“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
― George Bernard Shaw
US’ global dominance is no longer uncontested. Geopolitical rivalries are intensifying: whether it is US retreat from direct confrontation in Syria last year; Russia seizing Crimea; China asserting its influence in the East and South China Sea, or the ISIL making rapid advances in Iraq. So will the US’ global sway be imperilled?
US recognises that if it has to preserve its global primacy, it has to maintain a geopolitical balance in Eurasia, and for doing so it has not only to continue and strengthen the NATO and the American – European ties. But more importantly the US has to expand and intensify its role in Asia-Pacific, this implies shifting more resources to this region and reducing foot print in our Western neighbourhood.
Post 09/11, US’ geopolitical imperatives in our region in the wake of Afghan war required that Indo-Pak tensions be moderated so that Pakistan military could fully contribute to the US war effort without any distraction from the East. Thus India came to rely heavily on its relationship with US to ensure stability in the region.
However with the imminent shift in US objectives, India will have to revisit its neighbourhood policy, and to come up with novel ways of dealing with the emerging realities.
India Pakistan in the shadow of US
Indo US relations have been lukewarm during majority of years since India’s independence. The cold war overhang specifically aggravated mutual suspicions. US always remained concerned about the nuclear programmes of India and Pakistan, this saw a series of technological embargoes and economic sanctions imposed from time to time.
Ironically all of this was to change following India’s nuclear tests in 1998. US realised that nuanced approach as opposed to direct opposition, would be more effective in addressing its nuclear proliferation concerns. This new thinking coupled with Chinese resurgence, compelled US to revisit its perspective of India. Therefore Post Pokhran saw a flurry of US diplomatic activity, thus enabling US to even play a vital role in deescalating the Kargil conflict. This was soon followed by the visit of Bill Clinton, in March 2000. Thus began an era of Indo US strategic relations which primarily lead to close military cooperation between the two countries, and the civilian nuclear deal in 2005.
US invasion of Afghanistan, following 09/11, required Pakistan’s military support for its war efforts in particular, and war on terror in general. US expected Pakistan’s military deployments on its western borders to supplement US operations against Taliban in Afghanistan, this implied that Pakistan’s military obligations from its borders with India were relieved. This was possible only if tensions between India and Pakistan were effectively lowered, and here enters the US diplomacy. The reach and potency of US diplomacy is aptly described by the veteran author A.G. Noorani’s assertion, when he says that even Mr. Vajpayee’s remark in Srinagar, on April 18, 2003, that Kashmir should be solved within the framework of humanity (insaniyat ke daire mein ) can be traced to the script written in the U.S. He goes on to state that : “The Joint Statement issued by the U.S. Secretary, Colin Powell, and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on March 27, 2003, prescribed a detailed procedure which India and Pakistan quietly followed — “Both sides should consider immediately implementing a ceasefire and taking other active steps to reduce tensions including moves within the SAARC context.” They knew its next summit was due in Pakistan. Sure enough, on November 25, 2003, a ceasefire was declared in J&K and Mr Vajpayee attended the SAARC summit in Islamabad in January 2004.”
The ceasefire on the LOC was by and large maintained, of course the onset of 2013 has seen significant spurt in ceasefire violations.
The active US engagement also came with a restraint imposed on India, as was evidenced in absence of any military element in India’s response to the grave provocation in the form of Mumbai attack in November 2008.
Pakistan on its part had to turn off the tap of the terror flow into India, so the groups, primarily comprising of loose network of militant groups of South Punjab (also referred as Punjabi Taliban) had to be restrained. This had unintended consequences for Pakistan, as most of the Punjabi Taliban groups moved towards Waziristan and Afghanistan and joined forces with TTP (Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan), which is closely associated with Al-Qaeda. The TTP poses existential threats to Pakistan, and aims at formation of state based on its interpretation of Shariah.
TTP’s genesis can be traced to start of Pakistani military operations, in 2002, in its tribal areas to counter the foreign militants escaping the US military pressure in Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda had nurtured TTP primarily for the Afghan resistance, but it more and more employed TTP to combat the Pakistan’s military support to the US. The TTP turned ferociously on Pakistan, and Punjabi Taliban joining the TTP has substantially increased their fire power in Punjab – forcing Gen Kayani to acknowledge that internal threat were greater than any external one. Nawaz Sharif unsuccessfully attempted peace process with TTP. However following the Karachi airport attack by TTP on June 8, Pakistan Army has launched a military operation Zarb-e-Azb, in North Waziristan.
This operation does not signify any shift in ISI’s policy of using non state actors against India, as the operation does not entail any actions against India centric groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, so any celebrations in India are unwarranted. On the contrary, in order to relieve the pressure of Pakistan Army, TTP might be tempted to create trouble in India, so that Pakistan’s eastern borders heat up, thus distracting the military’s focus.
Shift in US policy and India
In the fall of 2011 Obama administration announced its policy of “pivot to Asia” or rebalancing in Asia. This will be characterised by a shift away from Bush’s policy of heavy military interventions, and the large troop deployments in the Middle East and Afghanistan will be ending, however the Pacific theatre will be hosting 60% of US naval and air assets by 2020. The rethink of strategy arises primarily from the urgency to effectively counter the perceived threat from militarily and economically resurgent China. Of course US will still be courting India for military cooperation in countering maritime tensions arising in the East and South China Sea.
