Saturday, March 6, 2010

Reviving talks with India

With Pakistan engaged in a death dance with home grown Taliban its relations with India acquire greater strategic and political significance. It has to focus on the internal threat and adjust its national priorities accordingly. Do our security managers see the internal danger or are still fixated on India as being the real enemy? Similarly, is India prepared to take a long term view of its relations with Pakistan? India cannot remain isolated from the rising tide of militancy that is sweeping the region.

Relations between India and Pakistan are at their lowest as a fallout of Mumbai. The reaction of India to suspend the composite dialogue was reflective of the old mood and there are inherent dangers in maintaining the stalemate. India and Pakistan are nuclear states. They cannot go to war as it would be suicidal. So the sooner they lift this self-imposed restriction the better it would be for resolving the major issues and facing the common challenge of terrorism.

It is expected that the phase of dominating the region by regional powers has passed. For the “new India” that is on a sharp upward economic curve stability of the region should be the goal rather than its dominance. A cooperative relationship with India can vastly contribute to Pakistan’s political stability and economic progress. It will allow Pakistan to fully focus on internal issues of governance and divert resources toward social uplift and productive avenues.

Pakistan allied with the US to obtain weapons and economic assistance to strengthen itself. The decision to support Afghan Taliban too was a part of balancing New Delhi’s influence in Afghanistan. None of those policies have worked. Serious strains have developed with US on Pakistan’s efforts in fighting the ongoing insurgency. US has de-hyphenated India and Pakistan and bracketed it with Afghanistan. The support of Taliban instead of giving us the strategic depth has brought about a reverse indoctrination of Talibanisation that is sweeping across Pakistan.

Our establishment under external and internal pressures has been adjusting to the new realities and bringing a shift in its policies, but it needs to do more. From 2004 onwards it has withdrawn its support of militant organizations and especially after Mumbai incident has taken action to close jihadi camps and we are in a state of transition. India’s diplomatic, media and political offensive against Pakistan after the Mumbai incident also has made difficult for our leadership to convince its people that New Delhi has benign motives. India’s initial anguish and reaction was understandable but its subsequent policy of pushing Pakistan to the wall made little sense. Nonetheless, the militants have succeeded in their mission of driving a wedge between nuclear neighbours and holding the peace process hostage. Although prudence demands that India and Pakistan should cooperate against the common threat of terrorism and expanding insurgencies. Pakistan has gone a long way in cooperating with India in investigating and taking action against the perpetrators of the Mumbai crime. India should realise that criminal trial has its own dynamic as the case has to be legally full proof and this takes time.

It is possible that the Indo-Pakistan composite dialogue may be revived once elections are completed in India and the new government is formed.

Clearly, it is going to be a coalition government led by Congress or BJP, depending on which side the regional parties swing. As there are no hard ideological positions taken by any political party, coalitions will be dictated by political expediency.

Irrespective of which party comes into power relations with Pakistan will remain fragile and prone to crisis unless the composite dialogue addresses all major aspects of our relationship.

There are genuine reasons for Pakistan’s security concerns that need to be allayed. India may use the potential threat of China to justify its fast growing military power but the hard reality is that more than 70 percent of its forces are facing Pakistan. The doctrine of “Cold Start,” the concept of using highly mobile integrated force as strike elements is Pakistan specific. Moreover, Islamabad has genuine reasons to complain of India’s meddling in Balochistan. It is well known that Baloch nationalists find sympathy and support from India and many are living there or in Afghanistan, under its patronage. India’s expanding influence in Afghanistan is equally unsettling for us. As a front line state Pakistan has experienced the worst fallout from Afghanistan’s instability in terms of influx of refugees, spread of militant groups and on its social and political fabric. It fails to receive any recognition on these counts and its security interests are not protected. Clearly, United States is developing a strong strategic, military and economic relationship with India. As a consequence of this convergence United States and NATO are giving all the space to India in Afghanistan. Mr Holbrooke on his last visit to the region clearly stated that US expects India to be a key player in Afghanistan.

With Pakistan the US is providing economic assistance to strengthen its institutions and promote stability primarily to combat radicalisation. The relationship of the US with India and Pakistan is on different levels and Pakistan finds it difficult to reconcile to this situation due to its adverse relationship with India. The revival of formal dialogue process covering all outstanding issues including Kashmir, coupled with expanded political contacts and increased economic interaction, however, can gradually bring the two countries closer and the region more stable.

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