Special Reports



Surjit Mansingh


Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh gives high priority to forging a peaceful relationship with Pakistan. He has made this clear since coming to power in 2004. Most recently he has authorized resumption of Foreign Secretary level talks on a range of subjects far broader than India’s major concern, cross-border terrorism, now scheduled for February 25. He has not hesitated from meeting Pakistan’s President Zardari and Prime Minster Gilani with generosity, at multilateral gatherings. Manmohan Singh has refused to treat as acts of war, demanding military retaliation, the July 7, 2008 bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul, or the terrorist attacks in several Indian cities before and after that, culminating in the massive attacks on Mumbai on November 26, 2008, attributed by Indian and Western observers alike to terrorist or jihadist groups connected with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI).

Building on the peace initiatives taken by his predecessor Atal Behari Vajpayee, from a historic cross-border (Amritsar to Lahore) bus ride in February 1999, to a summit meeting of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Islamabad in 2004 and engagement in what is called a ‘composite dialogue’, Manmohan Singh reached agreement with Pakistan’s President Musharraf on resolving the prolonged dispute over Kashmir, after three years of backchannel talks conducted without a third party. It was left to an American journalist, Steve Coll, to publish an article in New Yorker magazine March 2, 2009 about the general terms of this pragmatic agreement on not changing borders, but making the Line of Control (LoC) partitioning Kashmir, softer for people and goods to cross in both directions.

In his memoir In the Line of Fire (2006) Musharraf too compliments Manmohan Singh’s “sincerity and flexibility” (p.304). Current President Asif Ali Zardari has expressed non-hostile sentiments toward India as well, and initially offered to send the ISI chief to cooperate with India immediately after the Mumbai attack, before being over-ruled by others. People-to-people interactions in the arts, film, literature and sports often become spontaneous bilateral ‘love-fests’, some sponsored by leading newspaper chains in the two countries. Non-governmental groups such as the Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) and Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP) regularly conduct Track II dialogues toward transforming conflict. One is tempted to be optimistic.

Unfortunately, Manmohan Singh’s acts of statesmanship are frequently interpreted as acts of weakness in some sections of the Indian and Pakistani media and political establishments, who prefer to take more chauvinistic and bellicose stances. Those determined to sabotage negotiations strike lethally, as in the Indian city of Pune just one day after the date for Foreign Secretary talks was announced.

Experts disagree on the root causes of conflict, with Pakistan long harping on Kashmir as the ‘unfinished business of partition’ and India pointing to decades of ‘proxy war,’ ‘low intensity conflict’ and jihadist attacks, as evidence of Pakistan’s broader determination to undermine India, irrespective of a Kashmir agreement. Despite sharing a subcontinent and a long history before Partition in 1947, Indians and Pakistanis do not have a profound knowledge of each other and the two countries have developed along very different lines. In particular, fundamentalist Islam has steadily deepened its hold in Pakistan since military ruler Zia ul Haq took power in 1977 and then cooperated with Saudi Arabia and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to fight off the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan with the weapons of religion and massive injections of American military assistance. Indian democratic norms became more firmly established during the same decades and its economic dynamism is now well acknowledged - and envied by some in Pakistan.

There are few contacts between the real centres of power, diffused as it is in India and concentrated in the military across the border. Therefore, the absence of Indian interaction (off the battlefield) with Pakistan’s Army, which has ruled that country formally or informally for most of its existence, is a real handicap, as is the lack of commercial linkages, despite recent efforts to create them in the two Punjabs.

Pessimism about the prospects for peace is induced by other facts too. Easily settled minor disputes have been made hostage to ‘core issues’, and new areas of potential conflict such as competition for natural resources, especially water, are opening. The state of Pakistan is visibly fragile, facing alienation and insurgency in more than one province, and with about half the population illiterate and very poor.

Religious cum terrorist groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad and their off-spring, were initially created by the ISI and used against India and Afghanistan; they may no longer be controllable, as their increasingly frequent attacks on civilian and military targets within the heartland of Pakistan demonstrate. Further, Washington’s willingness to ignore its own pronouncements favouring democratic government in Pakistan and sending in more infusions of military hardware, reduces Islamabad’s incentive to settle with New Delhi. Short sighted, self-contradictory and inconsistent American policies toward South Asia over the years and its current dependence on cooperation from Pakistan in order to conduct a problematic war in Afghanistan, have diminished its authority and credibility as a promoter of peace or a reliable partner in both India and Pakistan. The picture, in short, is bleak and complex.

The termination of protracted conflict requires national political consensus within both countries, which depends on good leadership and right timing, and begins with recognition of the greater gain from ending, than continuing the conflict.

