The Ice Breaker

Spearhead Analysis – 09.03.2015

India-PakistanOnce Mr Modi was firm in the Delhi saddle and had his team in place Pakistan expected and quickly sensed a shift in India’s policy towards Pakistan. First was India’s decision to indefinitely suspend the dialogue with Pakistan even cancelling a scheduled Foreign Secretaries’ meeting. The excuse was the Pakistan High Commissioners meeting with the Hurriyet leaders – something that had been accepted as a norm in the past and was even considered helpful to the dialogue process much like the back channel that had also dried up. Then there were the series of violations of the cease fire on the LOC (Line of Control) in Kashmir that even extended to the Working Boundary in the Sialkot-Jammu sector. These violations by India were generally considered a flexing of muscles to intimidate and preempt any interference in the elections in IHK (Indian Held Kashmir). The orchestrated attack (exposed by an Indian Coast Guard official) on a boat said to be carrying explosives was probably in the same category given the fact that it was just before an investment conference in Gujerat state. India also seemed to signal through Mr Modis high level visits that Pakistan was on the sidelines of its foreign policy plans that were now focused on bigger global issues in consonance with India’s ambitions and status. Meanwhile within India the extremist Hindu segment that had supported Mr Modi’s election success went into action with ‘ghar wapsi’( conversions to Hinduism) and religious rhetoric prompting a nuanced remark from the visiting US President and subsequently from Mr Modi himself.

Pakistan moved quickly to mend fences with Afghanistan by reciprocating fully and comprehensively to the Afghan President’s initiative for a cooperative relationship with Pakistan. There have been high level visits from both sides and even coordinated actions against terrorists and insurgents based on exchange of intelligence. Afghan cadets are training at Pakistan’s military academy and other interactions are in the process of being institutionalized including Pakistan’s support for a dialogue with the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan has clearly stated that it has no favorites and the strategic depth concept if it ever existed is quite dead in the face of new emerging realities. Within Pakistan the civil-military relationship has stabilized with the military firmly in support of the elected government. The military has put its organizational, structural strength and capacity behind the government to fight the war on terror and extremism and help Pakistan’s democracy transit through a difficult and threatening phase. The political institution is comfortable with this environment and is striving to deliver within its own governance, economic and internal security sphere. These changes have found resonance within Pakistan as well as internationally as is evident by the Pakistani Army Chief’s interactions with heads of state —there is acceptance and appreciation of the Army’s role and its decision to support and not intervene beyond support.

It is in the context of these shifts and responses that the visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary Mr Jaishankar’s visit to Pakistan should be seen. The SAARC cover given to the visit was clever and acceptable. The fact that both sides got their long standing issues off their chests was good and, as always in such interactions, necessary for domestic audiences on both sides. President Obama may have encouraged but the decision to re-engage with Pakistan was Mr Modi’s because he knows that Pakistan is central to the resolution of issues and for the future stability of Afghanistan and the region. The Afghanistan-Pakistan initiative has the potential to evolve into a regional initiative against terrorism and violent extremism within the overall global war on terror especially because of China’s support and US interest. Pakistan’s response to Mr Jaishankar’s visit was low key and the Pakistan Army Chief’s visit to the LOC was perfectly timed as far as signaling is concerned. Considered overall Mr Jaishankar’s visit was an excellent ice breaker and therefore must be welcomed and built upon.

As far as moving forward is concerned both sides need to understand that it is no use blaming each other for past events and for answers to ‘puzzles’ like the LOC violations. It is also futile going over unresolved issues because these have been discussed threadbare in past discussions and only await political resolve to settle. That may take some time. The focus should be on improving the bilateral relationship especially because of the growing asymmetry and on meeting present and future challenges. This is where the dialogue process comes in and without such an institutionalized and properly formatted process there can be no going forward. Pakistan has consistently pushed for dialogue and for a bilateral or trilateral (given India’s China obsession) restraint regime therefore it is up to India to determine what is in the regional interest and take steps in pursuit of those interests. It will find Pakistan’s response more than adequate. Such a policy will be far better than ideas like ignoring Pakistan or isolating it or supporting those seeking to undermine its internal stability.

(Spearhead analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)