Saturday, July 7, 2012

Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak

There is hardly any consensus about anything in today’s Pakistan

Fifty nine per cent of Pakistanis consider India to be the biggest threat to Pakistan as opposed to the Taliban or al Qaeda, according to the results of a recent survey carried out by the Pew Research Centre’s Global Attitudes Project. However, 62% of Pakistanis believe it is important to improve relations with India. The survey also shows that 59 per cent Indians do not have a positive opinion of Pakistan (by the way, in Pakistan’s traditional ally China, 52 per cent of people have an unfavourable view of Pakistan!). A great deal of Indians, 70 per cent, would also like to improve their relations with Pakistan. What this survey shows is something we have always known: Indians and Pakistanis have long-held complaints vis-à-vis each other but would like their relations to improve. And this is the philosophy that guides India-Pakistan dialogues on various issues, or so we thought. 

The Siachen Talks Fall Through 
Despite the stated good intentions that both sides seem to have at the moment to improve their bilateral relations, official India-Pakistan bilateral talks do not seem to be going anywhere. Consider this: every major Pakistani politician/statesman has in the recent past said that he/she would like to see the Siachen glacier standoff with India is resolved amicably. Some even argued in Pakistan, after the recent Siachen avalanche that killed over 100 Pakistani soldiers, that Pakistan should even consider the option of unilateral withdrawal from Siachen. The Pakistani negotiators, in their recent bilateral meeting with India, however, took positions no way helpful in resolving the Siachen dispute. Indian side, for instance, argued that there should be a phased approach to resolving the Siachen conflict and hence both sides should first demarcate and identify the existing positions and thereafter disengage and demilitarize. This of course comes from the Indian fear that Pakistan could, in future, do to India what it did to Pakistan in 1984. The Pakistani side, led by Pakistan’s Defence and Cabinet Secretary Nargis Sethi, refused to go by this and restated Pakistan’s traditional line: “Both sides would vacate their troops from the triangular area between Indira Col in the west, Karakoram Pass in the east and NJ 9842”. This, given India’s uneasiness about Karakoram due to the Chinese presence in the region, essentially killed the negotiations. While Pakistan stalled this round of negotiations, there is a growing constituency in New Delhi today that argues that there is no need to make any concessions on Siachen. 

Even on Kashmir-centric CBMs, Pakistan seems to be adopting a slower approach today. India has been pushing a number of Kashmir CBMs with Pakistan but Pakistani government is going slow on them insisting that the focus should not merely be on confidence building but also on the political question of Kashmir. 

All Talk, No Action
What explains this lack of willingness to take action by India and Pakistan despite their stated desire to resolve their conflicts? Pakistan’s current lack of progress on making peace with India can best be described by the age-old adage “spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. Here is a state with multiple existential exigencies. Pakistan has in the recent past been facing a great deal of political uncertainty and has even had its Prime Minister, who was definitely a supporter of Indo-Pak peace, dismissed by the judiciary. There is hardly any consensus about anything in today’s Pakistan, be it about its own domestic political choices and trajectories, about the alliance with the US, or relations with India and Afghanistan. Today’s Pakistan, given that its elite and society are deeply fractious, is simply unable to decide for itself who its enemies and friends are. At a more practical level, Pakistan now has a new Prime Minister who is yet to be ‘socialised’ into the Indo-Pak relations. 

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that Pakistan does not want to be seen as giving into Indian demands on their bilateral conflicts as doing so would add fuel to the jihadi fire in that country. 
What are the Indian constraints with regard to improving relations with Pakistan? On Siachen, there is a certain sense of hubris in New Delhi. The Indian strategic elite thinks that it is speaking from a position of strength with Pakistan on Siachen and hence there is no need to be very flexible on Siachen as it is pretty comfortable with the status quo. It also thinks that given the advancements in technology, there are today fewer Indian causalities (compared to more Pakistani casualties) in Siachen and more importantly, at least some members of the strategic community in New Delhi think that there are strategic advantages of being in Siachen. The Indian army is one of those actors that think that it loses nothing in continuing to be in possession of Siachen and it is pushing that position with the political class. That said, at least some members of the strategic elite in New Delhi also think that Pakistan can’t be trusted on Siachen. Given what happened in Kargil in 1999, there is absolutely no guarantee that Pakistan will not try and reoccupy Siachen once both sides withdraw fromthere. 

On Kashmir too, New Delhi believes that Pakistan has lost its case in Kashmir both in front of the Kashmiris as well as the international community. If so, why talk to Pakistan on the political aspects of the Kashmir problem. At best, New Delhi should talk to Pakistan on ‘soft’ CBMs with Islamabad. This, of course, is driven by the fear, as I have often written in Greater Kashmir, that Pakistan’s change of attitude on Kashmir is tactical in nature and not strategic and hence Pakistan might focus its destructive energies again on Kashmir once its domestic problems are over and the Afghan question is settled in its favour. 

Under these circumstances, and due to the impending elections in Pakistan and India, the only way the Indo-Pak dialogue can achieve some credible dividends now is by a visit by the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Pakistan. Such a visit could reignite the hope and optimism for peace in both the countries and force the bureaucracies and militaries on both sides in resolving at least some of their outstanding conflicts.

(Source: Greater Kashmir, July 8, 2012. URL: )

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