“The invasion of Kashmir”, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in 1947, as Pakistani irregulars and soldiers raced past Baramulla towards Srinagar, “is not an accidental affair resulting from the fanaticism or exuberance of the tribesmen, but a well organised business with the backing of the state”. “We have in effect”, he went on, “to deal with a state carrying out an informal war, but nonetheless a war”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif in Ufa—coming as it does at the end of a tumultuous year that’s seen massive fire exchanges on the India-Pakistan frontier in Kashmir, breakdowns of talks, and Ministers pretty much threatening war—demonstrates that almost seventy years on, Indian leaders just haven’t figured out what to do with our western neighbour.
The gains from the Modi-Nawaz meeting are being loudly advertised by government spokespersons: the promise to talk about how to expedite the 26/11 trial, work on counter-terrorism cooperation, and facilitate people-to-people contact. There isn’t a single word in the India-Pakistan joint statement with a capital K—let alone a reference to Kashmir.
Each of these promises, though, are cut-paste jobs from past declarations. Even as late as July 1, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj insisted there would be no talks until Pakistan jailed 26/11 perpetrator Zaki-ur-Rahman: “If Lakhvi remains outside and he remains free and Pakistan thinks we will speak, will India ever accept that?” The real question is why a Prime Minister who promised voters to “talk to Pakistan in Pakistan’s language because it won’t learn lessons until then” took this course.
For an understanding of the Prime Minister’s dilemma, it’s useful to place it in context.
Following the 26/11 crisis, relations between the two countries came to a grinding halt. External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid publicly linked future dialogue to “being satisfied [on] accountability on the Mumbai outrage” and “specific expectations that we have about dismantling of terrorist infrastructure in Pakistan”.
In the summer of 2013, when Sharif took office, he appeared to open the door for rapprochement. He promised to “make sure that the Pakistani soil is not used for any such [terrorist] designs against India”, examine Inter Services Intelligence involvement in 26/11, and promised full disclosure on Kargil.
Less than six months on, though, Sharif made an anodyne speech at the United Nations, where he said nothing on terrorism—bar some anodyne references to Pakistan’s commitment to end terrorism. He, moreover, reverted back to old polemic on Kashmir, calling on “the international community to give an opportunity to the Kashmiris to decide their future”.
This is, parenthetically, a leitmotif of Pakistani official polemic for decades: in 1950, governor-general Khwaja Nazimuddin had provided the cut-and-paste text for countless subsequent speeches, saying “Pakistan would remain incomplete until the whole of Kashmir is liberated”.
Prime Minister Singh’s decision to meet with Sharif none the less spoke of desperation. In 2003, military ruler General Pervez Musharraf famously dropped Pakistan’s calls for a plebiscite in Kashmir. “We are for United Nations Security Council Resolutions [on Kashmir]” he said. “However, now we have left that aside.” “If we want to resolve this issue, both sides need to talk to each other with flexibility, coming beyond stated positions, meeting halfway somewhere”.
Later, president Asif Ali Zardari told CNN-IBN’s Karan Thapar that a solution to Kashmir could be left to “coming generations”. In another interview, he even called the jihadists in Kashmir “terrorists”.
The new thinking on Kashmir shaped Prime Minister Singh’s Pakistan policy. From mid-2002, an extraordinary series of secret meetings and contacts began to explore how future crisis might be averted. From unsigned notes revealed in 2009, it is known the two governments were contemplating a four point deal: the transformation of the Line of Control into a border; free movement across the LoC; greater federal autonomy for both sides of Jammu and Kashmir; and gradually-phased cutbacks of troops as jihadist violence declined.
Following 9/11, the scholar Syed Rifaat Husain has pointed out in a thoughtful paper, the United States pressured Pakistan to scale back the jihad in Jammu and Kashmir. Inside Pakistan, jihadist violence spiraled, and the economy tanked.
Lieutenant-General Moinuddin Haider, General Pervez Musharraf’s interior minister, told his boss: “Mr President, your economic plan will not work, people will not invest, if you don’t get rid of extremists”.
Even as the deal was being finalised, though, Musharraf was swept out of power—and 26/11 transfigured the diplomatic landscape. Pakistan’s new de-facto ruler, General Pervez Ashfaq Kayani, rolled back Musharraf’s accommodationist policies, seeking instead a rapprochement with jihadis.
In the wake of 26/11, Pakistan’s permanent representative at the United Nations had told the Security Council of “Pakistan’s determination to take action and not to allow its territory to be used for terrorism”. Indeed, Haroon went on, Pakistan “on receiving communication from the Security Council shall proscribe the JUD [Lashkar’s parent organisation, Jama’at-ud-Dawa]”.
The Lashkar disdainfully snorted, demanding for the release of its leader, indicted 26/11 architect Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, and promising to continue its “movement for the defence of Pakistan and the hatred for India among people”.
Now, Prime Minister Modi has had to watch 26/11 perpetrator Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi walk out of prison—and the country’s interior minister flatly say they will not ban the Jama’at-ud-Dawa
General Kayani himself, in speech delivered in 2010, endorsed the jihadi project, saying “There is no greater honour than martyrdom nor any aspiration greater than it”. “The army is the nation”, he concluded, “and the nation is the army”.
Ever since Sharif came to power, Pakistan’s generals have pushed this line ever-harder—blaming India for the jihadist violence that is tearing apart their country, and stepping up the polemic on Kashmir. General Kayani himself, in speech delivered in 2010, endorsed the jihadi project, saying ““There is no greater honour than martyrdom nor any aspiration greater than it”. “The army is the nation”, he concluded, “and the nation is the army”.
Through his years in office, Prime Minister Singh rolled with the punches—seeing dialogue with Pakistan as a measure to avoid lurching into a military crisis when things went wrong.
From aides, we know the Prime Minister contemplated military options after 26/11—but backed down when he realised the Indian military had none on hand could guarantee military success while at once not spiraling out of hand.
His advisers understood that Pakistan’s generals would continue with the informal War—but also saw India’s overarching strategic objective, high economic growth, would be derailed by a crisis.Prime Minister Modi came to the same conclusion in March, when he dispatched Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar to Pakistan. The terms of a renewed dialogue—more narrowly focused on security, without the grand political negotiation on Kashmir at the core of the earlier, Composite Dialogue process—were agreed on. In return, Pakistan got talks—not important in themselves, but as a guarantee India was not planning to punish future acts of terrorism by going to war.
In addition, India has post-dated cheques from the western powers, in the form of promises to facilitate membership of the United Nations Security Council, in return for crisis-avoiding behaviour in the region. Talking is a process, not an outcome—and New Delhi needs to think harder about the outcomes it seems, and how to get them.
The problem with this arrangement is that it isn’t sustainable. From 26/11 on, international pressure on Pakistan has ensured its scaled back on support for anti-India violence by jihadists, even reining-in the Indian Mujahideen. It has, however, done nothing to actually dismantle the capacity of anti-India jihadists to strike—which means the sword can be unsheathed at any time.
In addition, the dialogue process gives Pakistan’s generals a free pass to pursue offensive strategies against India—while New Delhi keeps talking to political leaders with grand visions of peace, but no muscle to realise them. India has plenty of carrots to hand out, but no stick.
“The last argument is the sword”, said Nurul Amin, chief minister of East Pakistan in 1950. He might or might not have been right. But if there’s one lesson India ought have learned from this last decade, it’s this: talking peace is that much more persuasive when your enemies know you have a sharp blade handy.