Pakistan-India relations received a major setback after the Pathankot incident for which India blamed the Jaish-e-Mohammad to be the prime suspect for the attack. Narendra Modi, in a recent interview, remarked that talks between the two countries would remain suspended until there is progress from Pakistan on taking action against those responsible for the terrorist attack. No incendiary rhetoric followed the episode and India showed maturity to that extent. Pakistan, by registering the FIR against unknown persons, demonstrated its commitment to investigate and cooperate with Indian authorities.
Investigations, however, have slowed down as Pakistan claims that the mobile numbers provided by India, only one was active and they are investigating the others. At least this is the information made public. We do not know what else has transpired between the national security advisers (NSAs). Apparently, the two NSAs have been meeting but it is deliberately kept secret. A team from Pakistan plans to visit India to obtain further evidence to proceed against those responsible for the attack. If true, it shows both sides want to remain engaged and this gives a modicum of hope.
Mirroring a similar pattern, India is taking too long in acting against those who are supposed to have masterminded the terrorist attack on Samjhota Express. The absence of concrete evidence that could be admissible in Indian courts is cited to justify the inordinate delay in pursuing terrorist-related incidents. Acceptance of any terrorist activity allegedly sponsored from across the border is considered to be the same as surrendering to the enemy country. Following up on such cross-border crimes with diligence is considered by both countries as capitulation and politics takes precedence over international and national legal obligations. The clear beneficiary of this vacillation is of course the militant group that gets away with murder. Pressure groups like Shiv Sena in India and the extreme rightist groups may be a small minority but exercise proportionally a much greater influence in such matters.
Similarly, in Pakistan one gets an impression as though some militant organisations have a veto and can conveniently operate independent of the state. This is not to overlook that Pakistan has its priorities in dealing with its internal threat. The most potent challenge is the TTP and the LeJ and it is heavily engaged with them and has made sufficient progress. In its sequencing it will probably take on the LeT and the Jaish. But in the meantime, it needs to keep a tight control over their activities lest they derail the peace process, harm Pakistan’s national interest and give India and the West an opportunity to unleash their propaganda. There is so much weight given to these elements in both countries, that saner voices remain subdued.
Regrettably, instead of pragmatism and the prioritising of the interests of citizens, a combination of a false sense of nationalism and dogged obstinacy is driving Pakistan-India relations. The question is what will make these countries alter this behaviour. Can foreign pressure, a civil-society movement, media campaign or another major skirmish (if not war) bring about this change? None of these options seem plausible at least as of now. The Indian press and electronic media are very hawkish and their role, fairly negative. Some segments of the press and TV in Pakistan are no less hostile and feed on the negative sentiments of the public. A greater interaction between them and opening each other’s channels would clearly help in modulating their tempers. Failing which, business as usual is likely to continue.
Pakistan has been insisting on the withdrawal from forward positions in Siachen. The Indian military’s reluctance and even outright rejection seems odd considering the harsh conditions and casualties that keep occurring. If an agreement acceptable to both sides is reached and complied with, then India need not fear any party violating the undertaking. More importantly, a resolution of the Siachen issue will have a major symbolic value and perhaps incentivise India and Pakistan to move on other perennial issues. Improvement in relations between the two countries should also have a stabilising influence on Afghanistan.
India’s major campaign in the US Congress to block the sale of a meagre eight F-16s demonstrates how far it can go to let down Pakistan. Ironically, it comes at a time when both sides are supposedly engaged in repairing the relationship. What is conveniently ignored is how minuscule this deal is in comparison to India’s own weapons and equipment acquisitions. PM Modi during his visit to France last year had signed an agreement to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets for over $6 billion. He has also finalised defence deals worth $4.7 billion in Boeing spy planes with the US.
India, to justify these purchases, takes the plea that its military has to cater against China as well as Pakistan. But the reality is that over 70 per cent of its military assets are directed towards the Pakistani border. These protests are a reminder that New Delhi, under the cover of using China as its strategic rival, can have easy access to the latest and most sophisticated weaponry from the US, Europe and Russia. But when Pakistan justifiably purchases few F-16s, essentially to use its precision-firing platforms to combat terrorists, it must remonstrate.
The Indian foreign lobby has a major partner in the global defence industrial complex. With the fastest growing economy and major arms procurement, budget congressmen, senators and parliamentarians of the industrialised world develop a vested interest in supporting Indian purchases.
Washington is aware that there will be no adverse consequences on Indian security from this deal. Irrespective of India’s perceived concerns, the US in its own interest is likely to maintain a positive relationship with Pakistan. Moreover, for American firms business comes first. In any case, the protest is frivolous as Lockheed and Boeing have been only too keen to sell F-16 and F-18, but India preferred the Rafale.
With these contradictory signals emanating from India, it is too early to assess how far the two countries can move towards developing a mature relationship.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2016.