India-Pak: Averting peace in the nick of time, yet again

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Crossroads Many people believe that India and Pakistan were better off in a state of Cold War, Photo: AFP

A FORTNIGHT ago, we were concerned about averting escalation of tension between India and Pakistan without realising that it was actually peace between the two neighbours that got averted. Now the question is when will we be able to get the peace process back on track since it has now been comfortably derailed?

The above question comes on the heels of the realisation that the constituency for peace on both sides of the border has begun to narrow. And this is not even a narrowing that one used to see in the past. Post 1990s, when successive leaders of both countries began to engage with each other, the process of converting enmity to permanent peace has become like a mountainous terrain with sudden incline and deep troughs. From Pakistan’s side, the political leadership has struggled with the concept of making peace more stable; an effort that gets sidelined very quickly due to the disinclination of its politically strong army. Every effort that seemed to make peace achievable got pushed away due to some violent incident.

There are people in Pakistan who realise that the recent clamping down by India is not a reaction to a random affair, but to a piling up of what has happened in the past — Mumbai 1993, Kargil and Mumbai 2008. The Express Tribune Editor Muhammad Zia-ud-Din recently wrote about this factor explaining to his Pakistani readers how India’s reaction was framed. The continued presence of Hafiz Saeed and the amount of time the Wahabi cleric is given on Pakistani television channels just adds up to the frustration in New Delhi, especially among the people.

As social media is a great connecter, I had a chance to talk to many Indians who aired their frustration. There were those who thought that India and Pakistan were better off in a state of Cold War, or that it would help if there were a big wall between the two neighbours so that Pakistan did not affect India. The above discourse tends to posit peace as a commodity that New Delhi seems to be willing to provide its unruly neighbour. Such an assessment needs to be examined by the Indian government, political parties and its corporate media because the dividend applies to both sides. Given India’s economic progress, peace tends to bring greater dividend. Even though the BJP seems to want to rubbish Manmohan Singh and his project of peace with Pakistan, the fact is that peace was also sought by the BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a product necessary for India’s economy and the expansion of its geopolitical influence.

Surely, an ordinary Indian has no reason to believe a counter-narrative that the entire LoC incident might not have been started by the Pakistan Army but due to certain actions of the Indian Army unit. Since armies are made to think in terms of a bogey and react in extreme fashion, there was a mini battle on the LoC in which both sides killed each other’s men. The first to die was a Pakistani soldier — an action that drew an even more intense and crude reaction in the form of beheading of a couple of Indian soldiers. However, now we know even from stories done in the past by the same journalists, who seem to have taken cause with this action at the LoC, that beheadings are common practice between the two armies. Indian Army officers have spoken with journalists in India about how bodies of slain Pakistani soldiers are used to vent out anger and anguish. Notwithstanding that such gruesome behaviour must be condemned, the question worth asking is, why such anxiety that led to derailing of the peace process?

An even more important question worth asking is, why has the Indian Army, its government, political parties, and corporate media surrendered to the Pakistan Army’s vile plan to kill the peace process? If indeed the Pakistan Army wants to derail the peace process then why did the other side help in this venture? It would perhaps be more logical for New Delhi to thwart any plan to deviate from the peace initiative that would eventually weaken Pakistan military’s control over politics rather than play into its hands and derail the peace process.

India’s foreign minister questioned Pakistan’s lack of intent to fight terrorism and bring the culprits of the 26/11 attacks to justice. But given Manmohan Singh’s knowledge of the region and its politics, he probably understands that there is certainly a difference between what the Pakistan government wants and what is desired by GHQ, Rawalpindi.

It is a writing on the wall that the peace process is actually an existential crisis both for Pakistan’s political leadership and its army — the political leaders understand that peace with India will empower them and the army knows that it is likely to reduce their overall political clout. So, why derail the peace process and demand from Pakistan what its political leadership might not even be able to deliver in at least the short term? New Delhi seems to be playing into the hands of the generals in Rawalpindi and giving them what they wanted but did not have the power to achieve due to their preoccupation with the western borders.

PROBABLY THE one change that had occurred in the past couple of years was some inclination among Pakistani generals to let the corporate sector and the government engage in trade without necessarily making huge strides. They seemed to be willing to play the ‘wait and watch’ game. This also means that the overall officer cadre or even the soldiers would continue to think of New Delhi as an enemy with whom the country was engaged in talks.

For an army, building peace is like breaking an old habit — something that does not happen easily. However, a slow and steady process would have influenced its behaviour in the mediumto- short term. Now, with clamping down on the peace process, the soldiers don’t even have to think. It seems that Pakistan Army’s best friend is the Indian military and India’s political system! Moreover, there are many other countries too who would not actively open the 26/11 Mumbai files now, including the US, which is currently concentrating mainly on pulling out its troops from Afghanistan in 2014.

As mentioned earlier, the Indian discourse on peace tends to consider this as a favour to a ‘troubled’ Pakistan, which many in India believe to be a failed State. Since peace will boost Pakistan’s economy and improve conditions, therefore, any handshake by New Delhi will save Pakistan from collapse. It would be foolhardy to deny that Pakistan does not suffer from deep problems of political rifts at several levels, problems of governance and even absence of a vision. Improving economic conditions is important but poor economic conditions are not just a result of lack of peace with India. It is also about poor governance and internal corruption. However, these problems also do not necessarily mean a big urge among the people to break away.

A majority in Pakistan would like to have good ties with India but as Pakistanis. In any case, the failed State paradigm does not help in framing a policy. Perhaps, it would help if Indian policymakers or media would start thinking of Pakistan as a country that would be there in the future also, and so, is worth talking to.

The peace process must not be looked through the prism of punishment or reward. It is about opportunities and gains for both the neighbours, which, in turn, depends on the respective internal capacities of the two.

It would now take more than a year before either side starts to rethink the peace process. In India, peace seems to have fallen prey to a military that is more assertive in national security policymaking and electoral politics. A bigger problem, perhaps, is that in both States, peace has not been sufficiently owned and integrated into the process of national development planning. Peace cannot be abandoned to the machinations of short-term political gains or the idea that perhaps a decisive victory in war could solve the problem. Peace, indeed, is the only solution to the problem of war, conflict and underdevelopment in the Indian subcontinent.

Siddiqa is an Islamabad-based columnist and the author of Military Inc

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