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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

What Holds India Up?
by Firdaus Ahmed March 01, 2011 17:34

India has a pretty good rationale for not engaging with Pakistan. It can always refer to 26/11, the dastardly attack on Mumbai. It can follow up with reference to the slovenly prosecution of the terrorist handlers and that the chief mastermind, Hafeez Sayeed, walks free. It can draw up a list of such attacks ranging from Mumbai train blasts through the parliament attack in Delhi to the bombing of the Srinagar legislative assembly. That Pakistan has not rolled back terror infrastructure intending to reuse it when the time is ripe on the departure of the US from AfPak makes Delhi less inclined to follow up purposefully on its professed preference of seeing a friend in Pakistan. India’s position appears justifiable and owing to this there is little interrogation separating what it professes with what are its actual motivations.

There are at least two pieces of evidence as to what holds India up. The first appeared in the Wikileaks trove on US embassy officials writing up their information. A joint secretary in the external affairs ministry is stated as saying, "call me a cynic, but even if India were to lop off Kashmir and hand it on a platter to Pakistan, they would still find a reason to make trouble for us". In the official's assessment a deep historical and civilisational faultline divides the two states and could at a certain level make their differences irreconcilable.

The second is in the recall of Musharraf of the Agra summit in which he alleges that the two political leaderships were closing in on a formulation, but clinching of the deal was scuttled by a foreign service officer handling the Pakistan desk in attendance. In his words, "There was someone from the foreign ministry sitting there named Katju. He may still be there, he created a lot of hurdles." Interestingly, he added, "I told Vajpayee saheb before leaving Agra, today you and I have been both humiliated because there is someone above us, sitting above us who can veto what we decide." It is no wonder that Musharraf did not receive the visa for his speaking engagement in Delhi late last year in the immediate aftermath of this interview.

The two instances indicate that there is a section in India’s deep state that is not overly inclined towards Pakistan. The section that is possibly less hostile to Pakistan is less vocal. They have certainly be silenced after the gaffe in the wording of the Sharm es Sheikh joint declaration of 2009. The most vocal proponent, Mani Shankar Aiyar, is unlikely to gain any position of consequence, unsurprisingly because of his being an Indusphile.

In the two illustrations, hardline views of diplomats have been referred to. Diplomats are the least extreme. What the views of those in the intelligence agency are can only be imagined. These views have been formed no doubt after observing Pakistani ISI in action and therefore they are understandable. Nevertheless, that they would constitute a speed breaker if not a hurdle can be imagined.

Likewise, the Army can be expected to be averse to Pakistan. While it may not have an issue with engaging Pakistan, it would be concerned were there to be any semblance of concession as part of such reaching out. Its position on eminently negotiable issues as Siachen has been described by notable Indian civil-military relations specialists as a case of exercise of veto over otherwise eminently political decision terrain.

Within the strategic community are the vociferous Pakistan bashers, Indian equivalent of the combative Shireen Mazari. Ever on television and through opinion pieces they deepen suspicion. The government with limited political capital to begin with can then hardly invest in rolling back the tide as prelude to clinching a deal. It is no wonder then that India remains without a policy of conciliation.

It however has a policy of coercion under preparation. While all elements are not in place at the moment due to the military make over that coercion requires, it is slowly building up through acquisitions to the capability. That coercion will be offset by Pakistan relying on China, on nuclear weapons and on irregular fighters is a problem that will be contended with in due course. Presently, a strategy of restraint caters to tide over the interim when India will be able to follow through where it left off in Operation Parakram. This means that the future is an uninviting one.

If changes are to be made, then understanding India’s internal hold up is equally required. Forever attributing the road block to the self-interested Pakistan Army and its notorious ISI is limiting. The Pakistani deep state has its reflection in an Indian deep state. Indian policy makers, its politicians, are not in a position to overrule the veto this exercises on its Pakistan policy.

Pakistan needs to change for India to be more accommodative is an acceptable proposition. However, for India to have to wait it out till then makes it a reactive state and is unbecoming of its power credentials. India needs instead to bring about the change. This it can only do if it can internally bring about a triumph of the liberals.

This will require political investment, attention and staking of political reputations. The over-focus on relations with the US, the economy and now with corruption are keeping India from engaging with the substantive issue of poor relations with its foremost neighbour. It needs to refocus on the core issue. Just as Gulliver, India cannot expect to get anywhere if its neighbourhood ties it down.

Recognising that the problem is not entirely in Pakistan but lies within is the first step.

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