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SOUTH ASIA: Breaking the Impasse in Indo-Pak Relations

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By Saad Hafiz

The heavy baggage of history in Indo-Pak relations includes Partition, Kashmir, armed conflict and ongoing arms race, Bangladesh, Siachen, Kargil and Mumbai. Mostly shrill jingoism and xenophobic nationalism on both sides has historically overshadowed sane discourse or encouraged conflict resolution. The institutionalized machinery of hatred on either side of the border comprises politicians, generals and the media who can easily overwhelms any small efforts towards peace and co-existence. It seems that the people in both countries have been conditioned to hate and despise the other.

Despite the mutual animosity, the two neighbours unable to change geography are destined to live together and are forced to continue their turbulent negotiations, interactions and engagements. What needs to change is the unchanged cycle of the relationship, particularly since the 1950s which has been to start on a peace track but quickly revert to mutual recriminations and fighting words and even going to war, then back again to the negotiating table, promising a better relationship in the future.

The India-Pakistan dialogue, whenever the two countries get time to negotiate, has been based on a zero-sum game where one has wanted to gain at the cost of the other. This situation leads nowhere, terminating dialogue in middle of negotiations. Each side blames the other for the failure of communication, while in reality both are equally guilty. Any problem-solving dialogue must be based instead on positive-sum approach, where the two countries must compromise by acknowledging each other’s concerns and demands.

By making these kinds of adjustments the dialogue partners can halt the rise of war-like situations. Dialogue is also a process which takes time and in which continuity is must. Problems must be discussed repeatedly before any conclusions are reached, as in the Indus Water Treaty—the only successful treaty between them—that was negotiated and discussed for eight long years before it was signed in 1960. The first step to resolve any form of conflict is to manage the conflict-resolution process itself, yet this is nearly impossible when the two countries have such a poor relationship. Both have failed to even manage problems, which has resulted in continuous tension and dispute.

As a starting point in any negotiations, both sides should recognize existing ground realities, strengths and weaknesses and limits of flexibility which are prerequisites to effective negotiation and relationship building. For instance, Pakistan should accept that India as a major power in South Asia can exert significant influence on this region due to the size of its armed forces, economy, population and democratic credentials which no other nation in South Asia can match. India is also well on its way to being recognized as a global power by other countries in the region and beyond, despite the yet to be fulfilled dream to obtain a permanent Security Council seat. Bismarck would have been proud of what India has achieved in terms of strategic partnerships; particularly since 9/11. Like a superior chess player, India has correctly strategized its moves by earning the trust of global powers as a peaceful and friendly nation and a bulwark against Islamic extremism. India has also successfully manipulated and formulated its desired alliances in particular with the United States and Israel.

So where does that leave Pakistan, a nation which has steadily lost ground to India as the economic and military disparity has grown which combined with near diplomatic isolation has seriously disturbed the balance of power in South Asia. Pakistan has contributed to its isolation by its association with the nuclear proliferation activities of Dr. A.Q. Khan and the perception in the international community that it is as an exporter of terrorism; a perception reinforced by the brutal and condemnable atrocities in Mumbai in 2008. Pakistan had enjoyed some diplomatic breathing space, military and economic aid due to its tactical alliance with the United States in the war on terror. However, the continuing internal implosion and massive domestic blowback of suicide bombings, inflamed Pushtoon nationalism and a serious loss in national confidence has largely negated any benefits that may have been derived from joining the war on terror.

Whilst recognizing that economic parity or balance with India is out of question, a nuclear-armed Pakistan believes it is in a position to exercise nuclear deterrence against any conventional threat from India. Pakistan is also counting on its “strategic” partnership with China, the world’s second power with its expanding economic influence and military might. However, from previous examples in history it would be a mistake for Pakistan to shape its relationship with India exclusively around an unsustainable arms race, costly nuclear deterrence or a single strategic partnership.

While the power equation in South Asia has permanently shifted in India’s favour, it also raises troubling questions for Indian policy makers. India would be pleased to see a demilitarized Pakistan but would not be comfortable with a failed State as a neighbour which may jeopardize India’s own progress and prosperity. Indian policy makers realize that in aspiring to become a global power, India will have to shoulder greater responsibilities. This greater responsibility in dealing with Pakistan may require co-existence with and not the destruction of a weakened neighbour, a compromise between Gandhi and Chanakya.

On the other hand, Pakistan requires a broader engagement with India more than just convincing its larger neighbour that terrorism is a common threat and that the Kashmir issue needs to be resolved to defeat terrorism. Firstly, Pakistan has to realize that its primary national security threat is domestic terrorism and not India. Secondly, Pakistan must punish the Mumbai planners quickly and realize that it has no choice but to sincerely fight both domestic and international terror. The consequences of doing otherwise would be too horrible to contemplate. Thirdly, Pakistan must find the will to revive its economy by expanding the domestic tax base, fight corruption, reduce dependence on foreign aid/loans and encourage and accelerate trade with all countries including India. A greater focus on reforming domestic economic and security policy will allow Pakistan to co-exist with a prosperous and influential India


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