: It’s talks versus fights

The debate on Indian policy towards Pakistan often assumes two choices: talking and fighting. There is a nuanced and consistent logic to how New Delhi has handled Islamabad. Pramit Pal Chaudhuri and Jayanth Jacob report.

world Updated: Aug 09, 2013 08:38 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri and Jayanth Jacob
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri and Jayanth Jacob
Hindustan Times

The debate on Indian policy towards Pakistan often assumes two choices: talking and fighting. There is a nuanced and consistent logic to how New Delhi has handled Islamabad.

* What does India want to accomplish in Pakistan?
Both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have taken the same view regarding Pakistan. India's goal should be to make Pakistan a "normal" country, its polity undistorted by the military, militants and outside powers like the US, Saudi Arabia and China. (READ:Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif upset over border clashes, calls for peace)

The game has been to show to Pakistan's civilian and military leaders two things: using terrorism to weaken India's hold over Kashmir will not work and that it inflicts a higher price on Pakistan, domestically and internationally.

* How has India tried to accomplish this goal?
One way has been for India to be an economic success, despite terrorist attacks. Pakistani noted that India's economy took off even while Kashmir was in flames.

Another was to harness the external world. The 9/11 attack was a boon because it led the US to temporarily act against Pakistan's terror infrastructure.

File Photo: Indian and Pakistani peace lovers lighting candles as a symbol of peace during 66th Independence Day of India and Pakistan on August 15, 2012, at Indo-Pak joint border check-post in Attari. (Munish Byala/HT Photo)

India has sought to cultivate groups inside Pakistan, business for example, to develop a stake in normal relations with India. (READ:Delhi-Lahore bus route changed after Poonch killings)

New Delhi avoids military action: escalation would be inevitable, nuclear weapons would attract outside interference and, most important, there was no evidence it would change attitudes in Pakistan. But the odd border raid and at least one airstrike have been carried out.

Singh and Vajpayee both believed boycotts were symbolically nice, but substantially useless. In diplomacy rivals talk more, not less – the US and the Soviet Union being an example.

However, as a then Indian foreign secretary told his diplomats, "Talks with Pakistan are only one of a range of our options…they account for less than 20% of what happens between India and Pakistan." Contrary to popular belief, negotiations help minimize external interference. They also allow New Delhi to send signals to the wider Pakistani public. (READ:Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif convenes meeting to discuss tension with India)

Army chief general Bikram Singh laying the wreath at the bodies of five jawans who died in an ambush by Pak soldiers in Poonch sector on Tuesday. (HT Photo)

* How successful has the strategy been?
The best example was Pervez Musharraf. He came to power a sworn enemy of India and left office seeking a full settlement of all bilateral problems. He also signed the LoC ceasefire that has given Kashmir relative peace since 2003.

Today, no mainstream civilian political party in Pakistan endorses hostilities towards India. They all want talks, trade and no terrorism. As national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon told a US diplomat, according to Wikileaks, the core problem in Pakistan is its military.

* What is the state of relations today?
India held most of the trumps in the past decade. But the US retreat from Afghanistan, Pakistan's expectation of a friendly regime in Kabul, India's economic problems and poor relations with Washington have led the Pakistan military to once again think of stoking Kashmir's fires.

Sharif wants better relations. One reason: his economic priorities requires a stable border with India. Until the new Pakistan military chief is selected later this year, however, his leverage over the generals is zero. Pakistan's security and foreign policy, in any case, have been the prerogative of the military.

Some perspective: before the 2003 ceasefire, India lost 400 to 600 soldiers a year on the LoC. Even with the present two-year spike in violence, the tolls is in low double digits. But the trend line is not favourable. (READ:Indo-Pak relations, let down by 'bad drafting' again)

What India's strategists also now increasingly realize is that the weakening of the Pakistani state has not been to New Delhi's benefit. The main beneficiary has been China, which is a far greater geopolitical challenge.

ht epaper

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