Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao (L) shakes hands with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir (R) ahead of a meeting at The Pakistan Foreign Ministry in Islamabad on June 23, 2011. India and Pakistan held talks on peace and security issues in Islamabad. – AFP Photo

As expected, the two-day foreign secretary level talks between India and Pakistan did not yield any tangible outcome except their shared resolve to “carry forward the dialogue process in a constructive and purposeful manner.”

The joint statement issued at the end of these talks, which focused on issues of peace and security including CBMS, Jammu and Kashmir and promotion of friendly exchanges, described the bilateral discussions as “frank and cordial”. It further called for convening expert level meetings on CBMs and Working Group meeting on cross-LoC trade and travel.

While recognising terrorism as a “continuing threat to peace and security” it “reiterated the firm and undiluted commitment of the two countries to fight and eliminate this scourge in all its forms and manifestations.” On the critical issue of Jammu and Kashmir, it called for further discussions “in a purposeful and forward looking manner with the view to finding a peaceful solution by narrowing divergences and building convergences.” Putting people “at the heart of the relationship,” the joint statement called for “facilitating visits to religious shrines, media exchanges, holding of sports tournaments and cessation of hostile propaganda against each other.” The foreign secretaries agreed to meet again ahead of the ministerial level talks in New Delhi in July.

The cautiously optimistic note struck by the joint statement about the future of India Pakistan ties is reflective of the constraining influence of domestic, regional and global factors. Domestically, peace constituencies in India and Pakistan remain weak, allowing hawks and peace spoilers to vitiate the atmosphere by denigrating efforts aimed at fostering amity.

Reacting to foreign secretary level discussions on Kashmir, BJP President Nitin Gadkari, told reporters in Bangalore that “unless Pakistan stops supporting terrorism, holding talks with Pakistan would yield no results.” Regionally, India’s rise as a great power with expanding military capabilities,  intensifying India-Pakistan competition for influence in Kabul, New Delhi’s efforts to portray Islamabad as the epicenter of terrorism and instability, coupled with  Pakistani fears of Indian-led encirclement and balkanisation of the country, undermine Pakistan’s self-confidence to negotiate peace with India from a position of equality and parity.

Globally, Indo-US strategic partnership, growing international support for giving India membership of expanded security council, visible and growing strains in Pak-US ties in the wake of May 2 killing of Osama bi Laden in Abbot bad, have reinforced Islamabad’s sense of vulnerability bordering on paranoia on one hand and emboldened, India to negotiate with Pakistan from a position of strength, on the other. This growing power asymmetry between India and Pakistan lies at the heart of their unwillingness to have a substantive peace engagement that would enable them to bury their hatchet over Kashmir. As a weaker  party, Islamabad is unable to make diplomatic concessions needed to cut the Gordian knot on Kashmir and as a stronger party New Delhi is unwilling to create the enabling environment for a just settlement to take place.

Resolving the Kashmir conflict through third-party intercession – as happened in case of Indus water dispute – is blocked by Indian refusal to countenance such mediation. This Indian intransigence is further reinforced by the fact that none of the influential great powers is sufficiently motivated to play the role of an honest broker and a balancer for the aggrieved Kashmiris.

In dealing with India as a rising power, Pakistan is left with three options. The first is internal balancing. This requires Pakistan turning inward to put its own house in order by countering the threat of religious extremism and terrorism, improving governance and reinvigorating the faltering economy. To effectively deal with this tall order of domestic issues, Pakistan would need a long-truce with India. By putting the militaristic version of its “India-centric” strategy on hold Pakistan would gain the necessary breathing space to revitalise its economy, polity and social cohesion through a new social contract.

The second option for Pakistan is to continue to play the prohibitively costly game of strategic competition with India through sub-conventional warfare. This would entail reviving its atrophying links with jihadi groups and deploying them as a tool to wage proxy war with India over Kashmir. This option would not only put the two countries on the path to military confrontation with nuclear overtones but would have devastating blowback consequences for Pakistan. The pursuit of this option is bound to turn the country into a jihadi state by strengthening the forces of religious extremism, armed violence and terrorism. Such an outcome is bound to make Pakistan a failed state with unpredictable consequences for its survival, regional peace and security.

Thirdly, Islamabad might hop on the bandwagon with New Delhi to take advantage of India’s high economic growth and especially tap into a huge Indian market for its goods. The pursuit of this option would require Islamabad and New Delhi burying their hatchet over Kashmir and moving toward enduring peace.  None of these options are a foregone conclusion at this point in time. A lot would depend on how India and Pakistan negotiate their way out of the long list of challenges facing them.

The writer is Professor of Security Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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