The polemical recriminations after Pakistan aborted the National Security Advisor-level talks in New Delhi has expectedly led a tangible increase in the exchange of fire between the armies of the two countries along the border. It has also increased the possibilities of fresh attempts by Pakistan-based terrorists to infiltrate across the order. The Ufa declaration by the two Prime Ministers has been consigned to the dustbin of history at least for the time being. The Indian Army and security forces in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) have to contend with fresh challenges under these aggravated circumstances.
The sequence of events shows that Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, considered a moderate, is either unable or unwilling to take Pakistan’s military and fundamentalist groups on board. In fact, the moment Sharif of his own volition signed the Ufa declaration with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, the insidious counter strategy to destabilise the process of dialogue with New Delhi was triggered, much to Sharif’s discomfiture.
Stung by the widespread political as well as public criticism of having omitted any reference to Kashmir from the joint statement, the Nawaz Sharif government went in overdrive to insist there could be no talks without J&K being part of the agenda. On the India-Pakistan border and Line of Control, ceasefire violations mounted and two major cross-border terrorist incidents followed, one in Gurdaspur, Punjab, and the other in Udhampur, J&K. A ‘living dossier’ in the form of Pakistani national Naveed was captured in the latter incident. He cheerfully admitted to being a Lashkar-e-Toiba jihadist and expressed delight at having been given the opportunity to kill Hindus. Once the Pakistani military had made its opposition apparent and escalated violence on and across the border, the proposed meeting between the two National Security Advisors was doomed.
If the Indian strategy was to engage the Pakistani civilian leadership, while retaliating robustly to cross-border provocations by its military—hoping thereby to strengthen a pro-peace constituency in Pakistan—this has proved to be a non-starter. The Pakistan Army has demonstrated time and again that it exercises a virtual veto over the country’s policies towards India, Afghanistan, the US and China. Except for India, these countries maintain parallel and probably deeper relations with the Pakistan military, acknowledging the reality of its overriding authority.
While it is not clear whether Washington exercising its immense influence in Islamabad had prevailed over Sharif to get the exercise completed, a rather timely high-level National Security Council, White House, reiteration from Peter Lavoy to the effect that “Kashmir was a contested area” did bolster the sagging pre-talks morale of Pakistan’s security and military establishments. Notwithstanding such a statement, the US for obvious reasons has no intention to get into the heart of any Indo-Pak imbroglio under the current circumstances, particularly when its unique focus is to get a grip over the ISIS machinations of violence and brutality in the Arab region, where the Americans in the absence of a credible Western military alliance are mostly on their own. This is a high-risk military venture, likely to grow in dimensions, both from a military perspective and area coverage in the months ahead.
It is clear that Washington’s priorities are elsewhere, not in the least on South Asia’s irreconcilable neighbours. Notably, preconditions are being imposed by White House itself on Sharif’s next sojourn to Washington in the coming months. He has been asked to control the levers of terrorism operating within the region before his visit.
New Delhi must realise that the assumption that the civilian, democratically elected government in Islamabad is in favour of better ties with India is far from true. Politics in Pakistan’s complex and interpenetrated political, bureaucratic and military elite rules the nation. There may be nuanced differences among its constituents, but they share a deeply adversarial perception of India. Till this changes, it is presumptuous to believe that India can significantly influence the domestic political dynamic in Pakistan. Change in Pakistan will come from how the internal forces play themselves out.
Under the circumstances, it would be better if New Delhi and Islamabad first initiate back-channel communication before planning such high-level meetings. There are positive elements to be pursued through parallel, sustained and patient engagement.
India could use many pressure points. We have a formal claim on Gilgit Baltistan but since the Simla Agreement we have rarely articulated it. We should press it and start receiving people from the region and raise our voice when their rights are violated. Thanks to its harbouring of Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, Pakistan has earned its reputation of being an ‘epicentre of terror’. We could be much more active internationally to exploit that negative image. This should go hand in hand with the strengthening of our own security capabilities in preventing cross-border terrorism and retaliating against military provocations.
Menon is a former additional secy,Cabinet Secretariat