Geo-Politics of the India-Pakistan dialogue

Posted in India , Pakistan | 09-Aug-10 | Author: Balaji Chandramohan

A zero-sum game may be explained as an interaction where one participant's gains result only from another's equivalent losses. In contemporary International Relations, the best example of a zero-sum interaction is between India and Pakistan. The high point of their troubled relations occurred in full view, at the press conference by both India and Pakistan's Foreign Ministers on July 16th in Islamabad: the latter's Foreign Minister Shah Mohammed Qureshi equated LET mentor Hafiz Sayeed's anti-India hate speeches to Indian Home Secretary G. K. Pillai's statement to the media that the ISI was involved in 26/11 Mumbai terror attack.

This is not new. Both India and Pakistan have had been exchanging barbs at regular intervals since their independence in 1947. But what's new is that Pakistan has started to behave like a 'Revisionist State' after a gap of nearly more than a decade. No prizes for guessing why Pakistan behaves as such, though it has been shown up to the whole world by Wikileaks. With the United States and other Western powers' failure in Afghanistan (which it planned), Pakistan as a nuclear power can act as both an inseparable twin and a big brother on its western border.

With this new assertiveness, Pakistan has probably returned to the era from the 1980s up to 2001, when it enjoyed the run of Afghanistan; allowing it to target its domestic audience with anti-Indian sentiment. The contract for this is handled by Pakistan's military which has a new chief: General Ashraf Kayani. General Kayani has recently seen his post extended for another three years beginning November 29, 2010. It's understood that General Kayani is a de facto power center in Pakistan, and he has started to dictate the terms of Pakistan's relations with India.

Pakistan's military will never allow India-Pakistan relations to warm up properly for the simple reason that it needs anti-Indian rhetoric to secure huge budget allocations. On the other hand, Pakistan is supervised only by active state apparatus; and no prizes for guessing that they are military.

India can laugh to itself, but may also be laughed at by others because of its incorrect policy towards Pakistan. The Indian foreign policy establishment under the aegis of Dr. Manmohan Singh thinks that it can 'engage' with Pakistan peacefully and use its new-found economic strength to venture into the outside world and project 'soft power'. Although after the Mumbai attacks the Indian establishment decided to snub Pakistan in any sort of bilateral talks, the ruling United Progressive Government's second term has been mostly occupied with the talks on Pakistan.

It's laughable because the Pakistani representatives keep changing. Not so long ago, India was engaging with someone from Pakistan wearing a military uniform who proceeded to don civilian clothes. His name was Pervez Musharraf. Now, the simple question is: where is he? (He is in self-imposed exile in London.)

Presently, India is dealing with an establishment in Pakistan returned to power from exile thanks to the death of its former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, herself an exile for 10 years. The joke doesn't stop here: five years from now India may be talking to the same General / President in exile now. This lack of coherence in the state of Pakistan is the central problem of India-Pakistan dialogue, and is amplified by the 'Great Game' going on in Pakistan.

How does all this compare with India, the world's largest democracy, playing host to a highly repressive authoritarian ruler, Myanmar's Senior General Than Shwe, head of Myanmar's military government? Or India warming up to the United Kingdom's new Prime Minister David Cameron recently? There's no zero-sum game in Indo-Myanmar or Anglo-Indian relations like that in Indo-Pak relations.

There's one surprise element which is rarely talked about in Indo-Pak dialogue: it's not Kashmir, but China. Pakistan's all-weather friendship with China means Pakistan can annoy India to suit its whims and fancies. There seems to be an understanding in China's establishment that India is an irritant as it rises to become an international power. To curtail India, China is following a 'balance of power' policy, providing impetus to Pakistan to bleed India. This can be done more without U.S. troops in Afghanistan. While India is actively occupied with Pakistan, China can extend its influence across Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Africa without competition.

Already, the signs are visible as India's Foreign Ministry is deeply embroiled in Pakistani sentiment. The whole world is laughing at India because the Indian strategic establishment, including PM Dr. Manmohan Singh, doesn't seem to understand this. Or if it understands, it is under pressure from the U.S. to engage with Pakistan so that Uncle Sam can win brownie points in Afghanistan. This web needs to be understood in the context of Indo-Pak relations.

What is the future? India can do very little as Pakistan expects to install the rule of its proxy in Afghanistan; U.S. troops have still failed to locate Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden nearly ten years after 9/11. This means that Pakistan and China, in the absence of the U.S., might start looking inwards - with Asia left under the leadership of Beijing and Pakistan breathing down India's neck.

It's this scenario that troubles the Indian leadership, which explainsit's the return to colonial roots: hugging the British Prime Minister who publicly condemned Pakistan for exporting terrorism across the border to India. Britain wants a role in the new Asian order, where it can work in the shadow of India. India is actively courting its former colonial master to muster support for a greater international role.

As the great American poet Mark Twain observed: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." Nothing illustrates this better than the current situation in South Asia, which resembles Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. The last thing the Indian leadership wants is to get involved in a summit or dialogue with Pakistan which would resemble the 1938 Munich Conference. This would mean India's Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh going down in history as another Neville Chamberlain. David Cameron advised the Indian Prime Minister on this; the British PM understands that it was the Munich Conference and the mindset of appeasement which finally ended the British Empire in India.