Coercive diplomacy won’t work
THE failure of the NSA-level talks between India and Pakistan, having shattered the hopes inspired by the Ufa agreement, would further induce the confrontationist lobby in New Delhi to continue to challenge Pakistan’s repeated departure from the accepted norms of diplomatic behaviour. Hawkish elements within India have always portrayed confidence-building measures between India and Pakistan as foolish, even cowardly. For whatever reasons, the delegitimisation of the negotiating process as a means to end the conflict is a bad omen.
India is a growing economic and military power, and its resistance to being grouped with a quasi-failed state like Pakistan is understandable. On the other hand, Pakistan’s civilian-military elite’s irrational longing to be recognised on a par with India has become an obsession. There is an urgent need to address the extremely complicated relationship as the current state of hostility and political deadlock is unsustainable. The biggest challenge facing the resumption of dialogue is New Delhi’s avoidable refusal to discuss the Kashmir issue (mere discussion of the issue does not mean agreeing to settle it as per the whims of Pakistan) and Islamabad’s insistence on Kashmir as the core issue.
Caught between a rock and a hard place, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is grappling with the same basic political problem his predecessors faced: how to compel Pakistan to give up the Kashmir issue with decidedly limited means.
The “state of nature” or anarchical world that Thomas Hobbes described in the 17th century reflected the turbulence of his times. His ultra-realist interpretation of international politics is at odds with the globalised environment of the early 21st century. Yet in a globalised and interdependent world, Pakistan’s strategic elite proceeds from several of the premises that informed his thinking: their instinctive response to the real and imaginary pressures Pakistan faces is to fall back on what they know best — conservative religious values at home and classical realist interpretations of great power politics abroad, including fraud and force. The emphasis is less on formal guidelines than on unwritten rules of the game, where the world is defined as much by the primacy of hard power as by the centrality of geopolitics. They believe that the world is divided into winners and losers, where the strong prosper and the weak get beaten. Consistent with this worldview, few Pakistani policymakers think that India and Pakistan can thrive peacefully in the international system. For them, peaceful politics would never work.
The continuing attachment to a large standing army in the face of economic limitations; the alarming increase in nuclear arsenal, and substantial spending on the buildup of conventional armaments reflect a security culture rooted in outmoded understandings of power. In the eyes of Rawalpindi and much of the strategic elite, real power comes from the ruthless deployment of political, economic, and strategic assets. That explains Pakistan’s connivance in non-state jihadist actors mounting catastrophic terrorist attacks on India.
By exploiting the decades of grievances of Kashmiris against New Delhi, Islamabad has created the violence from which it offers to protect them. Pakistan’s current India strategy is driven by a brutal political logic: acting against India is essentially a risk-free enterprise, since no provocation, however severe, would prompt a response. Thus getting out of the hole Pakistan has dug for India in Kashmir would not be easy, but never impossible. Coercive diplomacy, however, is not the best of options India has.
Pakistan’s colonial legacy, fragile political parties due to highly personalised and factionalised nature of its domestic politics, social conservatism, and external influences have given its Punjabi-dominated army an increasingly muscular control over the state. Many responsibilities that should have been in the government’s realm, such as Kashmir and Afghanistan policy, and the nuclear programme have been within the purview of the generals.
Pakistan’s self-identification as a great regional power is predicated on the capacity to influence its external environment. One of the consistent features of Pakistani engagement with India is the extent to which it has been dominated by the relationship with China. The more it comes closer to China, the closer it ties itself to Beijing’s strategic interests and the harder it is to develop more productive relations with India.
Not many people would appreciate the crucial link of Pakistan’s failure with the democratic functioning in India. India has robust constitutional safeguards. With increase in terrorist violence in India, civil liberties have come under serious challenge. If the right to dissent shrinks further, India faces the danger of becoming a poor shadow of Pakistan.
Nevertheless, if not talking to Pakistan is seen as a form of pressure on Islamabad, it is a mistaken approach as it will further alienate those in Pakistan who believe that Pakistan’s national interests are served better by normalising ties with India. Writing recently in the Tribune Express, Rustam Shah Mohmand, a reputed columnist and former civil servant of Pakistan, has candidly mentioned: “What is not realised or is overlooked is that amidst the teeming millions of Pakistan, in Sindh, rural Punjab, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, there is no urgent wish to see Kashmir become integrated with Pakistan. The people in all regions of Pakistan are more fixated on issues like poverty, education, jobs, healthcare, electricity, police excesses, water supply, irrigation, roads, sanitation, corruption in government departments and social injustice. Never in the last many decades, have people — the rank and file Pakistanis — ever agitated over the issue of denial of rights to Kashmiris.”
Excessive military spending has severely limited Pakistan’s ability to satisfy social welfare goals. But despite warnings, the army is not going to publicly acknowledge that Kashmir fatigue is a reality in Pakistan. In this “guns versus butter” trade-off, guns will remain the clear winner in the foreseeable future. Undoubtedly, domestic political dynamics create strong pressure to find an inexpensive way to reduce the nation’s strategic exposure, yet the generals in Pakistan are prone to strategic misadventures. The divide between its security objectives and socio-economic realities has not proved sufficient enough to push it to the brink of collapse. Therefore, the Modi government’s emphasis on coercive engagement may not bear desirable fruits as long as Pakistan is not transformed as a moderate, democratic Muslim state.
New Delhi’s policy should instead focus on consummating a relationship which is premised on a wider institutionalisation of trust, while remaining mindful that it may prove eventually to be unattainable because of conflicting geopolitical imperatives and political shortcomings within Pakistan. The pragmatic strategy for India is to launch a new round of dialogue with Pakistan, without much public fanfare.