Why peace processes with Pakistan come with the inevitable stab in the back
Gen Musharraf, the one person generally identified as the architect of the Kargil war in 1999, contends that it succeeded in its main objective of ‘internationalising the Kashmir cause’: noting the great dangers arising from the existence of the dispute over Kashmir, the world would press India to negotiate with Pakistan. The prime minister of the day, Nawaz Sharif, almost certainly knew that a ‘jihadi-led’ offensive was in the offing even as he engaged Indian prime minister in the Lahore peace process. But he was unable or unwilling to prevent it. He lost his job to Gen Musharraf—the man who undermined the peace process—as a result of the war.
The series of provocative terrorist attacks in Indian cities, of which the attacks on Mumbai on July 11th were the latest also succeeded in internationalising the Kashmir cause, causing the world to press India to quickly settle the dispute with Pakistan. The argument offered by many Pakistanis is that the attacks could not have been carried out at Pakistan’s behest as Pakistan has nothing to gain by disrupting the peace process. But go back six years, and the same could have been said about the Kargil war. Pakistan may not have gained anything by pooping the Lahore party, but someone clearly did. Back to the present, Gen Musharraf may not benefit from the breakdown of the current peace process, but someone in Pakistan’s military establishment clearly does. It is emerging that the latest episode of expelling diplomats was supposed to be done quietly, but someone leaked it to the Pakistani media.
If someone intended to get rid of Gen Musharraf at his moment of greatest weakness, then attacking India and the peace process with India is exactly what he would do. Does this, then, mean that India must seize the moment at hand and strike a deal on Kashmir with Musharraf when he is still around? That’s argument is popular with the pro-peace process lobby. A Pakistani leader who is weak politically at home is likely to want a much better deal in order not to be accused of selling out. And regardless of the deal he gets, he will nevertheless be accused of selling out and fall from power. The successor regime will then demand a new deal using the jihadis as an implicit bargaining chip. Not square one, but square zero for India.
Ordinarily, normalisation of relations between people and businesses shouldn’t hurt. But in the case of the ‘peace process’ this is seen, by Pakistan at least, as a means to the end of resolving the Kashmir dispute. If ‘normal’ relations persist long enough, perhaps for a generation, it may even be possible to imagine that the Pakistani public opinion would continue to back a leader who struck a deal over Kashmir. But nobody in Pakistan’s ruling circles, and certainly not Gen Musharraf himself, has the patience to wait that long. India will find itself forced to make concessions over Kashmir to prolong the normality a little more. Until it is time to make another concession. This can have two outcomes: India will decide it has made enough concessions or it will find that it has made one too many. The first takes India back to a few steps behind where it started. The second gives the game to Pakistan.
But is there an alternative to engaging in a peace process? Well, there is. It’s the Reagal parallel. More engagement with Pakistan can be calmly ignored, at least until such time that it implodes (unlikely) or recognises that it must get rid of its jihadi culture and establishment in order to survive (unlikely). Peace processes should calmly await either of these scenarios.