INDIA-PAKISTAN RELATIONS | Looking for a New Equilibrium

The seven-decade rivalry between India and Pakistan is often portrayed as intractable — with good reason. The countries were birthed out of a bloody partition that encouraged each to define itself in opposition to the other, and they have fought four wars since then. Even during peacetime, tensions remain high. This year, though, encouraging overtures by the prime ministers of both countries have led some observers to cautiously hope that the two neighbours would step up cooperation on trade, energy, humanitarian and environmental issues.

Though both India and Pakistan have taken some steps to normalize their bilateral relations, yet some other actors — most importantly extremist elements and intelligence agencies of both countries — can be held responsible for the derailment of the process. There are two reasons for this: First, they see further cooperation and integration between India and Pakistan as putting off negotiations on the Kashmir dispute. Second, from a broader perspective, closer relations between India and Pakistan would undermine the perception that India poses an existential threat to Pakistan. Both the militaries as well as terrorists would lose their raison d’être if this were to occur.

Cooperative overtures as well as displays of deterrence by the Indian government during recent months have the potential to lead to a further deterioration of India-Pakistan relations. However, a new and more cooperative equilibrium could be achieved if India and Pakistan establish patterns of cooperation at least on non-securitized issues, and prevent those issues from becoming securitized.

How did India and Pakistan arrive at this point? The answer starts, of course, in Kashmir, which has always been the primary bone of contention between the two nations. Realistically speaking, the Kashmir question is unlikely to be answered soon because international community is least interested in resolving this longstanding issue despite the fact that numerous UN resolutions on this issue have been passed.

For India, its claim to Kashmir rests on three main arguments:

1. During partition of 1947 the ruler of Kashmir “chose” India over Pakistan (albeit in distress), giving India a legal claim to the territory.

2. Retaining control over Kashmir is essential to India’s identity as a secular democracy which can accommodate different ethnic and religious groups across a wide geographic area.

3. If India loses control over Kashmir, it would encourage separatist movements across the country.

Pakistan counters that India’s claim is illegitimate because:

1. As a country established for Muslims, Pakistan should control a region like Kashmir that is predominantly Muslim and that culturally shares more with Pakistan than it does with India.

2. India’s first premier, Mr Jawaharlal Nehru, promised Kashmir a UN-administered plebiscite in 1956. This promise was not kept, — and is still unfulfilled — denying Kashmiris the right to self-determination.

At present, India has 700,000 soldiers in the region to ensure that Kashmiris do not gather for a movement. Pakistan also cannot coerce India into ceding Kashmir, as evidenced by the wars both countries have fought.

The Pakistani defence establishment seems split between those who believe India merely seeks to undermine Pakistan and its security at every turn, and those who believe India has nefarious designs to “reunify” the Indian Subcontinent. The conflict in Kashmir serves as a salient symbol of this civilizational struggle; India’s hold of Kashmir plays a crucial role in the narrative that casts India as a threatening, unjust, and unreliable neighbour.

Kashmir is such a potent symbol of India’s obduracy and adamance that it enables the Pakistani army to justify the massive amounts of resources devoted to it. Moreover, extremist elements and organizations as well as some political parties are even more dependent on the conflict in Kashmir to justify their existence.

With the coming of Modi and Sharif at the helm in both countries, it seemed that India-Pakistan relations might turn a new corner. Nawaz Sharif expressed his “earnest hope” for a “brighter future” between India and Pakistan. He also made normalizing relations with India a “central plank” of his platform, and attended Modi’s inauguration. When India cancelled talks between the foreign secretaries of both countries after Pakistani High Commissioner’s meeting with Kashmiri leader Syed Shabbir Shah, even then Mian Nawaz Sharif sent a box of the “choicest Pakistani mangoes” to Modi in a bid to “patch things up”.

Unfortunately, “mango diplomacy” could not block the success of rogue elements in both countries. The talks are in the doldrums even today.

