The recent India-Pakistan acrimony over separatist leaders leading to the calling off the foreign secretary level talks has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons both within India and internationally. The government is being lambasted by the pro talks constituency for its vacillating Pakistan policy. This lobby essentially looks upon dialogue at various levels to lower acrimony and prevent relations from escalating into a dangerous standoff. In their view despite Pakistani duplicity: be it cross border terror, interference in J&K or support to Indian terrorist outfits like SIMI and Indian Mujahideen is manageable as long as political costs are acceptable and results in modicum of peace between the two nuclear neighbours. The pro talk constituency view that India’s growth and development is far too important and should not be allowed to get derailed by Pakistani perfidy.
The opposing pragmatist constituency which includes the security agencies and the bureaucracy believes Pakistan is unlikely to give up its policy of proxy war and given the prevailing nuclear overhang India’s options for military escalation is extremely limited. In short, this constituency strongly views that unless counter leverages (both political and military) are formulated, Pakistan is unlikely to give up its policy of “slow burn” against India.
An added factor for the new government is the attitude of the US and other western countries for holding India largely responsible for the deteriorating political situation in South Asia. Interestingly, the western view is that the Af-Pak situation is also largely a fallout of the growing India-Pakistan rivalry. Vexed Indian officials look upon this as a US-driven pressure on India for grand reconciliation with Pakistan and thereby allowing the west a clean break from their disastrous policies in Afghanistan post-2014.
An important question that needs to be addressed is as to why Pakistan is upping the ante in times of political strife and internal instability with the Tehrike-Taliban-Pakistan (TTP) openly challenging the authority of both the government and the military. Operations in North Waziristan, despite claims to the contrary, are floundering creating a serious law and order situation and a huge refugee problem. Sanctuaries by militants across the Durand Line spell disaster for the Pakistani military which could lead to cross-border operations and clash with Afghan national army. On the other hand Islamabad is a city under siege with streets swamped by Imran Khan and Canadian cleric Qadri’s supporters violently protesting against the beleaguered Nawaz Sharif government. The Pakistani army taking advantage of the situation is driving a hard bargain to settle the acrimonious civil-military relations with veto on India, Afghan, US and the nuclear policy among others.
With India there is a clear attempt by Pakistan to raise the pitch along the Line of Control. The firing has intensified; and the only saving grace is the moratorium on the use of heavy weapons like artillery. The Kashmir Valley is on slow burn. In the past few months there has been discernible increase in attacks on security forces both the army and the paramilitary. Politically, separatist leaders concerned with changing electoral fortunes in Jammu and Ladakh region are worried that the BJP may end up as the largest single party and end up forming the government in J&K, a worst case if not a nightmare scenario for both the separatists and their Pakistani handlers.
The possible loss of power to Hindu dominated BJP and the tough stand taken by the Modi government appear to be the contributing factors that have forced closer confabulations between Pakistan and Separatist leaders from J&K. The fact that the onset of winter is mere two to three months away has heightened tensions within the Pakistani military establishment. The firing on the LoC is a desperate attempt to push as many militants across the border to provide psychological support to their sympathisers in the valley and create tensions. It appears to be a calibrated move by the Pakistani ‘deep state’ in concert with separatists to whip up anti-India and pro-Kashmir sentiment, postpone elections or as a last resort paint them as sham.
So what are the consequences of these developments? In the short term India needs to let the internal situation within Pakistan play itself out and see what emerges from the current standoff. It will be of little use to engage with Nawaz Sharif when he has little control of India policy. This period will also see transition and pull out of ISAF and US forces from Afghanistan. By about early 2015, the political and military situation will be clear in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. Closer home, with the results of elections in J&K, New Delhi will be able to fine tune its Kashmir policy based on the outcome.
There is no doubt that Pakistan will have to be engaged but terms and manner will be dictated by the prevailing political and economic scenario in India, Afghanistan and the region including India-China relations. The following policy options need to be pondered:
- India needs to define redlines to Pakistan, in most unambiguous terms including India’s thresholds of tolerance.
- Engagement with Pakistan must be strictly transactional and within the frame work of the Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration. Economic and trade concessions must follow the principle of reciprocity.
- The NDA government needs to fine tune its Kashmir policy including clearly articulating the role of Huriyat and other separatists. Having taken a stand on the issue it must not now rescind. The new government in J&K post-elections must focus on the issue of governance including the stand on Article 370 and address genuine grievances.
- The Government of India needs to categorically tell the US and others including China that it is willing to resume dialogue with Pakistan strictly on terms spelt out above. Also India will not countenance being made a scapegoat for their failed Afghan or Pakistan policies.
- Afghanistan is crucial. There are multiple consequences of the various scenarios that might emerge in Afghanistan. India has to think through its policy options both on its own and in concert with regional players most importantly China, Iran, the CAR as well as Russia.
- The Government needs to evaluate the consequences of any known unknowns’ event like the Mumbai 26/11. Despite the fact that the Pakistani army has increased its presence on the western borders, propensity for mischief cannot be ruled out.
The current state of India-Pakistan relations provide an opportunity to New Delhi to redefine terms of engagement and categorically lay down the ‘redlines’. It is also an opportunity to review the broader Af-Pak policy and take steps to both build capacities and leverages to deal with the unfolding scenario whose contours are at best ominous.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
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