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Tag Archives | dialog

Getting India’s priorities right

Does it matter if Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan are called off?

The government of India has cancelled the proposed Foreign Secretary-level talks with Pakistan as a result of Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, meeting with Hurriyat leaders.  The meetings took place apparently despite Indian warnings to Mr. Basit that Pakistan could choose to engage in dialog with either India or the separatists, but not with both.  It is possible that new red lines are being drawn on what India considers unacceptable engagement by Pakistani politicians and diplomats.  Reaction to India’s response has been mixed; some have called it an overreaction, while others believe India’s response was justified.

But whether India’s decision was an overreaction or a justified response is of no real relevance.  India and Pakistan hold such divergent and irreconcilable positions on Kashmir that a resolution seems almost next to impossible as things stand today.  For India this matters little, as a status-quoist state in a position of advantage in every area of contention vis-à-vis Pakistan on Kashmir.

Pakistan, on the other hand, has a problem.  As Christine Fair rightly notes in her book Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War, Pakistan is “revisionist, or anti-status quo, in that it desires to bring all of the disputed territory of Kashmir under its control, including the portion currently governed by India.”  Pakistan’s problem though, is that there exists a significant and ever-increasing disparity between its ends and means.  Its military campaigns to wrest Jammu and Kashmir from India have failed with increasing decisiveness in each successive attempt.  India has also successfully thwarted – though at a significant cost – Pakistan’s sub-conventional war in Jammu & Kashmir.

In short, Pakistan’s attempts at resolving the Kashmir dispute through violent means have failed.  Pakistan is therefore left with the only option of negotiation through diplomacy.  But Pakistan’s leaders, present and past, have built a narrative around J&K that allows no scope for nuance, negotiation or compromise.  The resulting public sentiment in Pakistan is that it is unlikely to be satisfied with anything short of India handing Kashmir over to Pakistan on a silver platter.  And that is hardly going to happen.

It doesn’t matter how many whitepapers and non-papers are written and circulated about potential solutions to J&K.  Optimism about their viability isn’t shared by many beyond the confines of Track-II moots in which they are enthusiastically presented.  Ultimately, Pakistan cannot demand anything less than a total surrender of Jammu & Kashmir and India cannot (and will not) give Pakistan what it wants.

This is not at all to advocate a total cessation of dialog with Pakistan.  There is benefit to be derived from continued dialog on ancillary issues such as liberalizing trade and visa regimes.  As far as one can tell, India has only cancelled FS-level talks scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad, not shut the door on future opportunities for talks between the two governments.

Indeed, even as news of the cancelled August 25 talks hogged the limelight, state-run gas utilities from India and Pakistan appear to be in advanced talks for exporting gas from India to Pakistan via a pipeline from Jalandhar to Lahore.  Operationalizing such a project would be significant, considering our troubled histories.  India can continue to pursue these and other pragmatic initiatives with Pakistan, but there are more pressing foreign policy matters that demand India’s attention than its western neighbor.

For India, Pakistan is not a foreign policy priority but a national security threat, given its continued use of terrorism against the Indian homeland and Indian interests abroad.  Dealing with such a threat requires a different set of objectives, actors and intended outcomes.  Currently, those actors do not reside in the Ministry of External Affairs, but in other ministries and agencies of the Indian government.  If India is to expend significant time and effort on Pakistan, it will be better served if they are spent in the pursuit of means to mitigate the threats to India’s national security emanating from that country.

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Talkistan ka matlab kya?

The politics of talking to our neighbor.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has invited Pakistan’s prime minister Gilani and president Zardari to attend the cricket World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan in Mohali.  Mr. Gilani has accepted the invitation while we’re waiting to hear from Mr. Zardari.  In the past, cricket diplomacy has been afforded to the likes of Gen. Zia-ul-haq and Gen. Musharraf.  This time around, the extension of invitations will result in two tickets being granted gratis to  individuals who neither craft nor implement Pakistan’s foreign policy, instead of our own VVIPs, who are accustomed to not paying for anything anyway.

They say there is momentum towards a resumption of talks between India and Pakistan.  Mr. Singh and Mr. Gilani met on the sidelines of the NAM summits in Bhutan and (infamously) at Sharm el-Sheikh.  Talks between India and Pakistan have also taken place in Lahore and New Delhi in the recent past.  Times of India’s diplomatic editor, Indrani Bagchi informs in her column that New Delhi was also keen to open channels of communication with the Pakistan army and its ISI (recall that DG-ISI Lt. Gen. Pasha had a tete-a-tete with India’s envoy to Pakistan Sharat Sabharwal at an iftaar dinner in 2009).

Not talking to someone is more a momentary tactic and less a strategy. If the Government of India has decided to seriously engage not just the civilian administration in Pakistan, but also its military overlords in talks, then fine, but what is the end game?  In India, our leaders have repeatedly articulated that they are “not willing to give up on Pakistan.”  As if not giving up on Pakistan is a virtue!

Lest we forget, there is the more immediate matter of Pakistan prosecuting its citizens involved in the heinous terrorist attacks against India on 26/11.  It has been 2 ½ years since 200 innocent Indian citizens were killed in a state-sponsored project executed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and members of Pakistan’s military-jihadi complex.  Not only has LeT’s leader gone unpunished, he is also being invited to give speeches at that venerable bastion of justice, the Lahore High Court!

To be sure, the pursuit of  peace between India and Pakistan (or indeed between any two nations) is always desirable.  However, in India we are victims of our own unattainable quest for morality in international relations above all else.  Our leadership has always taken pride in suggesting that if Pakistan takes minor, but tangible steps in addressing our concerns, that we would be “willing to go more than half the distance” in resolving our disputes with our neighbor.  But why?

In the anarchic world of international relations, abstract terms such as morality have no place.  States promote their national interests by exercising their relative power, both in times of war and peace. If it is in India’s interests to talk to Pakistan, then negotiations must be dictated from positions of relative power.  Magnanimity has no place in international relations.  As the greater power, India must expect settlements to be more favorable to its interests, not the other way around.  To quote India’s former intelligence chief and senior fellow at Takshashila, Vikram Sood, “magnanimity is a function of victory; otherwise it is appeasement.”

Prime Minister Singh is right in pursuing talks with Pakistan, but he would be wrong to believe that India’s growth and prosperity were contingent on making peace with that country. If India and Pakistan can, by some remote possibility, reconcile their differences and live in peace with one another, then fine.  If they can’t, that should also be okay for us as well.  Prime Minister Singh will always be favorably remembered in India’s history books for loosening the shackles of our License Raj.  He should remain invested in bringing 400 million of our citizens out of poverty.  India’s growth and development cannot be held hostage to anyone’s grand visions of orchestrating peace with countries that seek nothing but our dismemberment.

 

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