We are posting this article to generate a debate. This is a guest post from an Indian perspective. Many in Pakistan will not agree entirely. Please send your reactions as blogs, or short comments. It is important for a dialogue to take place – eds.
By Ayushman Jamwal
When history repeats itself again and again, we must understand that there are set objectives and ideologies that maintain a certain course towards the future. Handshakes, overtures, unified appeals for peace and even condemnation of violence have little effect to deter national goals perpetuated by potent politics which are rooted in legacy.
The recent terror attack in Pathankot in the wake of Prime Minister Modi’s outreach to Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif shows that India-Pakistan ties are still slaves to history. They are still ruled by the ideological inheritance of the powerful institutions of both nations.
No matter what regime has ruled Pakistan, the military and non-state actors have been mobilised against India. The Kargil war, the 2008 Mumbai attacks, the Udhampur and Gurdaspur attacks of 2015, all erupted post outreach from India. In the case of the Kargil war, Pakistan honoured its soldiers only years after denying their nationality. With other terror attacks, the Pakistani state has been able to maintain plausible deniability, the age-old advantage of using non-state military assets. The Kargil war was initiated behind Nawaz Sharif’s back during his earlier term as PM, and the over-arching influence and power of the Pakistani military is still alive today. It perpetuates the nation’s vintage foreign policy towards India no matter which party’s PM shakes hands with an Indian PM.
Despite the terror threat from the Pakistani side of the LoC, India’s position in the global stage compels it to repeatedly reach out to Pakistan. As Prime Minister Modi pushes his foreign policy agenda in nations across the world, focusing on creating an international coalition against terror, he faces the pressure to engage what the world believes are the moderate elements in Pakistan. Yet, the outreach is nothing more than an attempt to establish a legacy of international statesmanship. Given Pakistan’s consistent strategic agenda, what is India’s advantage in strengthening bilateral ties beyond the notion of aesthetics? India and Pakistan do not enjoy great trade or people to people contact, so could the focus on outreach be a Nehruvian hangover, which looks good on the international stage but strategically improbable?
It seems the Modi government is still in an experimentation mode with Indo-Pakistan ties. It has laid down red lines over Pakistan’s engagement with J&K separatists, held talks with representatives of the Pakistan military, while maintaining traditional dialogue with the civilian leadership. As always, India’s Pakistan strategy remains in flux to achieve the right calibration, but could disengagement be prudent at this stage? Can Pakistan’s ‘shake and slap’ policy prompt the Modi government to suspend talks and stick to a rigid stance?
India can choose this stance, but Pakistan will only be marginally affected. Both nations continue to be chess pieces in the game between the United States and China receiving billions in investment and aid, while India does not wield enough global influence to increase diplomatic pressure on Pakistan from other nations. Pakistan continues to be in a win-win situation, while India struggles to adjust its policy jostling between its global image, foreign policy legacy and geopolitical realities.
There are big questions facing the establishment and peaceniks in India. Should India come to terms with the fact that, while a hardline approach may not produce results, it would show the nation as reactive and conscious of the post 9/11 geopolitical realities? The Indian establishment has always looked at Pakistan with hope, but is it time to break the cycle of history by recognising that it could be false hope?