Between phase of strident nationalism and armed conflict, India-Pakistan relations have mostly remained in deep freeze from which there still appears to be no hope of recovery. Historically, bilateral ties have been dominated by shrill jingoism, xenophobia and a quest for absolute justice at the expense of national interest and political realism. National leaders, instead of pursuing peace, have generally found it easier to propagate hawkish positions, unwilling to risk charges of appeasement, defeatism and selling out.
Despite the mutual animosity, the two neighbours, unable to change geography, are destined to live together and to continue their turbulent negotiations, interactions and engagements. As both countries continue to acquire expensive killing machines geared towards mutually assured destruction, the deeply rooted common obstacles to progress such as poverty, inequality, overpopulation, disease, natural calamities, terrorism and an inefficient state apparatus remain. India and Pakistan have also carried on spending far too much energy and resources in trying to weaken each other. As a result, India has not been able to realise its true potential and the Pakistani state has weakened even further.
It may be time for both states to recognise their respective political and historical responsibilities towards the people of the subcontinent and the futility of prolonged conflict to give peace a chance. If India can normalise relations with Pakistan in one way or the other, then Pakistan can devote its resources and energy towards becoming a more attractive and respected country. The peace process can be helped by national leaders on both sides who are less preoccupied with electioneering, secure in power and able to defy the pressure from internal lobby groups to pursue dialogue. However, a simple desire for peace is not enough. There have to be profound changes in the deeper relationship between both states, which is only possible through the development of strong economic, cultural and political ties.
As a starting point in any negotiations, both sides should recognise existing ground realities, strengths and weaknesses and limits of flexibility, which are prerequisites for effective negotiation and relationship building. If the examples of the countries that have established durable peace after prolonged confrontation are any guide, a willingness to concede ground is critical to establishing peace. Until this is done, a sound basis for trust and conflict resolution cannot be created. Any problem solving dialogue must be based on the positive-sum approach, where the two countries must compromise by acknowledging each other’s concerns and demands. Moreover, it has to be understood that dialogue is a process that takes time and in which continuity is a must. The immediate need is to chart a daring vision of the future based on a realistic reading of the situation.
There is little doubt that India is in the driver’s seat, with no real threat to its sovereignty and power, allowing it to deal with Pakistan as a mere irritant. India sees itself as a rising global state and Pakistan as a hindrance to its “tryst with destiny”. Yet, because both countries have nuclear arms, there is no military solution to mutual problems. At a minimum, India wants Pakistan to expeditiously bring to justice those responsible for the Mumbai massacre and to act against the anti-India jihadi groups on its territory.
On the other hand, Pakistan, while regressing each day, needs and feeds off the Indo-Pakistan conflict. Pakistan is at war with itself; this condition flows from the negative anti-Indian nationalism and near fatal preoccupation with Kashmir that the country’s power elite and concomitantly the masses are beholden to. The continuing tragedy is that Pakistan’s civil-military leadership has been averse and unable to formulate a new national interest model for Pakistan in which global integration and internal stability rather than international isolation and political and economic anarchy come to characterise Pakistan. While in no position to dictate terms, Pakistan would like to see a resolution of the longstanding Kashmir dispute, a joint withdrawal of forces from Siachen and progress on bilateral trade and water allocation.
The peace process can be advanced by progress on the following topics: first, economic trade between Pakistan and the rest of South Asia should be encouraged. Pakistan should trade with India, one of the fastest growing economies in the world, as well as continue its ties with China. Second, there must be an understanding that force cannot be used to change existing borders and to resolve territorial disputes. Third, the terrorist mindset, which is a serious threat to both India and Pakistan, must be contained and stopped, and not provided with safe havens and political support, particularly in Pakistan. Fourth, both governments should take steps to curb and contain dogmatically committed home constituencies committed to the policy of enmity. Fifth, matters that can be quietly sorted out between the two militaries under existing processes and procedures should not be placed in the public domain.
There is also a need to change the past cycle of the relationship, which has been to start on a peace track involving discourse and conflict resolution, but quickly revert to mutual recriminations and fighting words then back again to the negotiating table, promising a better relationship in the future. It has to be believed that the establishment of permanent peace will trigger radical changes within both societies in favour of peaceful coexistence and the dismantling of the structures of mutual hostility over time.