Many analysts argue that Sharif’s out-of-the-box overtures and moves towards better ties between India and Pakistan exhorted India to up the ante at the Line of Control (LoC) during the Eid days. For its part, India is pursuing an aggressive strategy, in which it links talks with Pakistan without Kashmir and with focus only on trade.

External factors also militate against movement towards a cooperative equilibrium. The NATO drawdown in Afghanistan is creating a space for increased competition between India and Pakistan, because both view Afghanistan as a strategically important country. Analysts also fear that the drawdown in Afghanistan will result in an even more bitter rivalry between India and Pakistan — the tow nuclear neighbours.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb by the Pakistani military has routed a variety of terrorist organizations, while those who could survive fled to Afghanistan. It is also a fact that Pakistan has long been a victim of terrorism from Afghan soil. The fleeing of terrorists to Afghanistan , undoubtedly, worries India because it has been promoting these terrorist groups with huge amounts of money as well as ammunition. With the cleansing of the area from the terrorists India feels that its interests in Afghanistan may get jeopardized.

Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and the Islamic State has been making headways in Afghanistan. This may exacerbate the conflict between India and Pakistan because both terrorist outfits have been recruiting fresh blood in the region and they also have threatened to launch attacks in India. India would use this threat to malign Pakistan all over the world.

But, still there are glimmers of hope.

Pakistan and India have managed to cooperate on non-securitized issues like disaster response and energy, and the countries have made good-faith efforts to deepen trade ties. India pledged relief to Pakistan after the latter’s devastating 2010 earthquake, and Pakistan reciprocated after recent floods in Indian-held Kashmir. The two countries have also discussed a proposal to share information about the level of rivers that run between the two countries to form an early warning flood system.

India and Pakistan also inked a gas-sharing agreement, which encourages efforts to bind South and Central Asia together through the proposed TAPI pipeline, which would run through Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan. The pipeline could help alleviate Pakistan’s chronic gas shortages, which cost the country 6 per cent of its GDP a year.

These areas present opportunities for small clusters of Pakistani and Indian officials, businessmen, and think-tankers to cooperate on low-profile issues, and discuss the benefits of, and terms for, deeper cooperation on more substantive issues. Small wins in Track II diplomacy settings could spill over and push India and Pakistan towards a more cooperative equilibrium. A landmark study by David Axelrod of the University of Michigan found that the introduction of small clusters of individuals committed to establishing cooperative equilibriums, with a sufficiently high expectation of cooperating again in the future, can push large groups from non-cooperative equilibriums to more cooperative ones. Why? Over time, small cooperative clusters create broader institutional change, because those who employ them are ultimately more successful than those who employ uncooperative strategies.

An oversimplified “toy model” for this context would predict that cooperation between Indians and Pakistanis on non-securitized issues would heighten expectations that the two countries would cooperate on more issues, and more frequently in the future. This would give players more of an incentive to choose cooperative strategies when interacting with their counterparts. The higher the likelihood of future cooperation, the higher would be the incentive to pursue cooperative strategies in the present. However, the parties involved must prevent nascent clusters of cooperation from becoming “securitized.”

Issues of national security are traditionally viewed as “zero-sum”: One party gains from the other party’s losses. Thus, if diplomats or technocrats allow the Indian or Pakistani defence establishments to securitize issues like water sharing or energy cooperation, compromises will become that much harder to reach. Thus, discussions over these issues should be kept quiet and preferably held in Track II settings like think tank symposiums and achievements should be publicized little, if at all.

While this may not end the enduring rivalry between India and Pakistan, it’s imperative for the prosperity and stability of the region that opportunities for cooperation be pursued further. While traditional overtures between India and Pakistan may not help the relationship, discreet and adept diplomacy between NGOs and technocrats on non-securitized issues like energy, humanitarian operations, climate change, and trade could establish patterns of cooperation that steer Pakistan and India towards a less antagonistic, more cooperative, strategic equilibrium.

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