Prime Minister Narendra Modi thinks out of the box. He showed this in inviting his counterparts from the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to his swearing-in. In his meetings with them, however, going by what was reported, he toed the standard line, which, on issues new to him, was both understandable and prudent. As he moves forward, though, he should review received wisdom on our neighbours, above all on Pakistan.
If the Foreign Secretaries meet only to talk about talks, they will simply mark time. We want satisfaction on terrorism before we talk on other issues, though Nawaz Sharif has made clear that Pakistan wants a dialogue that is comprehensive, even if not “composite”. There is a huge irony in this, because in the sincerest form of flattery, Pakistan has embraced our traditional position and we have appropriated theirs. For over two decades after 1971, we urged Pakistan to discuss all issues with us, while it refused without satisfaction on Kashmir. We argued that it was absurd to reduce relations between neighbours to a single issue, no matter how important, and took it as a triumph when Pakistan eventually agreed to what we dubbed the “composite dialogue”. Bizarrely, we have now disowned what we conceived and Pakistan has adopted the foundling, but as we reduce ourselves to a single issue — terrorism — we give Pakistan the excuse to revert to its own one-child policy — Kashmir.
Settlement on Kashmir
For over a decade now, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has used terrorism against India for two entirely different purposes.
The first is to derail any initiative that might lead to the peace that they dread; the attack on our Embassy in Kabul in 2008, on Mumbai later that year, on the Consulate in Herat before Mr. Sharif flew in for the inauguration, were all launched to make it hard for any Indian government to reach out to Pakistan.
The second is to derail India’s growth by targeting the cities and centres that fuel it because an economically strong India would be militarily more powerful, increasing the asymmetry with Pakistan.
Therefore, a settlement of Kashmir will not necessarily mean the end of terrorism. In fact, if Mr. Modi takes India back to pre-2009 rates of growth, terror, driven by envy, will return unless Pakistan’s civilian government gets and is given the strength to stop it. Nothing will boost its standing more than an honourable settlement on Kashmir. Such a settlement would bring the prolonged misery of the Kashmiris to an end, and is therefore as much in our interest. Assuming that it will take a couple of years for our growth to resume, there is a window of opportunity now to move forward. It is also a window that might close, for other reasons, around the same time.
From later this year, as the U.S. abandons Afghanistan, the Pakistan Army will use all its energies to get its proxies into Kabul. Over the next two years, hordes of young Pakistanis will be sent off to fight a jihad there. It is unlikely that the regime in Kabul can hold out after the last U.S. troops leave in 2016. From 2016, battle-hardened Pakistani jihadi s will be in surplus to requirements in Afghanistan, and will start returning home, where neither the government nor the Army will want them, fearing that they will be the next targets. Their ISI handlers will have every incentive to send them eastwards, as they did after the Taliban takeover in the 1990s. Terrorism from Pakistan will spurt again, with the potential to disrupt relations, unless the two governments already have in place understandings that will give the government in Islamabad every incentive, and the leverage, to rein the ISI in.
We should therefore try to resolve problems now, starting with Kashmir, on which there is nothing left to negotiate. Over several years, very skilful interlocutors in the back channel have negotiated an agreement that represents the maximum that either country can concede.
Both Prime Ministers have inherited a draft which their opponents cannot object to or undermine. In Pakistan, Mr. Sharif can point out that the draft was negotiated entirely under the supervision of General Musharraf; the Corps Commanders and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, then DG (ISI), were briefed on the broad outlines and concurred. Since the Pakistan Army claims to be the custodian of Pakistan’s security, this cannot be an agreement that in any way harms its interests.
Mr. Modi has the same safety net. This is a draft negotiated entirely by the last regime. Sanjaya Baru writes in his book that on the nuclear agreement, Dr .Manmohan Singh told former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that he had simply completed what his predecessor had started. On Kashmir, Mr. Modi can say as much to Dr. Singh. The Congress can hardly disown its own Prime Minister’s handiwork, while other parties have no reason to be disruptive. A historic agreement can and should be sealed.
The Prime Minister will be counselled that it is best to move slowly, plucking the low-hanging fruit first. This is unwise. Gradualism does not work with Pakistan, because those who fear peace stymie it. Every tentative step will have a hurdle placed before it, usually of bodies killed by terrorists, and we will stop. The only way to defeat this easy subversion is to clear away the problems between us in one fell swoop. This means that we should settle Siachen and Sir Creek as well.
On both, settlements are feasible, and in our interest. On Siachen, our army now claims a strategic advantage in staying on the Saltoro Ridge, since it is a salient between Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the Shaksgam Valley, which Pakistan ceded to China.
In this day and age, there are enough means to monitor the large-scale movement of troops over difficult terrain which would be essential if Pakistan tried to reoccupy the glacier or the ridge.
Human, economic benefits Sir Creek is even more easily settled, since we now have agreed maps, jointly drawn up. Political decisions are needed on the concessions each side is prepared to make on the final alignment, which will in turn determine the shape of the maritime boundary. Settling that would bring us two important benefits, one human, the other economic: firstly, our fishermen, all from Prime Minister Modi’s State, who stray over a notional boundary, would have a clear idea of what is off bounds; the numbers rotting away in Pakistani jails would plummet. The economic gain would be that with the maritime boundary settled, the claim we have lodged with the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf would be much more easily accepted. Pakistan does not have the financial or technological means to explore the shelf and the seabed, but we do.
Finalising India’s offers on Siachen and Sir Creek should be part of the agenda for the first 100 days that Prime Minister Modi has asked for. On Kashmir, it is entirely his call. If these three issues are resolved, as they can easily be, Pakistan will have no excuse to drag its feet on any other bilateral issue. The Pakistan Army’s refuseniks will still oppose peace, but will find it increasingly hard to get its citizens to believe that India is an enemy, against which terror can be let loose.
(Satyabrata Pal is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)