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?

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.

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.

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  1. A
    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.
    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.
      1. H
        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.
        1. S
          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 ?
          1. G
            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?
            1. S
              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
              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
                1. R
                  Rajiv Verma
                  Jan 4, 2016 at 7:05 am
                  1. S
                    Jan 4, 2016 at 9:36 am
                    dismembering of stan through proactive support for insurgencies in the provinces should be the overriding objective of Indian state policy.
                    1. I
                      Jan 4, 2016 at 8:30 am
                      Then only language stan would understand is terrorism - give them a taste of their own medicine ! We need to develop strategic ets within stan - the w works - sleeper cells, suicide bombers with handlers operating from within India. What would really get them to stop terrorizing our country is another Peshawar style attack - kill a couple of hundred school kids (we would be doing the world a favor - they are future jihadists anyway), and this time CELEBRATE the event, rather than empathize with them, like we did about an year ago.
                      1. K
                        kulaputra kulaputra
                        Jan 4, 2016 at 7:14 am
                        Dont give stan too much importance. Get on with life, If they attack, we attack. Who cares about stan. We care about ourselves. There are enough problems we have already
                        1. M
                          Jan 4, 2016 at 4:00 pm
                          What this article concludes is -- because of long neglect by the CONgis during their 50 years of direct rule and about 10 years via propped up governments -- the abilities of our fighting units have NOT been upgraded periodically to meet emerging challenges
                          1. P
                            Jan 4, 2016 at 4:34 am
                            Foreign policy of blow hot and blow cold does not serve any purpose as far as India -stan's relation is concerned. We ought to ultera cautious and tactful at the best as turmoiled history suggests that stakes are too high for both countries. First of all we must establish ourselves as economic super power to deal such geopolitical problem of south Asia.
                            1. V
                              Vaithianathan Ponnusamy
                              Jan 4, 2016 at 11:02 am
                              YOU HAVE HIT NAIL HARD.WILL THEY WAKE UP?
                              1. R
                                Jan 4, 2016 at 3:46 am
                                stan have majority stani in their country. They do not have SICKULIARS who jam their country after the killing or hanging of any Mohamed , Ishaq , Khan or Abdullah .They have hanged 300 in last year and thousand murdered by their army @ the name of Zarb-i-Azab no protest by SIKULIARS like Farooqs and Ghulam Azad . WE have more traitors than patriotic in this country.All Congis were protesting to save their mother Sonia no rally to save Mother India
                                1. R
                                  Jan 4, 2016 at 6:33 am
                                  India's refusal to retaliate for past actions of the stani army, including 26/11, is clearly the reason why the Pak army feels emboldened to organise attacks like the one at Pathankot. India should retaliate by saying it will support the rights of all groups opposed to the stanis like the MQM, Baluchis and POK. India has long tried the peace route without any dividends. Let us try to break up stan into several smaller states so that we have some leverage in dealing with the world's largest terrorist organisation - the stani army.
                                  1. R
                                    Rohit Chandavarker
                                    Jan 4, 2016 at 5:20 am
                                    The Chinese master strategist, Sun Tzu wrote, " the art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting". He also wrote, " appear weak when you are strong and strong when you are weak". Our NSA Doval stated not too long ago that India has long punched below its weight and needs to punch optimal to its weight if not more. Going by these gems, India could continue talks mechanically. Talks for talks sake. At the same time, we need to raise the costs on the stani army gradually but consistently. India has multiple levers and should shed its pusillanimity. The stani establishment has made it de rigeur to blame India of fomenting trouble within stan. Its high time we escalated this belief into reality. The Baloch people look up to India for support and India ought to reciprocate meaningfully. The Altaf Hussain led MQM is another outfit that requires support in its struggle and India could well activate its interest. The situation in PoK is grim and it is in India's interest to create conditions wherein the stan army gets bogged down in managing affairs in PoK. Additionally the Baltistan region is fertile for India to show interest. NSA Doval is scheduled to visit China. He could use the opportunity to apprise his interlocutors of the imminent dangers posed by their closeness to stan. The Uighurs in Xinjiang receive support from elements in stan and would pose a clear and present danger to the remote province of China. stan has received istance from US, Saudi Arabia UAE, Turkey and China, to name a few important nations. The US has increasingly become wary of stan as also UAE. Turkey is mired in major regional issues and would find little time to engage with stan. The major benefactor, Saudi Arabia is grappling with dwindling revenues due to record low oil prices and would hardly be in a position to splurge its petro dollars on Islamabad like before. It announced a near 90 billion dollars budget deficit thereby indicating its precarious financial position. Saudis are embroiled in their war in Yemen and would be hamstrung to satisfy Islamabad's request for alms. That leaves China, its all weather ally. These measures require no active Indian involvement and no shedding of Indian blood. The Indus waters treaty is a matter of dispute even though the issue was settled. India could use its leverage to good use to bring the stan army to see reason. It would be interesting to see what the powers that be decide onthe future course of action.
                                    1. S
                                      Jan 4, 2016 at 11:03 am
                                      This is our biggest failures of not finding ways to impose costs on stan, Modi too have failed
                                      1. U
                                        Jan 4, 2016 at 9:48 am
                                        Your minority brotherhood or world rules the Islamic Republic of stan! Indian police is the product of Indian society. India was a 1000 years colonized country! Now India is a confused country with confused potion. stan tilt Kisinger once said that stan will be there for long time! Imagine Mr. P. Swami as commander in chief of India ! Indian media itself treats people less that includes now PM!
                                        1. S
                                          Jan 4, 2016 at 3:41 am
                                          So what is the point ? Cut off diplomatic relations with stan and advise the international community that you are dealing with a rogue Army with nuclear weapons.
                                          1. S
                                            Skumar Singh
                                            Jan 4, 2016 at 12:53 pm
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