Peace process re-engineering

India needs a peace process. Not a “Kashmir-for-peace”process.

It has become obvious that, as feared, ‘peace process’ is working against India’s interests. It plays into Pakistan’s grand strategy of salami-slicing and taking the entire mile inch-by-inch. It also plays on a weakness inherent in Indian public opinion—short-term memory. An inch of concession is too little for Indians to either get seriously worked up about or bother to remember. It is, therefore, unsurprising, that an act of appeasement as monstrous as the one in Havana fails to raise the nation’s collective eyebrows. So too the “non-paper” offering “joint-control” of the Kashmir valley that India has floated using back-channels.

The UPA government has gone great lengths to spin the Havana appeasement it as the best India could achieve. So former security officials who dare to point out how bad a capitulation it really is are accused of indulging in bureaucratic groupthink. And ordinary citizens who do so are accused of being war-mongers, too unsophisticated to understand the statesmanship of Dr Manmohan Singh.

Many sincere supporters of the ‘peace process’ do so on the premise that the only alternative to the “Kashmir-for-peace” process is war. Meanwhile, opponents of the ‘peace process’ fail to address this faulty reasoning adequately, thereby strengthening the perception that those opposed to the ‘peace process’ are in effect, advocating going to war.

Getting the targets right
Let’s examine the “Kashmir-for-peace” process. It targets two constituencies within Pakistan: the military establishment and Pakistani civil society. It requires on the one hand, those in power in Pakistan to drop their animosity towards India—ignoring the reality that it is the very animosity that allows them to retain power. On the other, it requires the powerless to take on the military establishment on foreign policy—ignoring the reality that the powerless cannot influence their government even on everyday issues. Engaging these constituencies may give an illusion of progress, but the fact is that there is no peace to be had by engaging these constituencies.

There is, however, another constituency that can be engaged. It is one that is close to (and often in) power and whose interests are not necessarily served by hostility towards India. This is Pakistan’s pragmatic business class. And the way to engage this constituency is not through political negotiations or feel-good events. It is through trade.

Think about it. India has very few readily usable ways of coercing Pakistan short of the use of military force (or throttling Pakistan’s water supplies). Both are extreme measures and neither can be used without attracting international opprobrium. Yet it sorely needs some usable cards to play an effective game of carrots and sticks with Pakistan. The mere threat of withdrawal of a carrot should cause powerful voices to whisper (or shout) in the ears of Pakistan’s rulers. The surest and fastest way to obtain such leverage is through greater trade and economic intercourse with Pakistan—by making powerful Pakistanis fat on trade with India.

There’s a lot of money on the table
Studies show that there’s an additional $6 billion worth of bilateral trade on the table, with India having a comparative advantage in twice as many areas as Pakistan. Quite obviously, those who benefit from this—on both sides—are likely to be the keenest advocates of peace and harmony. That’s not all. They are also likely to resist any move by their governments that might put their businesses at risk. This can create the leverage that India needs. An entire range of coercive tools—from targeted bans on companies to sanctions against entire industries—become available to India. Such measures would be ineffective if they only hit the ordinary powerless Pakistani. But they stand a much better chance of working when they hit the powerful business class.

So isn’t this exactly what SAFTA hopes to achieve? Perhaps, but one reason why SAFTA is going nowhere fast—especially with respect to Indo-Pak trade—is because the Pakistani ruling establishment is awake to the danger. Supported by the protectionists within its business community it has steadfastly resisted lowering trade barriers until the “Kashmir dispute is resolved”. SAFTA, therefore, may not be the answer India is looking for. And isn’t this why that gas pipeline was a good idea? Not at all, for the pipeline would put a lifeline in the hands of the military establishment, not the business class.

The sound of one hand slapping
What India can do, is unilaterally lower barriers for imports from Pakistan and open up several points along the border for goods to pass through [See Sauvik’s argument for unilateral trade liberalisation in general]. Pakistani businessmen and Indian consumers will be immediate beneficiaries. It is true that some Indian businesses will face additional competition. But this is unlikely to hurt much, for Indian industry is already successfully competing with Chinese imports. Once this trade picks up, India will have what it needs to coerce Pakistan.

