There is a French phrase which, roughly translated, says: the more things change, the more they stay the same. India-Pakistan relations seem condemned to remain stuck in the same place, despite valiant efforts to transform them.
Last week, even while India and other SAARC nations sought to change the regional dynamics, Pakistan seemed to be stuck in a time warp around the early 1990s.
Islamabad refused to consider two game-changing connectivity agreements. Further, its prime minister reiterated Kashmir’s centrality to Pakistan’s India policy, and its Army sent a group of fedayeen to attack an army post in Jammu.
The Pakistan Army continues to dash any hopes of productive talks with India
There was a great deal of movement in the 2004-2008 period with the two countries coming close to agreement on a range of issues. But ever since the Mumbai attacks of 2008, India’s relations with Pakistan have been fraught.
In the past, too, there had been Pakistani complicity in terrorist attacks on India, but there was something about the brazen audacity of the attack, which had the finger-prints of the Pakistani deep state aka. the Army, which has changed things.
Needless, to say, Pakistan, has done little or nothing to help. The trial of the key organisers of the carnage - Zaki ur Rehman and his associates - continues fitfully, even while the principal villain Jamaat ud Dawa chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed moves around freely in Pakistan with an official security detail.
This week, Saeed will organise a congregation of the JuD at the Minar-e-Pakistan, built to commemorate the founding of the country.
The Pakistani government headed by Asif Ali Zardari did make a few desultory attempts to improve ties, but was quickly swatted down by the Army.
As for Nawaz Sharif, he came with much promise to not only normalise ties with India, but to put the powerful Army in its place. Today, it is Sharif who has been cornered and shown the limits of his authority.
In such circumstances, there are a lot of question marks in India about ways and means of dealing with Pakistan. After the SAARC summit, which saw Islamabad blocking even multilateral efforts to promote road and rail connectivity, there were suggestions that maybe the time had come to simply turn away from Pakistan. But that is hardly a viable option.
Since 1991, India has followed a policy of engaging Pakistan in a broad-based dialogue, aimed at solving problems big and small. Initially, the aim was a process which would, by solving the relatively smaller issues like the Siachen, Sir Creek and Wullar Barrage disputes, generate momentum and goodwill to resolve the bigger issues like the J&K and Pakistani support for terrorism and militancy aimed at India.
In 2004, the decision to create a South Asian Free Trade Area brought forwards the prospect of Indo-Pak normalisation in the wider ambit of regional cooperation.
But over time it has become evident that this is not working. The Pakistani business community and large sections of its political class are aware of the benefits of opening up. However, the army and the deep state think that normalisation of ties is bad enough, but economic integration with India is nothing short of surrender. And so the struggle continues between those who seek to normalise ties, and those who oppose it.
The duality in India-Pakistan relationship is evident from the fact that even while Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif accepted Narendra Modi’s invitation to participate in the latter’s inaugural along with other SAARC leaders in May, the deep state’s answer was to get its proxies to attack the Indian consulate at Herat on May 23rd, the eve of Modi’s inauguration. Fortunately, the attackers failed to get into the mission and were killed by the outer ring security made up of Afghan personnel.
Another manifestation of the same phenomenon has been the efforts to turn up the heat in the Kashmir border. It is no coincidence that the SAARC summit was followed by a fedayeen attack on an Indian Army post at Arnia sector in Jammu where three army personnel were killed along with five civilians.
India shares a 3,323 km international border and a 740 km Line of Control with Pakistan. This is already fenced and floodlit and has prevented large-scale movement across the border. However, smaller scale intrusions take place almost every day and in recent months, the ceasefire that has held along the LoC since November 2003 has shown signs of breaking down.
Given the length of the border and terrain it traverses, the idea of isolating Pakistan from India by building a huge wall, just as Israel has done with the West Bank and Gaza, does not hold water. As Israel has learnt, the fortress can be breached, not in the least by missiles and rockets.
Further, as IB chief Asif Ibrahim has pointed out, the Indian diaspora - especially in the Gulf - is a target of Pakistani efforts to radicalise India’s Muslim population.
In any case, Pakistani agents have made use of the more-or-less open border that our country has with Nepal and Bangladesh.
There are no easy fixes for Indian policy. Its long-term goal has to be the transformation of Pakistan to a “normal” country.
In a bid to prevent the Pakistani veto in SAARC, India sought to promote the extra-regional Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Cooperation (BIMSTEC) involving Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal. But somehow, BIMSTEC has not quite taken off and has been victim of Indian lassitude.
So, SAARC remains the only viable vehicle for South Asian integration, a project vital for India because a viable South Asian economy is a necessary pre-condition for our ability to engage effectively with ASEAN and China. And when we look at SAARC, the key hurdle it must overcome is the India-Pakistan problem.
Mail Today December 3, 2014