Modi is not wrong in thinking Pakistan wants talks with India to earn global brownie points
Husain Haqqani, director for South and Central Asia at the Hudson Institute in Washington D.C./The Print
Modi feels he must compel Pakistan to change its behaviour instead of allowing it to claim parity with India with terrorism as a key tool.
The categorical denial by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs may have laid to rest rumours of a possible meeting between the prime ministers of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of a regional conference in Kyrgyzstan this weekend. Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have determined that talks for talks’ sake are meaningless as long as Pakistan refuses to change its view of its larger neighbour as a permanent enemy.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan continues to seek a meeting with his Indian counterpart, hoping to be seen by the world as a potential peacemaker. But the only people who might take his initiatives seriously belong to the Scarlett O’Hara School of International Relations. For those who might not understand that evergreen cultural reference, the heroine of Gone with the Wind famously believed that “Tomorrow is another day”.
But for most other observers, historical context matters, and past patterns of behaviour provide guidance to the likelihood of future success. Based on the history of India-Pakistan relations, Modi has good reason to think that Pakistan tends to engage in talks with India for global respectability, but its dominant military is unable to shed its ideological aversion to normal ties with India.
Between 1950 and December 2015, when Modi dropped in on then-Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore, leaders of the two countries have met 45 times. The peace process, which always starts with round of talks, has almost always ended with a military move by Pakistan aimed at securing advantage in Kashmir (such as the one that led to the 1965 war and the 1999 Kargil conflict) or a terrorist attack (such as the ones on Indian Parliament in 2001, in Mumbai in 2008, and at Pathankot in 2016).
This time, Pakistan faces isolation abroad and political unrest and economic crisis at home. Pakistan’s civil and military leaders seem to think that initiating a new round of talks with India will help their country. But India’s leaders believe they have understood the Pakistani playbook.The door to negotiations must never be considered permanently shut but nor should dialogue be an end in itself.One need not endorse Hindutva to recognise that Prime Minister Modi has been elected with an overwhelming mandate to build a militarily and economically more powerful India. If India is to project its power globally, it must manifest greater strength in its immediate neighbourhood. For that, Modi feels he must compel change of behaviour on part of Pakistan instead of allowing Pakistan to continue to claim parity with India with terrorism as a key tool.
Since its birth through the Partition of the subcontinent in 1947, Pakistan has emerged as an ideological state virtually controlled by its powerful military. The Pakistani military maintains supremacy in the country by encouraging a national ideology based on religious identity and antipathy towards India.
Pakistan inherited one-third of British India’s army, which had originally been raised for World War II. Unlike other armies, Pakistan’s military was not raised proportionately to an external threat. It needs a threat proportionate to its size to justify its claims on the meagre resources of a low-income country.
For that reason, India is described in textbooks as Pakistan’s eternal enemy and an ideological threat to its very survival. Until that changes, it is unlikely that Pakistan will give up the use of militants and terrorists to continue to stir trouble for India as a way of compensating for its smaller size in relation to India.
Like many neighbouring countries, India and Pakistan have disputes that need resolution. But Pakistan’s ideological orientation should not be ignored nor should the need of its dominant institution for permanent conflict. The history of Pakistan’s calls for talks when it is at a low point is telling.