In fact: The rhetoric and reality of India-Pakistan peace

The weekend’s attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot has placed General Raheel Sharif’s intentions at centre stage.

Written by Praveen Swami | Published:January 4, 2016 12:28 am
india, pakistan, india pakistan relationship, PM Narednra Modi, Modi lahore visit, Modi in lahore, Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif, The First Book of Esdras, india pakistan peace, pathankot attack, terror attack, pathankot terror attack, india news The Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi warmly received by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, at Lahore, Pakistan on December 25, 2015.

“Are not men strongest, who rule over land and sea and all that is in them,” reads the ancient apocalyptic text, The First Book of Esdras? “But the king is stronger; he is their lord and master, and whatever he says to them they obey. If he tells them to make war on one another, they do it; and if he sends them out against the enemy, they go, and conquer mountains, walls, and towers. They kill and are killed.”

On December 25, Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Lahore to attend the wedding of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s granddaughter. The grand gesture served an ambitious peace project: Prime Minister Modi aims, he recently told military commanders, “to turn the course of history”.

Esdras’ warning, however, ought counsel him of the perils that lie ahead: the power to make peace lies in the hands of the country’s real king, its Chief of Army Staff.

The weekend’s attack on the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot has placed General Raheel Sharif’s intentions at centre stage. The group which carried out the attack, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, is closely linked to Pakistan’s intelligence services. In India’s intelligence community, many believe the attack was intended to send a message: that Pakistan’s military knows India has no retaliatory options, and can ratchet up the pain if it doesn’t get concessions on Kashmir.

For New Delhi, the attack thus poses a serious question: does Pakistan’s military want normalisation, or just a temporary peace on its eastern flank as it secures victory against internal enemies, and for its Taliban clients in Afghanistan?

PAKISTAN ARMY’S AMBITIONS
The simple truth in reply to the question is this: we don’t know. The question, however, needs to be read in its historical context. Inside months of its independence, the scholar-diplomat Husain Haqqani has noted, the Pakistan army was “moving in the direction of of adopting an Islamic ideological colouring”. In 1960, General Ayub Khan, often cast as a secularising modernist, argued that Pakistan was the site for an Islamic experiment in welding together the spiritual and temporal into a state.

For all the proclamations of fidelity to Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s vision for Pakistan, no chief of army staff has replaced General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s military slogan, ‘Iman, Taqwa, Jihad ( Faith, Piety and Jihad)’ with the founding father’s choice, ‘Faith, Unity and Discipline’.

This is because the Generals, the scholar C Christine Fair has noted, see India as an ideological, not military, problem: “to acquiesce (to India) is tantamount not only to defeating the Pakistan Army, but also… to eroding the legitimacy of the Pakistani state”.

Earlier this year, on a visit to Washington, DC, General Shareef made the point bluntly to US diplomats, saying normalisation with India meant surrender on Kashmir, something he was unwilling to acquiesce to. The brother of an officer killed in the 1971 war, Shareef’s dislike of India is intensely personal.

From an Indian optic, two steps would make clear Pakistan’s military has, indeed, committed to a new strategic vision. The first would be legal action against the perpetrators of violence against India; the second, dismantling the military infrastructure of terrorist groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad.
There’s some evidence that Pakistan has acted against terror, prodded by the US. Ever since 2003, violence in Kashmir has declined steadily — and, notwithstanding commentary in the media, official statistics demonstrate it stayed in line with the low levels seen in recent years through 2015. Even violence levels, which showed an uptick through 2013 and 2014, showed a marginal decline.

Ever since 26/11, moreover, there hasn’t been a major terrorist attack outside J&K that has traced back to Pakistan. Indian Mujahideen jihadist Muhammad Ahmad Zarar Siddibapa, arrested by the National Investigation Agency, told investigators the ISI Directorate has placed severe restraints on anti-India operations.
It is also clear, though, that the ISI hasn’t kicked its jihad habit: the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s attack in Gurdaspur earlier this year could have claimed hundreds of lives had landmines planted on a railway line exploded.

In discussions with Indian interlocutors, Pakistan has said it hopes, in the long term, to defang organisations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad by bringing them into political life.

This is, however, a post-dated cheque, one held out to prime ministers from Atal Behari Vajpayee onwards. Pushed hard by the United States, which is fearful of a regional crisis, Modi has decided to take the chance.

RHETORIC AND REALITY
Is India prepared to negotiate the minefields along the road to peace? If there’s some uncertainty about the Indian government’s seriousness of thought, ministers have no one to blame but themselves. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, just months ago, was vowing no talks could take place as long as 26/11 perpetrator Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi was out of jail. In December 2014, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar warned of “strong action” against Pakistan if it didn’t de-escalate within six months — and warned again, in January 2015, that Islamabad had not “learned its lesson”.

