A terrorist bombing of a bakery in Pune resulting in 14 dead greeted the announcement that the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan are to meet at New Delhi on 25 February 2010. Though the attack is evidence that both the states are on the same side, they have diverging expectations from the talks. India intends keeping the focus on terror so as to enable it to arrive at a decision whether Pakistan has been responsive enough to its concerns for it resume the stalled composite dialogue. Pakistan for its part would push for the resumption so as to outflank its extremists, led by Maulana Hafeez Saeed, who have called for Kashmir to be declared as the ‘core issue’. The differing agendas indicate that even as the composite dialogue may resume in the wake of the meeting, expectation of a meaningful outcome any time soon in any of its eight subparts would be belied.
The earlier five rounds of dialogue since 2004 did not see any see any issue being wrapped up, even though at least two were reported to have been ripe for disposing off: Siachen and Sir Creek. Progress instead had been recorded on the ‘back channel’ as long as General Musharraf’s credibility lasted. That the dialogue process was derailed by 26/11 was therefore not grieved over by either side. India then did not need to concede on any point, even as it gained an additional pressure point in its Cold War with Pakistan. The Pakistan Army, embroiled internally, could do without the dialogue during its phase of relative weakness. The only party affected was the civil side of government in Pakistan that could have used any success in talks to create greater space for itself.
The current move owes in some measure to stabilisation of the AfPak front in renewed US push for closure of the campaign through a military and civilian ‘surge’ combined with politically reaching out to amenable sections of the Taliban. Pakistan, having India marginalised in the London and Ankara conferences, is confident of preserving ‘strategic depth’ by brokering a deal between the US and the Taliban. India, not wanting to appear a spoiler, has pragmatically aligned itself with the Obama initiative. It would appear that both states await the outcome, outline of which will possibly be discernible by mid year.
The Indian initiative, for which the ground was prepared prior in a flurry of Track II activity over the turn of the year, has been expected for some time. The law of diminishing marginal utility had caught up with the policy of pressurising Pakistan to act against handlers involved in the 26/11 attack. Pakistan obliged partially, but has been patently unable to meet India’s expansive condition that action also is taken against leaders as Hafeez Saeed. The set back to Dr. Manmohan Singh’s policy of reaching out received in wake of Sharm es Sheikh was by now well behind. There has been a changeover in the National Security Adviser, making a change of gears possible. India also would like to expand the constituencies in favour of reconciliation in Pakistan by engaging with all secular-democratic sections. This would enable them to make gains against the space occupied by the military and the extremists internally in Pakistan. This, being a long term strategy, is unlikely to result in any worthwhile movement. Therefore, any initiative would be with Pakistan and its Army.
The Pakistani Army requires reconciling with India’s growing power. It has attempted to under cut this unsuccessfully by its proxy war, earlier in Punjab and Kashmir, and over the course of last decade in Indian hinterland. Not only has India faced down the challenge when it was most vulnerable in the Nineties, but its economic and military indices and internal security measures imply that it would be able to do so better over the coming decade. The lesson is obvious that intelligence and military means have been tried and found to be failures. Besides, the policy has proved dangerous. Not only has the threat of military conflict with a nuclear backdrop loomed large, but extremists have proven over the last year to be grave threat to the state. There is advantage for the Army in changing tack. The question is: ‘Will it?’
Presently, both the Pakistani state and the Army are reliant on American largesse. The controversy in wake of the Kerry-Lugar bill over mention of civilian-military balance in Pakistan indicates where power lies. The disarray in the civilian camp, in particular the warring between the executive and judiciary, does not help any. Over the long term, Pakistan hopes to rely on a China wanting to tie down India as a South Asian power. Therefore, the Army would be able to continue as the premier organisation in Pakistan. National security, supposedly threatened by rising India power, would act as rationale for it to continue cornering a disproportionate share of externally enhanced national resources. Therefore, there is no fear of the Army’s institutional interests suffering. That its earlier methods have proven counter productive serves as incentive for it to change tack. Therefore, it can afford to countenance reciprocating Indian overtures without adverse affect to its self interest.
An Army permitted opening up to Indian advances can enhance its image among those profiting from the initiative. An expanding economic resource cake would enable a proportionately larger military share, even while making other sectors less envious. Extremists would be progressively marginalised by expanding commercial classes and democratic spaces. The pace of the opening up, dictated by the Army, would keep it central to the exercise. It would thus be able to extract concessions from India as incentive for good behaviour. This would be particularly useful for Pakistan’s position on river waters and Kashmir, since adversarial relations are unlikely to get Pakistan anywhere.
To get the Pakistani Army round to this perspective would require consistent and enlightened orchestration of diplomacy, political discourse and public information by India beginning end February.