Yet another attempt to thaw Indo-Pakistani relations has failed to generate any warmth. Though Rehman Malik’s visit to New Delhi produced much heat, it did little to promote any amity, the more relaxed visa regime notwithstanding. On the critical question of arresting and bringing Hafiz Saeed, the head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks mastermind, Malik resorted to the most disingenuous and specious reasoning; namely, that India has failed to provide adequate evidence to bring him to book. If any proof of the lack of seriousness, if not rank inability, of the Pakistani civilian government to assert itself against the purveyors of terror was necessary, this baseless statement amply underscored the matter. Now that the year is drawing to a close it may well be worth facing a painful but unavoidable truth: little or nothing will be accomplished in this bilateral relationship until the Pakistani military establishment concludes that it is in its self-interest to end its intractable hostility towards India.
Many of the advocates of improved Indo-Pakistani relations will, no doubt, disagree with this blunt assessment. They will underscore the newly liberalised visa arrangements, Pakistan’s fitful granting of the “most favoured nation” status to India and the prospect of increased people to people ties. There is little question that all these developments are positive. Yet they don’t mean much as not a single one amounts to what international relations scholars refer to as “costly signals”. They do not involve any real price for the men in mufti. More to the point, at this time the military order desperately needs a bit of breathing space for a number of compelling reasons.
First, the Pakistani economy is in hock. Were it not for the infusions, albeit declining, of coalition support funds, the country could barely stay economically afloat. Second, in a related vein, the military is perforce looking Westwards as it ponders its next moves as the drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan in 2014 approaches. Third, the security forces are also dealing with the consequences of their years of support to a range of jihadi forces that now stalk the land. Some of them have turned against the very masters who had spawned them and are wreaking havoc on domestic order. Under the circumstances it is in the interests of the military not to provoke a new quarrel with India.
In effect, the lull in jihadi activity in India-controlled Kashmir is just that and little else. Apart from the seasonal snows that block infiltration, the recent decline in terrorist violence cannot be seen as an end to the asymmetrical war strategy that the Pakistani state embarked upon several decades ago. As many within the Indian security establishment are wont to highlight, Pakistan has yet to dismantle its “infrastructure of terror”. All that the military order is doing at the moment is biding its time. When the situation in Afghanistan is settled to Pakistan’s liking, preferably with a pliant regime in place, the terror strategy that has been used to bleed India through a “war of a thousand cuts” will resume and with vigour. Hoping that a less adverse future awaits India is mere wishful thinking and one fraught with nasty surprises and substantial costs.
Of course, it would be far more desirable if the military were to abandon this irregular war strategy against India. For this to come about it would have to be thoroughly discredited, thereby giving the civilian leadership an opportunity to fundamentally change its expectations when dealing with India. It might be recalled that such a window did once open albeit briefly. This came about in the wake of the dishonourable and disastrous performance of the Pakistan Army in the events that led up to and culminated in the 1971 war. In its wake, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had a vital opportunity to change the fundamental tenor of Indo-Pak relations. Sadly, he failed to do so and thereby hangs a tale of woe. Yet the brief democratic interlude and the prospect of a changed Indo-Pak relationship were possible because the military had been thoroughly discredited in both moral and strategic terms. In the absence of a similar outcome and swift democratic consolidation, little hope of a changed India-Pakistan relationship will be in the offing.
If this analysis has the slightest veracity, what then are the policy options that flow from it? Obviously, most Indians would prefer to live with a less fractious and recalcitrant neighbour. However, that wish alone cannot ensure better relations. Given the intransigence of the military order and its entrenched privileges within the Pakistani polity all attempts to improve relations will, at best, prove ameliorative and at worst, cosmetic. Under the circumstances New Delhi would be better off to simply focus on addressing its internal ethno-religious fault lines, promote economic well-being and enhance its ability to deter and defend against Pakistani mischief-making. Most importantly, if it can revive its currently faltering economy, and if secular trends can be extrapolated, the Indian economy, according to the new United States National Intelligence Council report, could be 16 times of that of Pakistan by 2030. At that point, regardless of what terrorist strategy Pakistan chooses to rely on, its malfeasances will simply cease to matter. Its behaviour will remain an irritant but one that the Indian state will be able to cope with and well.
The writer holds the Rabindranath Tagore Chair in Indian Cultures and Civilisations at Indiana University, Bloomington