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Indo-Pak ties: A time to wait and watch

Publication Date : 13-01-2013


The year 2013 did not begin well for Indo-Pak ties. The January 8 incident where bodies of two Indian soldiers were found mutilated near the LoC in Kashmir has sparked off a fresh debate on how to deal with our neighbour even as Pakistan claims that the Indian Army killed one of its soldiers on January 6.

Tensions had been raised in recent months in the sector owing to new observation positions being built by Indian forces, which were concerned after an elderly woman repeatedly crossed the heavily-defended zone between the two armies. The clashes have provoked an outpouring of anger and loud calls for retaliation.

The relationship between India and Pakistan has been like a roller coaster since 1947. Several contentious issues, including Jammu and Kashmir, terrorism and nuclear arms remain as challenging as ever. Despite all this, the two countries return to the negotiating table, where talks are often disturbed by some skirmish or the other. A section in both countries believes that normalisation efforts should continue while another section thinks there is no hope.

The two countries have fought three wars since 1947 and Pakistan lost all three. The 1999 Kargil conflict, waged a year after both countries went nuclear, may have brought them closer to the nuclear brink but timely intervention by US President Clinton averted it.

From a nuclear standpoint, command-and-control systems are firmly in the hands of the civilian political leadership, a clearly stated “no first use” policy exists, and there is a strong view that nukes are political weapons.

However, one more war is not advisable for either country and this is where the line is drawn. That could be one of the reasons why the two countries decided to keep aside contentious issues and go forward in building trade and commerce. This is exactly the method followed in the Sino-Indian relationship where the boundary question is still to be resolved.  There are also other issues of concern like Afghanistan.

The issue today is how to deal with Islamabad. Prime Ministers IK Gujral, AB Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have shown initiative to build bridges with Pakistan in the past decade. But every time some incident or the other happens to disturb these efforts by vested interests on the other side. The present gruesome incident is also seen in this light. The hawks in the country demand action while the doves preach patience.

There are two major issues that need to be tackled. Pakistan continues to talk of the Kashmir issue and turns a blind eye towards terrorism, which is affecting India.  So far, Pakistan has not shown any inclination to punish the terrorists responsible for the 26 /11 Mumbai attack despite the solid proof given by New Delhi. 

Many believe that the Pakistani government lacks the requisite will and capacity to deal with the issue. The problem in Pakistan is that the army and the ISI are in control while the civilian government is not. In India it is the reverse.

The doves argue that to achieve strategic objectives like good neighbourly relations, people-to-people contact, normal trade and confidence-building mechanism, a sustained dialogue process is necessary. They believe that it will be in the interest of the people of both countries to resist the urge to discontinue the dialogue process.

The doves seem to have won this time. Prodded by the US, both governments are keen to avoid a show down. At the diplomatic level the two sides have decided to ensure that there is no escalation. They have also left it to the two armies to sort out the problem.

India does not have the luxury of starting a war with its neighbour nor does Pakistan, which is being seen as a failed state. For the USA, the nightmare scenario is that some of Pakistan’s warheads or its fissile material falls into the hands of the Taliban or al Qaeda--although Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal appears to be reasonably secure against internal threats according to Americans.

Pakistan, with an estimated 90 to 120 warheads, is now believed to be churning out more plutonium than any other country. It has already passed India in total number of warheads and may overtake Britain as the world’s no 5. Pakistan could end in third place after the USA and Russia within a decade.  

New Delhi should show its displeasure by suspending the peace efforts until Pakistan shows some response. It is clear that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intended visit to Pakistan cannot take place in this atmosphere unless Islamabad sends a positive signal.  New Delhi is optimistic that the long-awaited Most Favoured Nation status would be given to India sooner than later.

The back channel initiatives should also be suspended for the time being, although there is hope in encouraging people-to-people contact in view of the changing Pakistan society. The new generation of the elite and urban youth of Pakistan today are more global and they use the social media to interact with each other.  Secondly and more importantly, the youth of Pakistan by and large believe that domestic jihadi movements are a critical threat to the state.

The future of Indo-Pak relations is far from certain. There are opportunities and major problems on both sides. Both sides need strong leaders to deal with the situation. The elections this year would give an indication which way things will go. In India too there could be elections later this year or early next year. Until then the two sides should maintain status quo and not escalate things.


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