Three prime ministers in succession have tried to establish friendly relations with Pakistan. Atal Bihari Vajpayee broke the mould by taking a bus across to Lahore. He tried to charm our neighbour and there was hope that some sort of Samjhauta could be effected. Then Kargil happened and there was a feeling of betrayal. India’s nuclear test was matched by Pakistan. Pervez Musharraf seemed to be a good bet as someone to negotiate with. After all, power in Pakistan has oscillated over the years between civilian leaders and the Army. Musharraf combined the two and so could have delivered.
India invested a lot of time in Musharraf. Manmohan Singh was keen to solve the contentious issues — Kashmir and the rest — which stood in way of friendship. He too talked to Musharraf, but again he did not get the deal he would have wanted. He was punished for his goodwill by the terrorist attack on Mumbai on 26/11. We then knew that in Pakistan, there are three claimants to power — the civilians, the Army (ISI) and the jihadis.
Narendra Modi surprised everyone when three years ago, at the oath-taking ceremony of the Cabinet, he invited Nawaz Sharif along with the other neighbours and friends. He followed this up by his informal gesture of visiting Sharif on his birthday. Modi surprised those who had expected him to be belligerent with Pakistan. But he too has been presented with cross-border raids and infiltration across the LoC. There is now another dead end in the long saga of trying to be friendly with Pakistan.
India and Pakistan have been in a Cold War situation for the 70 years since Independence. In 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999 India repulsed Pakistani attacks. The 1971 defeat was total and it dismembered Pakistan. In Kargil, despite the nasty surprise, the Indian Army fought and threw back the Pakistani army, though after immense sacrifice of our jawans. It settled for the foreseeable future in Pakistan’s mind that it did not have the strength to defeat the Indian Army. Pakistan also knows that the international community does not accept its claim to Kashmir.
That realisation has caused a deep psychological crisis in Pakistan. When they lost in 1971, Pakistanis described it as the first defeat of a Muslim army by a Hindu army ever. They were wrong of course. The Army which defeated the Pakistani army was not a Hindu army but an Indian army. History is also replete with many battles in which Hindu kings won against Muslim kings. Even so, the false history that the Pakistan army subscribed to made its defeat more hurtful.
After the1999 defeat, the Pakistani army developed its jihadi force. Even in cross-border raids the regular army behaves like a guerrilla army. This is a confession of weakness. But even so, it costs Indian lives. India made a surgical strike but the attacks keep recurring.
The dilemma is acute for India. It is too risky to have an open war with Pakistan even if India will win. The nuclear capability of both sides discourages an open war. There has been no war between countries with nuclear powers. Use of nuclear weapon by either country will kill millions on both sides. Best to continue but without hope with the Cold War.