The problem of making peace

The peace process between India and Pakistan has ground to a halt, and perhaps the usual suspects are to be blamed. But it appears the exchange of allegations is more gesture than substance, and meant for domestic constituencies.

April 22, 2016 12:14 am | Updated 03:37 am IST

In the last few months, however, the India-Pakistan peace process has seen some uncharacteristically new aspects compared to the past, some quite bizarre and unexpected.

In the last few months, however, the India-Pakistan peace process has seen some uncharacteristically new aspects compared to the past, some quite bizarre and unexpected.

In days gone by, the explanations for > not having peace between India and Pakistan were far simpler to analyse, as it was to identify institutions on both sides of the border which were reluctant to engage in any process to overcome issues which have persisted for seven decades. On the Pakistani side, blame usually lay with the Pakistan ‘Establishment’, a pseudonym for the military and its many institutions, while on the Indian side, arguments ranged from Pakistan’s interference in Indian affairs and the support for militancy in India, as understood and articulated by the Indian Foreign and Home Ministries.

Janus-faced army

Many scholars of Pakistan’s military and political process have argued very extensively, and correctly, that the army justified its omnipresence in the country’s politics and military rule over many decades by making the claim that only it could defend Pakistan’s geographical and ideological foundations and borders. The ‘threat from India’ to undermine Pakistan’s existence has been the main excuse which has given, in the past, the moral justification (not that it ever needed one, really) for the Pakistan Army to claim an over-extended role in the country’s domestic and foreign polity. While this justification from the military has been challenged by scholars and the political class, it has held sway in the public sphere for some time now. Moreover, there have also been extensive allegations and claims, as well as evidence, by academics and scholars that Pakistan’s military and its many institutions have also, in the past, been active in promoting non-state actors to carry out insurgency and militancy outside of Pakistan’s geographical boundaries. Clearly, however one looks at it, for most of the past seven decades, with Pakistan’s military ruling and governing the country for most of this period, the anti-India position, and hence the absence of peace, from the Pakistani side at least, has revolved around apportioning blame on the army.

S. Akbar Zaidi

Long shadow of 26/11 The volte-face for General Musharraf, after having started the Kargil war, to making peace with India was a result of the changing geopolitics in the region which Pakistan was drawn into after 2001, a peace process which continued even after President Musharraf was replaced in September 2008 by a civilian, democratically elected President and government in Pakistan. However, all that changed after November 2008 when India held Pakistan responsible for instigating and carrying out the Mumbai attacks, and for protecting many of those who are said to have masterminded the attacks. All possibilities of any peace process came to an end after Mumbai, and if anything, there was real threat of retaliation by India and an all-out war against Pakistan.

The timing of the Mumbai attacks — November 2008 — offers an interesting juncture in both the position of the military in Pakistan and the peace process with India. From around May 2007, as General Musharraf’s position weakened in Pakistan, and as civilian and democratic forces gained greater confidence and strength, the relative position of the military in the political arena also weakened considerably. In fact, many scholars and analysts have argued that the period from around 2007-08 to the end of 2014 may have been one where Pakistan’s military was at its weakest in terms of determining the country’s domestic and foreign policies, with democratically elected civilian governments gaining the upper hand for the first time since the 1950s. Had the Mumbai attacks not happened, there was a growing belief that perhaps Pakistan might be able to build on peace efforts which were already underway since the mid-2000s, with the military not only relatively weak in the political sphere but also actively engaged against militants on the western borders and within the country. But Mumbai put an end to those prospects. Moreover, with Pakistan’s military back in a dominating position domestically after the >Peshawar school attacks of December 2014, if not a little earlier, in some ways, though not all, the peace process may be back to an earlier format.

Change in the script In the last few months, however, the India-Pakistan peace process has seen some uncharacteristically new aspects compared to the past, some quite bizarre and unexpected. The fact that a pigeon was claimed to be sent as a spying device by the Pakistani intelligence agency to India, and that an unmanned boat off the shores of Gujarat was thought to be a terrorist boat by the Indians, suggested a change in tactics by the Pakistanis. Moreover, the belligerent tone towards Pakistan shown by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for many months after his taking over seemed to have melted following his >unexpected visit to Lahore on Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s birthday in December 2015. On the Pakistani side, the capture and confession of an alleged >Research and Analysis Wing agent in Balochistan gave ample ‘proof’ to the Pakistani authorities who had been looking for such proof that India was actively engaged in acts of subversion in Pakistan. Yet, the response by >Pakistani authorities to help with the probe into the attack on the Pathankot airbase and the prompt interaction between the two National Security Advisers was also refreshing, given the manner in which the two sides have interacted in the past.

Such ambiguous and contradictory behaviour, by both parties, certainly complicates any evaluation of the peace process between India and Pakistan. Clearly, whatever the peace process may be between the two countries, it is not business as usual, certainly not the way it was undertaken in the distant past.

Even though the peace process between India and Pakistan seems to have come to a halt, and perhaps the usual suspects are to be blamed, one does get a sense that while there is no real peace between the two countries, the allegations at present are more gesture than substance, meant for domestic constituencies. Perhaps India perceives a change in approach from the Pakistani side — pigeons rather than terrorists — while Pakistan is trying to be more proactive, agreeing to jointly investigating attacks, quite unheard of in the past. Nevertheless, despite some wishful thinking on the part of those who hope for peace between India and Pakistan, one thing that much experience and countless events between the two countries in the past have shown is that we never know what the next surprise is going to be.

S. Akbar Zaidi is a political economist based in Karachi. He also teaches at Columbia University in New York, and at the IBA in Karachi.

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