Indian leaders have long known that national aspirations for social harmony at home and a respected place in world councils backed by an economically dynamic and cooperative South Asia are thwarted by tensions with Pakistan. Some observers (Koithara, 2004) hoped that after the disastrous military adventure at Kargil in 1999 Pakistan’s generals would study the divergent graphs of economic growth in India and Pakistan, take the point, and eschew confrontation. Musharraf portrayed himself as a good leader seeking settlement, but lost legitimacy and authority by his dismissal of Pakistan’s Chief Justice and subsequent suspension of the Constitution in his second coup of 2007. His squabbling successors have been unwilling or unable to deliver on his promise to prevent militant attacks on India from any territory controlled by Pakistan, or affirm a determination to do so. India’s general elections of May 2009 conferred a larger mandate on Manmohan Singh than he enjoyed in 2004, but bold action as well as the strategic use of assets is inhibited by chronic lack of administrative coordination or political cohesiveness in India. The right time for a comprehensive India-Pakistan peace agreement might not yet have dawned, but much can be done meanwhile to prevent outright military conflict and prepare the ground for genuine peace. We indicate some steps that could be taken toward that goal, together and separately.

Governments of India and Pakistan together could and should commit themselves to a permanent dialogue process on a range of subjects, to be conducted away from the media with its perpetual temptation of grandstanding, and without third parties introducing their own agendas into the talks. Persons conducting the dialogue must have enough authority to take decisions that could subsequently be implemented, but should not be public figures with easily derailed political ambitions. The involvement of respected officers of the armed forces in such a dialogue is imperative. There are some indications that the current Chief of Army Staff in Pakistan, General Ashvaq Kayani, may be open to the idea of direct talks with India, having wisely kept the Army out of interference in the 2008 elections. The head of the ISI was reported as suggesting to the three Indian defence attaches in Islamabad at an unusual meeting on July 3, 2009 that India deal with the Pakistan Army and Intelligence Service, as well as with the civilian government. (The Hindu, July 23, 2009) And there is growing recognition in India that the main protectors of national security should be given a voice in formulating national security policy.

At the same time, the two governments could and should improve their crisis communication between military and civilian officials to prevent possible escalation of small encounters, such as oft- reported violations of cease-fire across the LoC. Soon after openly testing their nuclear weapons capability in 1998, India and Pakistan instituted Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to reduce inherent risks and make the region safer, that seem to be working. Similar CBMs are needed to dampen the dangers of terrorism destroying the region. The Mumbai attack revealed the inadequacy of crisis communication between the Indian and Pakistani governments. Washington served as an interlocutor on that occasion but also suffers a’ trust deficit’ on both sides. Two other measures to be taken by both countries are invariably stressed in non-official bilateral meetings. One is to stop demonising each other and revise their school textbooks. The other is to liberalise visa practices to allow for greater people-to-people interaction.

Peace demands most change in Pakistan, where it may be more difficult to bring about. First, both civilian and military authorities in Pakistan need to understand that religious extremist groups pose an existential threat to their country, far greater than any imagined menace from India. Such acknowledgement is a prerequisite for combating these heavily armed and well-entrenched organisations, loosely termed Taliban, instead of trying to use them for subversive purposes in India or Afghanistan, as in the past. The Pakistan Army is not trained to fight home grow terrorists, as its less than stellar counterinsurgency campaigns in Swat and Waziristan have demonstrated. Musharraf persuaded leaders of the LeT, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Harkatul Mujahideen to lie dormant in 2003 in return for ISI payments (Haqqani 2005 p. 306) but they show no inclination to disband their forces or their training camps. A weak civilian government is unlikely to challenge them but is equally unlikely to survive without doing so.

Secondly, Pakistan should establish normal commercial and economic relations with India by reciprocating its grant of Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status.
Pakistan’s geographic location on the Indian subcontinent remains constant, and it is a founder member of SAARC, though it has increasingly identified with Arabia and the Gulf through close diplomatic, economic, ideological and religious ties with them. Pakistan signed into a SAARC process towards creating a free trade area with a South Asia Preferential Trade Agreement in 1996 and a South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) that came into effect in July 2006. But Pakistan still refuses MFN status to India and restricts direct trade to a relatively small list of items and pays more for importing Indian goods through Dubai. The volume of informal trade or smuggling is high. Experience in other parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia, demonstrate the efficacy of strong business and commercial linkages in countering political tensions between nations.

Third, and most importantly, those who have the power to shape Pakistan must decide whether continued dependence on the three As—the Army, America and Allah—for endless confrontation with India serves the interests of the people they rule and therefore their own hold on power, or not. The unprecedented mobilisation of civil and professional society against military rule in 2007-08 surely points to a future in Pakistan oriented toward social and economic development. Were Pakistan to make the transition from what Haqqani calls an’ ideological state’ to a ‘ functional state’, a durable peace with India would become possible.