But won’t the effects of trade be reciprocal? In other words can’t the Pakistani government use sanctions on Indian businesses to balance the coercion. Well, to do that, it has to open its markets to Indian businesses first. That in itself is more tangible a benefit than anything the current ‘peace process’ can dream of. But what if, after opening up, it uses the threat of retaliatory sanctions to coerce India. It can, but given the size of the economies, it is likely to calibrate its actions carefully, as it risks doing more damage to its business elite at every step. Won’t India lose a valuable bargaining chip to extract trade-related concessions from Pakistan, including transit to Afghanistan? In theory, yes. In practice, keeping the cards is not quite meaningful as it is the Pakistan’s obsession with Kashmir that is the sticking point.

India’s peace process with Pakistan requires re-engineering. There is no need for India to make further concessions over Kashmir. India has the necessary capacity to deal with estranged Kashmiris. It can do so without involving Pakistan. The message to Pakistan’s rulers needs to be unambiguous—the use of terrorism or armed aggression to change the status quo in Kashmir will be met with a robust military response. Taking Kashmir off the table might leave Pakistan with few incentives to pursue a ‘dialogue’. But if India is open to trade with Pakistan, it does not really matter. It’s all in India’s hands, actually.

Related Post: Mere pursuit of economic relations is insufficient to serve the ends of peace. More on this in a previous post on the separateness of peace and development.

11 thoughts on “Peace process re-engineering”

  1. “The UPA government has gone great lengths to spin the Havana appeasement it as the best India could achieve. So former security officials who dare to point out how bad a capitulation it really is are accused of indulging in bureaucratic groupthink. And ordinary citizens who do so are accused of being war-mongers, too unsophisticated to understand the statesmanship of Dr Manmohan Singh.”

    This looks more and more like Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time” appeasement of Hitler with the surrender of sudetenland to Nazi Germany. Even he spinned it beautifully and called Churchill and others as “war-mongers”. The same way as Manmohan and his right hand men like Rajmohan are doing.

  2. To say in a couple of words, you seem to have oversimplified the proable consequences of opening up Unilaterally.

    Regarding India being able to compete (in local markets) with China, let me list out a couple of reasons

    1. Having used Chinese products, its my belief that unless produced by a Western firm, most of them are inferior (though cheaper) than the ones produced by Indian Firms.

    2. India has slapped the largest number of Anti-Dumping duty on China which has resulted in some slowing down of Exports from China to India.

    Strategits have now come to the conclusion that proablility of waging a war against a enemy and coming up triumps is going down by the day. But, there are other forms of warfare which can be done with little damage to the Agressor and Economic Warfare is one of them. By indulging in this sort of War, neither the Agressor gets harmed if his plans go haywire and on the other hand, can bring down a whole country if his plans meet its target.

    China for example has such a grip on the US Markets that its major competitors are from other countries and not US. Though US still cant be brought down by this alone, the money being accumalated by China is real huge and this can be used to Buy Assets in US which inturn will make US more and more dependent upon China. The only thing against china is that US is more powerfull and the US Dollar is the reserve currency and hence a Allout attack can be easily repulsed.


  3. Nitin: thank you. Thank you for addressing an economic solution to an otherwise intractable problem. Talking peace with a war-mongering military is a tired, failed strategy.

    Your angle of unilaterally opening up markets is most interesting. What are the risks of your “feed the feudals” strategy? Why could it fail? Be interested to read your thinking.

  4. Nitin:

    The report is quite plausible; indeed, I have independent evidence that this offer was put on the table by the GOI. However, I disagree with the characterization of this offer as one of ‘joint control’.

    The report cited in your post does not characterize it as such: Pre-1953 level autonomy within the Indian constitution is what’s on offer. Moreover, as I understand this offer, it is contingent on the establishment of similar autonomy in PoK.

    The problem is simply that such generous offers will only lead the Pakistani establishment to ask for more and more and more of J&K. Given the dynamics of the negotiation process (which you’ve ably outlined, of course), the end result may well be an offer of ‘joint control’ by this or some other Indian govt sometime in the future. Who would have thought the Indian govt. does not know how to haggle?

    In itself, even the deal on offer presently–pre-1953 autonomy–is disastrous; residents of J&K would not have the protection afforded by the Electoral Commission and the Supreme Court of India. Also, I simply do not see how residents of Jammu district will buy into an administrative arrangement which will allow the residents of Srinagar district a disproportionate say in Jammu district’s politics.

    I know readers of this blog may well find my repetitiveness tiresome, but given the dedicated ignorance of the ‘facts-on-the-ground’ by so many in the Indian media elite, I hope readers of your blog will exercise some charity towards my reiteration of these facts.


