The manner in which India and Pakistan move to orchestrate a thaw in their political standoff has become a template of sorts, as it is far too easy to predict which way the talks on any significant level will go. Talks at the National Security Advisor level were hyped up with hot air after the leaders of the two countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Ufa, Russia.
However, the build up to the talks that were slated to take place in Delhi this past Sunday was textbook to what has come to be expected from India and Pakistan, specifically on the two main issues of contention, Kashmir and terrorism. Prior to the Delhi talks, the usual jamboree in TV news channels on both sides of the border started as they dusted off their retired military generals from the mantle and placed them in the studios to recreate what can be best described as a vocal and visual Cirque du Soleil performance, but fit for a zoo. Noise over nuance always prevails in both countries as far as public discourse goes, and both governments play on this to ramp up their own political mileage.
In reality, the talks seemed doomed from the start when this summit was announced at Ufa. The reasons for this are varied, but largely rest on optics that both India and Pakistan have not been able to get past over the decades. While Pakistan’s policy on India is set by its most powerful entity of governance, the Army and its related wings such as its intelligence unit ISI, India’s ‘Pakistan policy’ is incapable of honing itself as doctrinal view towards its neighbour. The status quo between India and Pakistan transcend government changes in both countries; every new government in Delhi inherits the Pakistan question on almost the same levels and grounds as the previous one, and the one before that. The fact is that such a policy, as far as India is concerned, perhaps could not exist at all as a reaction to the way Pakistan conducts its matters regarding India. In an essay published in 1968, former American National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger described American foreign policy as “a series of moves that have produced a certain result”, and perhaps this vagueness is actually the best way to go for New Delhi as well as far as Pakistan is concerned. Kissinger in the same paper also noted that “the typical political leader of the contemporary managerial society is a man with a strong will, a high capacity to get himself elected, but no very great conception of what he is going to do when he gets into office”. This pathology report from the 60s may also perfectly describe Modi and Sharif as far as the evolution (or dissolution) of Indo – Pak relations go.
While Pakistan’s India policy comes from Rawalpindi, India at best reacts to events and manoeuvres of Pakistan. Perhaps it is not even possible to have a cohesive and rounded policy on Pakistan for India even as former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, tried a different approach of what his government liked to call engaging with ‘peace constituencies’ in the country. However, Singh’s policy was squashed somewhere in between unrealistic idealism and brutal realism, which saw his government in a significantly weaker position every time the Line of Control flared up.
The other reason why the NSA talks looked to be heading for an inconclusive end was the characteristics of the NSA’s of both countries themselves, Ajit Doval from India and Sartaj Aziz from Pakistan. Both Doval and Aziz are influential, arrogant and powerful while often lacking traits of diplomats. Doval often speaks with grandeur in situations where he should practice diplomatic restrain; Aziz leaves no stone unturned, specifically in the media, to tarnish India with vitriol at times so heavy that he reminds one of Iraq’s former information minister Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, who rose to fame for his absurdities in the media. Even if Doval and Aziz would have met, working on cues from their respective Prime Ministers, it is doubtful an impasse of any worth would have been achieved.
India’s long standing demand for Pakistan to give up the likes of Dawood Ibrahim and Hafiz Saeed
are justified, and perhaps if Islamabad caves on either one of these demands, some seriousness in bilateral talks can be achieved. However, it is also important to remember that gaining access to Dawood would be an event of gaining needed closure, and not a victory in any counter-terrorism strategy on Pakistan. As the deaths of Osama Bin laden and Mullah Omar have demonstrated the very hierarchical nature of terrorist organisations goes well beyond single entities. Dawood today is not the crown for India’s efforts to highlight state sponsored terrorism emitting from Pakistan, specifically in the international community.
Talks between India and Pakistan should be propped up and promoted, however they need to be seen as part of step-by-step engagement, and every dialogue process should be seen as a singular entity that perhaps could, in the future, be part of a somewhat rounded policy of engagement with Pakistan.