The Broad Mind | No rationale for India’s policy on Pakistan

Instead of viewing friendly gestures by India as compromise despite hostility from Pakistan, Pakistan is likely to view friendly gestures by India as a compromise due to hostility from Pakistan.

By Barath C

The policy of the Indian government of voluntary commitment to uninterrupted and uninterruptible diplomatic relationship with Pakistan, while not insisting upon credible and verifiable progress towards reducing hostilities from various arms of Pakistani state and its terror apparatus, is unlikely to yield results.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh’s government has displayed remarkable tenacity and determination in normalising relationship with Pakistan. Despite lack of progress in bringing Mumbai terrorist attack (among other terror attacks) masterminds to justice, lack of progress along reciprocal trade agreements like MFN status to India, and a continuation of hostile policies towards India such as the recent incident along the Line of Control, the current Indian government has pressed on in its quest to normalise relationship with Pakistan.

While there is no contesting the fact that a peaceful neighbourhood is always better than a conflict-prone neighbourhood for any country, stability in relationship with Pakistan (stability is used here to denote a state that is neither friendship nor hostility) is impossible without at least one of the two factors (1) Favourable public opinion (2) Paucity of periodic hostile and inimical acts.

Let us consider favourability of public opinion. This single factor by itself is sufficient in most cases for countries to pursue friendly policies towards each other. A good example of this is of India’s relationship with United States of America. US has supplied Pakistan with offensive weaponry, including P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, anti armor, anti air and anti ship missiles, self propelled artillery, combat helicopters, fighter aircrafts, and missile frigates creating a huge conventional security threat from Pakistan. In addition, its refusal to punish Mumbai terrorist mastermind David Headley commensurate to his crime, and its decision to rely on Pakistan to stabilise Afghanistan have hugely enhanced the triple threats of terrorism, nuclear and conventional blackmail from Pakistan. However, Pew surveys indicate that over 40 percent of Indians view USA in a favourable light, with about 10 percent viewing the US in an unfavourable light. Therefore, despite arguably committing acts which impact India’s security in an enormously negative way; India is able to pursue peaceful and stable relationship with the US.

Considering the second factor: Lack of periodic hostile and inimical acts, public opinion in India is decidedly against China. Despite this, the lack of periodic provocations in the border and the international fore have enabled India and China to enter a phase of a stable relationship, largely driven by a top-down approach by the government. Despite lack of progress in border talks, trade is burgeoning between the two countries. If such a stable state continues, it is conceivable that outstanding territorial disputes could be resolved in the future, with the possibility of even security and economic cooperation between the two nations for peace and prosperity in Asia.

Considering India-Pakistan relationship, Indian public opinion towards Pakistan is neither favourable nor have hostile acts from Pakistan ceased. The former is difficult to remedy, considering the history of the subcontinent. Considering the latter, hostile acts from Pakistan continue. It is unclear if Pakistan is unable or unwilling to control all arms of the state and terror groups it once patronised or if Pakistan still views them as a tool of power projection. The reality is probably a complex mixture of the three. What is even more concerning is the trajectory: various statements from various terror groups and ex military officers in Pakistan hint that terrorism originating from Pakistan will get a fillip once US leaves the region and Pakistan is free to pursue its designs in Afghanistan. Under these two realities, India’s effort to normalise relationship with Pakistan is destined to an inevitable failure.

So what does India lose by pursuing normalisation with Pakistan in the absence of continued hostile acts and unfavorable public opinion and possible failure in the future?

The efforts invested in normalising relationships is unlikely to bear fruit: Every incident, minor and major would prove to be a huge impediment towards such a pursuit. In the era where opposition parties, media and informed citizenry have increased scrutiny of government missteps, India is one terror incident away from the entire peace process getting derailed. Lack of favourable public opinion also constrains India’s ability to offer ‘compromise’ (like Siachen and Sir Creek) of the kind Pakistan desires.

The efforts invested in normalising relationship despite provocations only rewards bad behavior from Pakistan. Instead of viewing friendly gestures by India as compromise despite hostility from Pakistan, Pakistan is likely to view friendly gestures by India as a compromise due to hostility from Pakistan. In this context, a rational adversary would only seek to increase hostility to maximise reward.

The era of hassle free travel, ability of Pakistani media personalities to influence India media, voluntary renunciation of India of the possibility of even considering a punitive response, combined with an increase of Pakistan’s ability to inflict conventional (nuclear and terror) attacks is a combustible mixture whose brunt has to be borne by Indian citizens.

Barath C is a researcher interested in Science, Technology and International Relations. Follow him on Twitter at @barathcn