  5. Nitin:

    More evidence (if it were needed) of the PM’s cluelessness.

    Admitting to a ‘trust deficit’ with Pakistan, PM Manmohan Singh said there was no alternative to carrying forward the dialogue. “There has been a trust deficit, but we cannot stand still,” he said….

    Asked about the prospects of such a dialogue when Musharraf had dismissed the Line of Control as border, the PM said that despite the position taken by the Pakistani leader a way had to be found to keep the talks going. “We have to hold dialogue to end terrorism,” he said. [TOI]

    So the PM thinks something must be done because “…we cannot stand still.”! A truly pathetic statement. The PM doesn’t seem to realize that doing ‘nothing’ may be in India’s interest.


  6. China seems to have perfected this strategy. More than improving trade with Pak I would suggest improving trade with other countries who are worth something in the int’l arena. China has improved trade with ASEAN and those countries seldom talk of Tibet or Taiwan. Same way India should improve trade and relationship with powerful countries such that at the end of the day they should end up supporting India in any stance it takes vis a vis Kashmir. It would mean targetting those that are already in China bloc because China supports Pak and its associates support Pak thro’ muted means – “India and Pak should resolve the issue peacefully” kind ot talk.
    Every country acts according to what that country perceives as its interest at that moment. It is India which is still hung up with justness in foreign policy. If you want to grow, you have to single mindedly pursue the goal. It is seriously lacking in India.

  7. The easiest way is to provide full assistance to get an independent Balochistan, & Sind and an amalgamation of NWFP into Afghanistan and everything will fall into order.

  8. Once again, great piece of straight hitting analysis.But what about ,squeezing Pakis at their soft spots – Baluch,Sindhi Movements.Afterall there is greater moral justification in helping them from the exploitation in the hands of their punjabi brethren.

  9. Kumar—you are most welcome to inject reality into the debate. Btw, I’ve changed the link on “joint-control”. I first saw the report on a Pakistani newspaper several weeks ago…can’t find the link now though. But there is talk of joint control in the back channels. Whether this is linked to the non-paper, I cannot say.

    Huviskha & Rao—Yes, covert options must not be discounted. The point of this post is that the peace process must be re-engineered to generate gains for India.

    Libertarian—thanks for those questions. They demand an entirely new post in response.

  10. Nitin:

    I remain dubious about reports that the GOI has offered joint control of the Valley for several reasons. The reporters I respect on this issue (Praveen Swami, among others) suggest that some sort of arrangement well short of joint-control is on offer.

    Moreover, had the GOI made such an offer, the Pakistani govt. would have leaped at the offer: Press conferences by the dozens, perhaps hundreds, would have been held by now.

    Finally, Mr. Narayanan rejected joint-control no more than several months ago in public. If the GOI is secretly intent on a joint-control scheme, I suspect Mr. Narayanan would have been rather more evasive in public.

    Still, as I wrote earlier, this danger looms ahead given the fatuousness of the PM (‘We can’t stand still’, etc.). The BJP response you linked to highlights one way this could happen: e.g., if the joint anti-terror mechansim focuses solely on J&K (though I don’t see why the GOI might do that, given the wide scope of Pakistani terror ops).

    The BJP response you linked to does highlight that ‘joint control’ won’t be an easy sell. In the words of President Clinton, ‘that dog don’t hunt’.

    Btw, the BJP is right that the PM’s ‘gracious’ offer of absolution to the Pakistani govt. undermines the Jan. 2004 agreement; the latter is, after all, premised on the idea that the Pakistani establishment is responsible for cross-border terrorism against India.


  11. Hi Nitin,

    The Pakistani govt. has effectively disowned the very terrorist groups that it created. Now the emphasis should be on making sure that they don’t allow these groups a sanctuary inside Pakistan while the groups freelance for all kinds of nefarious interest groups.

    If the Pakistan government can live up to its promises, then there is no reason why it cannot be consulted on the developments in Jammu and Kashmir. Ofcourse there is a water distribution issue there which I think is the only thing the Pakistanis really care about, I mean Islam and Jihad are joke in Pakistan, but Punjab still needs water from Kashmir. But for us to discuss that with them, we will have to rebuild trust with them.

    I think as the PM says, this new joint mechanism is a test to see if Pakistan can live up a concrete promise it makes. If it does we have a way of proceeding further towards trust, otherwise there will be no trust and then the negotiation of the water issue will become quite difficult.

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