India’s is sacrificing its long war against terrorism at the altar of the ‘peace process’
It has reduced itself into an ugly charade—a cynical game that India’s leaders play with their own citizens in order to mask their weakness of character, resolve and imagination. It is marked by the elevation of the ‘peace process’ to an end by itself. That the ‘peace process’ has attained the status of a political superstition is revealed by the lengths that Indian leaders go to strengthen it, while ignoring what was at the best of times its glaring disconnect, and is now its enormous contradiction, with peace.
India holds all the cards, many argue, so what’s the harm in talking to the Pakistanis? Well, it so happens that regardless of the diplomatese India manages to slip in, the rest of the world (including Pakistan) believes that this dialogue is basically about India discussing the settlement of a territorial dispute over Kashmir. The longer the dialogue continues without producing a map with new lines drawn on it, the more believable is Pakistan’s contention that India is only dragging its feet, and Musharraf, the good soul that he is, cannot be expected to hold down his jihadis unless India throws him some more carrots. And so India throws him some. And the rest is a slippery slope.
But has the peace process yielded any dividends? Haven’t they worked out some confidence-building measures to prevent accidental nuclear war? Well they have. But there was always a good chance that nuclear confidence-building measures would have been negotiated even if there was no peace process in place. That’s because the Pakistanis are rational people. Kashmir may be ‘in their blood’, but they don’t think it’s worth a nuclear war. In fact, in the Pakistani army’s view, the more stable the deterrence at the nuclear level, the more room they have to conduct operations at the proxy, low-intensity and other sub-conventional levels.
Hasn’t terrorism declined in Kashmir? Well, let’s take this statement at face value. Isn’t it also true that India has had to make major concessions to Pakistan and the Hurriyat to bring this about? Jihadi camps continue to exist in Pakistan. They may not be operating at their peak levels—owing in part due to America’s war on terror—but they are very much in business. However, even going by the most charitable view, the decline in levels of violence in Kashmir has been accompanied by a sharp increase in provocative terrorist incidents across India. The role of the Pakistani jihadi establishment, and by implication, Pakistan’s military establishment, is palpable. Nine in ten Indians believes this is so. [See also: Musharraf’s successor might well be planning the next backstab]
Well, what about the intangible stuff? Cricket, buses, trains and movie stars and all. Well meaning people—from Kuldip Nayar to Amit Varma—entertain hopes of changing hearts and minds in Pakistan, thereby loosening the hold of Pakistani military establishment, weakening the Islamists and eventually compelling the Pakistani government to change its policy towards India. Tall order, but it is unwise to dismiss hope, even when it triumphs over repeated experience. Unfortunately, the hopeful start from a very low base. Recently Pakistan’s Enlightened Moderates joined forces with Islamists to shoot down a bill to reform Pakistan’s infamous rape law that punish the victim. Musharraf gave up the half-hearted attempts to reform the madrassas. Pakistani civil society is too powerless, too unwilling to effect a change concerning its own affairs. It is reasonable to expect, therefore, that people-to-people contacts are inconsequential for peace in India anytime soon. Meanwhile it will always be much easier Pakistani regimes to seek popular support and legitimacy by using the India bogey than it will be for the Pakistani people to change their government’s policy by pressing the peace with India button.
Despite there being no substantial success that can be attributed to the peace process, the one factor that characterises the series of India-Pakistan summits from Lahore to Havana is the gradual disappearance of cross-border terrorism from the official joint statements. Gone are the demands to hand over top terrorists living in Pakistan under official protection. The Havana statement promises a joint-mechanism to implement counter-terrorism initiatives and investigations. More official junkets for both sides perhaps, but it is fantastic to believe that Pakistan will allow this “mechanism” to get anywhere near the queen bees of jihadi firmament. The Americans have far better mechanisms with Pakistan and have had to settle for the small fry. Why should India do any better?
Indeed, the Havana statement has handed over some more ‘plausible deniability’ to Pakistan, for it provides Musharraf with additional boasting rights—see, he’s even co-operating with the Indians on terrorism. To India’s detriment—for he has another way out of the doghouse the next time there is a terrorist attack in India. Pakistani officials will add this to the boilerplate statements they issue when told to “do more” on countering terrorism.
Meanwhile, “back channels” are busy working through a solution—for settling the territorial dispute over Kashmir. It thus appears that all that talk about India not negotiating with a gun to its head was, well, just bluster. It is time to face the facts—the peace process is about weak-kneed Indian politicians attempting to find palatable ways to sell a territorial concession over Kashmir to the Indian people.