Dialogue is the only way forward

Ashley J. Tellis supports hands-off policy towards India-Pakistan conflict

A 2017 Carnegie report by Ashley J. Tellis, a well know strategic analyst, is titled as, “Are India-Pakistan peace talks worth a damn?” He looks at India as a strong status-quo power and Pakistan as an irredentist revisionist power. These two countries live in a perpetual conflict. Their rivalry is steeped in long-standing ideological, territorial, and power-political antagonisms. Ideological, because Pakistan became an Islamic republic after independence while India remained committed to secularism and democracy. The main territorial dispute is the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. And, there’s a “fearful” power asymmetry: India is militarily and economically a much stronger country compared to Pakistan. The former is emerging as a formidable player in global politics while the latter is grappling with its declining clout. But, Tellis says, Pakistan displays an anti-status-quo temperament, as it seeks to revise its inheritance and improve its status through the threat of use of force (under the shadow of nuclear weapons). This is “reflected in its territorial irredentism, its determination to subvert India’s ascendency as a great power”, and its desire to avenge past humiliations. This is done by “supporting a low-intensity war which lacks a rational and realizable end”. But India with all its superiority finds it hard to completely deter Pakistan without putting at risk its other national objectives. 

For the author, the Indo-Pak rivalry is beyond the territorial contestation over Jammu and Kashmir. Even if India were to surrender the Kashmir valley to Pakistan, such a bargain is unlikely to ensure any enduring reconciliation between the two countries. Rather, “it could result in doubling of efforts by Pakistan to fracture India even more” and bring it closer to parity by reducing its superior power. Such faulty inferences put India and Pakistan in a state of perpetual animosity, suspicion and hatred. There’s no scope for cooperation in this zero-sum-game.    

The author does acknowledges that Musharraf (a military man) made serious efforts at resolving the Kashmir issue because of his overwhelming powers as the army chief and President of Pakistan. But his successors both in the military and the civilian government refused to support such “half-backed” efforts which lacked the mandate of the parliament. General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani was reluctant to endorse Musharraf’s proposals even though he, along with Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri (foreign minister) and Riaz Mohammad Khan (foreign secretary), were part of the core group set up by Musharraf to monitor the back-channel negotiations.  

What is surprising is the author’s utter contempt for India and Pakistan dialogue process. For him, the international community should avoid futile calls for “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” dialogue because: Pak army won’t abjure terrorism through negotiations; it won’t change its strategic aims unless peace process directly benefits its institution, and it’s too powerful an institution to relent any space to a civilian authority particularly in the domain of foreign policy vis-a-vis India and US. He also disfavours direct talks with the Pakistan army because it (army) would never want to take any formal responsibility for the peace negotiations with New Delhi. 

At the end of the day Ashley J. Tellis seems clueless about the way forward. His prognosis is dangerous. Let’s assume for a while that the US will completely abandon Pakistan and puts pressure on it to “accept its circumstances” vis-à-vis India. But the other major powers, particularly China, would salvage its strategic allay. While the US is seeking an honourable exit from Afghanistan, its special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is busy in working out a joint strategy with Pakistan for bringing Taliban to the negotiation table.  

Till 1965 the US took active part in resolving the Kashmir issue both inside and outside of UN. It lost that enthusiasm particularly after the 1972 Simla Agreement. But that doesn’t mean there is no scope for third party role in conflict resolutions. Whether it’s the Indus Water Treaty or the Rann of Kutch dispute, the third party interventions were helpful in arriving at mutually beneficial agreements. Two nuclear weapon states with “weak democracies, thin levels of economic interdependence, and the absence of any pacifying regional institutions” must be encouraged for dialogue and reconciliation.  

The writer teaches Political Science at GDC Women Anantnag. Views are personal. 

sajadpadder98@gmail.com