Prime Minister Modi’s own twists and turns are legion: having come to power attacking Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s efforts at detente, he invited Prime Minister Sharif to his oath-taking ceremony, then ordering a sharp escalation of retaliatory fire alone the Line of Control, called off Secretary-level talks, signed the Ufa declaration, then backtracked after Pakistan said it would meet the Hurriyat, only to talk again.

For years now, Indian politicians have drawn on the same rhetorical template. In the wake of the attack on Parliament House on December 13, 2001, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had promised an “aar paar ki ladai”, or all-out war. Inside days, he expressed happiness that Pervez Musharraf “had extended a hand of friendship to me”.

Such jalebi-shaped discourse points to a deeper malaise. In 2001-2002, Vajpayee’s military build-up did bring India gains in Kashmir, but at a military price unacceptable to both Pakistan and India. Pakistan’s generals know India’s search for economic growth has made it risk averse — and that this gives them opportunity.

Modi knows, moreover, that the exhortations of his hawks offer little in terms of policy responses. India’s armed forces, research by experts like Walter Ladwig has made clear, cannot win a decisive, short war. Air strikes or targeted assassinations wouldn’t degrade terror infrastructure, and invite retaliatory attacks — which India’s anaemic police and intelligence services are in no position to pre-empting.

Like his predecessors, the Prime Minister has gone out to bat against hostile bowling without a helmet or pads. He may graft a few runs, but will have to bear agonising pain. He’ll be tempted, often, to leave the game.

It didn’t have to be so. Si vis pacem, para bellum, the Roman author Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus’s taught in his treatise, De Re Militari: to ensure peace, prepare for war. Like his predecessors, Modi seems to have missed the second part of that lesson.

praveen.swami@expressindia.com

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  1. A
    Alibaba
    Jan 4, 2016 at 10:00 am
    From Publius Flavius to Walter Ludwig to Christine Fair and back to Esdras not a name left undropped or a cliche untouched. Well done Editors.
    Reply
    1. B
      Brahm Gaur
      Jan 4, 2016 at 10:32 am
      Do nothing. Just guard our country from terrorism but continue the dialog and show the world that we are trying but there is no cooperation from Pak. Every response to the terrorism should be strong and dessicive.
      Reply
      1. H
        Hari
        Jan 4, 2016 at 4:40 am
        This 'asamis' atude towards modi and bjp is well known, so what ever modi does this journos will criticize for sure. Modi is not fool to dream of a good relations with stan just by his visit to that land, stan is a tricky country you need to have innovative approach to tackle them. So request to all Indian is to ignore this journo and move ahead.
        Reply
        1. S
          Sreenivasan
          Jan 4, 2016 at 10:49 am
          Imagine what the culturally patriotic (after 1947) people would have said, if the incident had happened when somebody else was in power ?
          Reply
          1. G
            Gopal
            Jan 4, 2016 at 5:56 am
            Good analysis but it is a little hard to believe how incredibly pessimistic we are. Of course India faces issues as does stan. But ask yourself whose cards you would want to hold? stan is being left far behind economically. It faces a challenge on its eastern and western flanks. It faces an internal rebellion that is forcing the nation further backwards forcing further marginalization of its western elites. It is also facing a major religious schism between Shia and Sunni. It also faces a potion bomb and water shortage even worse than India. So let's get a little perspective here. We are far better placed than we were just a decade or two ago and the trend is in our favor. Of course we have challenges but whose cards do you want to hold?
            Reply
            1. S
              Sriniwasan
              Jan 4, 2016 at 4:39 am
              Indian writers including Praveen Swami has fantasized the stan Armies foolish capabilitydia has the ability to strike hard at stan but has been unwilling to act,due to domestic political constraints such as a divisive polity,large Muslim potion who can be easily swa as they are a vote bank for the Power hungry Hindu Politicians.Mody has the mandate and with the support of RSS/Armed Force,it is better to go for the kill regardless of the consequencedian Economic growth rate will halt in the short term but the long term benefits will be immense. It is time to call the stan's BLUFF
              Reply
              1. R
                Rajiv Verma
                Jan 4, 2016 at 7:06 am
                I wonder what would have the 0-IQ bhakts have said had there been some other PM in this situation! loool
                Reply
                1. R
                  Rajiv Verma
                  Jan 4, 2016 at 7:05 am
                  looool
                  Reply
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