India and Pakistan: Towards Peace and Reconciliation

Focus

Though no breakthrough with Pakistan is in the offing in the near future, it is extremely important that Prime Minister Narendra Modi works towards reviving the Indian economy while promoting economic development in Kashmir and upgrading the infrastructure there so that Kashmiris are able to partake in India’s growth, write Manjeet S Pardesi and Nicolas Blarel

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (along with the leaders of other South Asian countries and the Mauritius) to attend his swearing-in ceremony in May 2014. Sharif’s acceptance of Modi’s invitation was seen as a sign that India’s relationship with Pakistan under Modi’s government would indeed see an improvement despite fears to the contrary. This conciliatory gesture stood in sharp contrast with the rhetoric used by the candidate Modi on the campaign trail. The BJP leader regularly promised that he would be less tolerant as prime minister of Pakistan backed terrorism against India. Similarly, the absence of any critique or even mention of Pakistan during Modi’s maiden Independence Day speech on August 15, from the Red Fort in New Delhi was interpreted as a symbol of the BJP’s desire to seek a more peaceful modus vivendi with Islamabad.

Direct Condemnation

In spite of these positive signs, the Modi government has not shied away from sending terse and direct signals to Pakistan. Soon after Modi’s election but just before his formal swearing-in, the Indian consulate in Herat in Afghanistan came under attack by heavily armed gunmen. Some argued that the timing of the attack was deliberate and demonstrated unease among some Pakistani actors about the emergence of a BJP government in New Delhi. While the Afghan security forces and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (deployed in Afghanistan to protect Indian interests) killed all four gunmen, no group sought responsibility for these attacks. Previous attacks on Indian interests in Afghanistan have been blamed on the Haqqani Network, which is believed to have links with elements in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency. More significantly, in August 2014, Amar Sinha, the Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan noted that ‘the terrorists who come to Afghanistan … are located in Pakistan’ and that this was ‘not a secret’ on an Afghan television channel.

Similarly, during his visit to Kargil in the Ladakh district of Jammu and Kashmir in the week before India’s Independence Day, Modi accused Pakistan of waging a ‘proxy war’ through the use of militants against India ‘after having lost the power to fight a [conventional] war.’ This is noteworthy simply because Kargil was the main battleground of the Kargil War between India and Pakistan in 1999, which was initiated by Pakistani troops disguised as militants. This was not only Modi’s first visit to Kargil as the prime minister, but it was also his first major censure of Pakistan’s policies after assuming power.

Escalation in Ceasefire Violations

At the same time, Indian security agencies have argued that Pakistan has consistently violated the ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir since mid-July 2014. There has been a dramatic escalation in these ceasefire violations since mid-August 2014 after India called-off the talks between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan. Some reports even claim that a feeling of ‘wartime’ now exists between both countries. The immediate cause of cancelling these talks was a meeting between Pakistani officials and the leaders of the Hurriyat Conference. Modi criticised Islamabad for making a ‘spectacle’ of the tentative peace process by meeting with separatist leaders from Kashmir and argued that for talks to resume, Pakistan would have to ensure ‘an environment that is free from terrorism and violence’. These remarks came late in August as the two sides attempted to end two weeks of unusually heavy artillery fire along the border of India and Pakistan.

Deeper Structural Factors

While India has lightly criticised or ignored the meetings between the Pakistani authorities and Kashmiri separatist leaders in the past, the cancellation of the recent talks, Modi’s accusations in Kargil, and the open condemnation of Pakistan on Afghan television by the Indian ambassador have led many critics in India (and abroad) to argue that Modi’s government is finally showing its right-wing tendencies after some perfunctory peaceful gestures.

Such concerns about a possible escalation should not be taken lightly. After all, the BJP’s ally Shiv Sena have even called for a retaliation of the ceasefire violations to be taken into Pakistani ‘territory and teach them a lesson.’ However, such an analysis is too simplistic and overlooks the deeper structural factors at work.

Firstly, no significant steps have been taken by Pakistan to address India’s concerns regarding the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks that were masterminded by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in cahoots with elements in the ISI. Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, LeT’s leader officially lives under ‘house arrest’ in Lahore even as he remains a wanted man in India and the United States, with the latter even announcing a $10 million bounty on him. However, it seems like there is little restriction on his movements in Pakistan. In early August 2014, Kiren Rijiju, Minister of State for Home Affairs in Modi’s government noted that Saeed had recently visited several places along the India-Pakistan International Boundary and the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, where he engaged in anti-India activities. Rijiju complained that the Pakistani government had failed to take any action against him despite India’s objections.

Similarly, the other major LeT operative believed to be behind the Mumbai attacks, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who has been declared a ‘Specially Designated Global Terrorist’ by the United States, has been involved in money laundering and other LeT activities despite being in jail in Pakistan since 2009, according to a statement released by the US Treasury Department in the last week of August 2014.

Secondly, Pakistan has not yet granted the ‘Most Favoured Nation’ (MFN) status to India despite openly discussing this option for several years. Not only is such a status expected to significantly boost bilateral trade between the two states resulting in net gains for both India and Pakistan, it is also believed that it will benefit Pakistan more than India. However, such a move by the business-minded Pakistani PM Sharif is viewed suspiciously by the Pakistani army (as is any talk on the normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan). The Pakistani army also has vested economic interests that may be hurt if economic relations with India are improved.

Thirdly, Pakistan is currently in the midst of a major domestic crisis. Imran Khan, the chairman of Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf has launched a ‘civil disobedience movement’ against PM Sharif and his government after alleging governmental corruption and citing electoral malfeasance (in elections conducted more than a year ago). Khan’s movement is now demanding PM Sharif’s resignation. At the same time, the Pakistani cleric Tahirul Qadri has also launched a major protest movement against PM Sharif and his government. This has given the army a pretext to enter the political stalemate, which is now gripping Pakistan. Notably, the Army Chief General Raheel Sharif met Khan, Qadri, and PM Sharif in an attempt to break the impasse. While critics in Pakistan (and abroad) worry that this may be a ploy by the army to intervene in Pakistani politics, it can be argued that the Modi government wants the current domestic political situation in Pakistan to stabilise before resuming any dialogue on Kashmir and other issues.

Building Bridges with Kashmir

New Delhi should have used the period after 9/11 when Pakistan was largely focussed on Afghanistan as a consequence of the US-led war in trying to improve the situation in Kashmir. However, this opportunity was squandered away by the previous governments. The BJP not only emerged victorious in the 2014 general elections, but it also won close to a third of the votes cast in Jammu and Kashmir. The sad part is that the Modi government raised its electoral promise of revoking Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which grants special status to Kashmir.

According to BJP’s 2014 election manifesto, there was to be a debate on Article 370 with the aim of eventually abrogating it. The BJP also promised to grant Union Territory status to the Buddhist-majority Ladakh. This was interpreted by leaders in Srinagar as effectively dismembering Jammu and Kashmir. Soon after the Modi government came into power, several leading BJP leaders, including ministers from Modi’s cabinet, declared that they were serious about opening up the debate on the revocation of Article 370. Kashmiri leaders such as the present Chief Minister Omar Abdullah have already condemned BJP’s ‘politics of division’ in Kashmir. Nevertheless, it seems that no action will be taken before the forthcoming Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly elections.

No breakthrough with Pakistan is in the offing in the near future. The key test for the Modi government will revolve around finding an appropriate response to Pakistan in the event of a major terrorist attack on India orchestrated by elements linked to Pakistan. Meanwhile, Modi should work towards reviving the Indian economy while promoting economic development in Kashmir and upgrading the infrastructure there so that Kashmiris are able to partake in India’s growth.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.

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