For peaceful approaches to have positive results India too needs to take purposeful action and develop strategic thinking and policy making that hitherto has been conspicuous by its absence
. The office of National Security Adviser created only in 1998 needs far more institutional and intellectual support than its excellent incumbent presently receives. Many steps need to be taken simultaneously. First, India has to correct and overcome the diplomatic, institutional and intelligence shortcomings of the past that have allowed ISI influence to grow in neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal (from where the notorious hijacking of an Indian Airlines ‘plane to Kandahar was launched in December 1999) and jihadi organisations such as the Indian Mujaheddin to operate within India. Recent agreements with Bangladesh that included its handing over of terrorists operating in India’s northeast point the right direction. Secondly, consolidation, coordination, and strengthening of various Indian intelligence services is urgently required, as Home Minister P. Chidambaram has stressed, but this may be easier said than done. The Mumbai attacks revealed serious deficiencies that have been met only partially in cooperation with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Thirdly, India must deepen its presently good relations with others such as China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates as well as the US, so as to ensure respect for its legitimate strategic interests, particularly in Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean. Even the mildest critic cannot overlook the manner in which the US and its NATO allies completely brushed India’s representatives and their concerns aside at the London Conference on Afghanistan in February 2010, just months and days after President Obama and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke had lavished praise on India’s developmental and humanitarian contributions in Afghanistan!

India can and should attempt to allay two kinds of fear in Pakistan. One, that India might launch an attack if Pakistan reduced its armed forces massed on its eastern frontier in order to fight the Taliban in its western frontier region, or if another terrorist attack took place in India. India has already transferred three divisions of its troops from its western frontier to serve in the northeast, and continuing a permanent dialogue with Pakistan should bolster confidence. Another fear expressed among Pakistan’s business and commercial classes is that they would be overwhelmed and outmatched by Indian products were MFN status be granted
. As Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have discovered, the gains from Indian trading concessions far outweigh the costs, and a cooperative SAFTA is more likely to bring prosperity to the region than protectionism in individual members.

Kashmir has posed two separate but related types of challenge to India. One challenge has been posed by Pakistan’s attempts to take Kashmir by military force in 1947-48 and 1965, by proxy war and constant infiltration of militants across the LoC since 1989, and by obtaining international intervention through the United Nations Security Council since 1948 or after the military adventure of Kargil in 1999. India foiled the military attacks and attempts to control infiltration. Though ‘the Kashmir Dispute’ has not been formally dropped from the UN agenda, most governments, including that of China, prefer a bilateral solution that is likely to confirm the territorial status quo favouring India, with some face-saving concessions to Pakistan. The equally important challenge for India is the comfort level of the people of Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union. New Delhi’s mishandling of that State, especially in rigging elections and removing governments, led to a 1989 insurgency in the Kashmir Valley, with its leaders demanding independence. Actions by Indian security forces to quell the insurgency inevitably worsened the mood. For more than ten years now, through several interlocutors, New Delhi has held talks with the leaders of different Kashmiri groups, pumped in development funds, reduced the presence of the Indian Army, and ensured a succession of free and fair elections that have elicited increasing participation, with the young Omar Abdullah now Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Normalcy seems to be returning with tourists and trade. This fact should feature prominently in India’s public diplomacy, as also the full enjoyment of democratic rights by India’s Muslim population—the second largest in the world—notwithstanding occasional if serious, aberrations as occurred in Gujarat in 2002.

Finally, the US has more to contribute to India-Pakistan relations than expressions of support, or ill-concealed pressure, for renewed dialogue. At this time Washington’s over riding objective appears to be pursuing a war in Afghanistan so as to declare success and begin an exit in 2011.
Washington needs Pakistan to keep open the supply route from the port of Karachi, as other routes from Iran, Russia and Central Asian republics are not available to the US or are of restricted utility, and tacit permission to carry out covert operations by unmanned drone aircraft within Pakistan to kill or capture al Quaeda and Taliban leaders. In return for Pakistan’s cooperation and the deployment of some Pakistani forces in the tribal northwest, Washington has promised not to implement the conditions of civilian control and action against terrorist groups written into the Kerry-Lugar legislation of 2009 authorising massive military and economic aid, and seems to have given Pakistan veto power on US relations with Afghanistan and India. As Ashley Tellis of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as well as former US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns and others have pointed out, the Obama Administration is paying insufficient attention to India’s concerns and risks losing the strategic gains made by the previous administration with an important and rising Asian power.

Washington also wants to avert an Indian retaliatory attack on Pakistan that could follow another Mumbai type terrorist strike. Daniel Markay of the Council of Foreign Relations has enumerated coercive as well as persuasive steps Washington could take to prevent or mitigate such a crisis, even if it did not escalate to the use of nuclear weapons. As mentioned above, American authority and credibility have been undermined in South Asia over the years by short sighted and inconsistent policies and bureaucratic obstacles to dealing with that region as a whole. Nevertheless, the US can and should lend its considerable counter-terrorism capabilities to both India and Pakistan, and stay well in the background of their bilateral dialogue as it moves slowly, but surely one hopes, toward durable peace.


Professor Surjit Mansingh was formerly Professor of International Politics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. Currently she is teaching at American University,Washington DC.

Selected References

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