The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan will be completed by the year end; leaving behind only residual troops until 2016. US will need Pakistan Army’s support for stabilising Afghanistan. It is believed that Pakistan could have played a role in release of US army Corporal Bergdahl, as he was held by Haqqani network that maintains close links to ISI. Signs of coming closer of Pak Army and US are also visible in the recent deliveries of F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan by Jordan.
There was a lull in the drone attacks by US in Pakistan’s tribal areas, as long as the talks with TTP were on, now there has been resumption of these attacks, this also points to some sort of coordination. The importance of Pakistan Army in the US scheme of things is also underlined by US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit to GHQ, Rawalpindi to meet Gen Raheel Sharif, in last December.
It is evident that US geostrategic imperatives in South Asia no longer offer incentives enough to get actively involved in maintaining peace in South Asia, as it had been doing for over a decade. Rather the imminent requirements in Afghanistan might produce a tilt in favour of Pakistan.
Therefore the peace dividends on our western borders will not only be diminishing, but we might see a relapse. So it will be prudent to revisit our reliance on US to maintain stability in the region. Although India will still need robust cooperation with US in order to ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons do not fall into wrong hands, given the slippery slope Pakistan is in right now.
So, what is to be done?
India has to adopt a two pronged approach to address the vacuum that will be created by the transition of US foreign policy objectives. India has to evolve unorthodox methods of dealing with Pakistan. India needs to give an impetus to regional efforts in stabilising its immediate neighbourhood.
We keep on harping on the fact that there is a duality of authority in Pakistan and the handling of relations with India remains in the domain of the Army. The limitations of civilian leadership are evident to everyone, and therefore highlighting the fault lines between the Civilian and the Military leadership is not only futile, but dangerous because it further accentuates suspicions when Civilian leaders try to take initiatives. Past stands witness to this syndrome – when the bus journey to Lahore eventually ended in Kargil.
Keeping the spectre of Indian threat alive is the raison d’être of Army’s central role in the polity of the Pakistan. Moreover military firmly believes that Civilian leadership is incompetent to safeguard Pakistan’s strategic interests, therefore keeps control over domains of national security, and foreign policy specifically relations with India.
We cannot change the Power matrix of Pakistan, but can’t we adapt our response?
Why Indian Military cannot directly engage the Pakistan Army, and conduct talks on all geopolitical issues such as Siachin, Sir Creek, infiltration of militants and the situation in Afghanistan?. The military diplomacy could be dovetailed into the peace process. We can take cue from US, as Pentagon is allowed to play an active role in its engagements with Pakistan.
This will enable discussions with the real decision makers in a militarily comprehensible language of power asymmetries, and threat perceptions. Direct communication will offer an opportunity to assess the strategic intents of each other, and could aid in lowering distrust and possibilities of miscalculation.
The religious basis of Pakistan’s formation fosters the idea that the Army is also the defender of “Fortress of Islam”, and a component of the Army adheres to such beliefs and this renders legitimacy to the dalliances of Army with the Islamist forces.
The military to military exchanges will give Indian military leadership an opportunity to effectively project its profoundly secular ethos, and apolitical character thus dispelling the anti-Muslim perception of India amongst the average Pakistani officer, and could aid attracting the Pakistan Army’s conservative element towards modern geopolitical objectives of Army, and away from orthodox influences.
Furthermore, India needs to draw a perspective of security matrix rooted in the regional realities, and endeavour to forge regional alliances based on perception of common threats.
China faces serious challenge in Xinjiang from East Turkestan Islamic movement (ETIM) and has often blamed Pakistan of hosting camps for ETIM militants. Even during the recent Gen Rahil Sharif to China, China raised serious concerns over infiltration of Uighur militants from Pakistan.
Russia is fighting Chechen militants, whose leadership is believed to be trained in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A recent report of ABC news said “Chechens were serving as trainers and combatants crossing from Pakistan ….…”
Iran is grappling with the problem of Jundallah, a militant organisation operating from Baluchistan. Iran has often accused the ISI of its complicity in aiding Jundullah.
All the major countries in India’s extended neighbourhood are bearing the brunt of the terror groups that have links to AfPak region. Pakistan’s entanglements with extra regional power that are sustained with reliance on militant Islam have not only pushed it to the brink of collapse, but also threaten to suck the entire region into chaos. India needs to strive, perhaps under the framework of SCO, to persuade Pakistan to refrain from utilising militants as strategic assets and cooperate for regional stabilisation. India can join forces with China and Iran for greater economic integration of the region. Vibrant economy can offer the strongest antidote to the terrorism.
Over the long run in order to rework the perspective that exists amongst people, India could propose a common text book project. The Project should go into the contents of history text books of both Countries, and the final outcome of the Project could be common text books that could be incorporated into the curricula of universities. Common text books can profoundly reform our opinions, demolish the stereotypes, and provide a framework for believing in a shared future.
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