JournalismPakistan.com November 13, 2013
They did it again. In the still hot debris of the death by ambush of five Indian soldiers and a shrillness in the hostility, Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Manmohan Singh had a lukewarm coming together in the Big Apple but neither bit into the fruit of what both believe is a poisoned tree.
With the now stale as a biscuit promise of happier days to come being the sole outcome of this tryst no one on either side sleeps better at night. Two months later the chill continues. Nothing has intrinsically changed. Indo-Pak talks have about them a predictability that defies sound logic. They are circular and, like the toy train on such a track, lead nowhere.
From April 1950 when a treaty was signed in New Delhi by the Indian Prime Minister, Jawahar Lal Nehru, and the Pakistani Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, to guarantee the safe return of the properties of refugees and the rights of minorities in both countries after the partition of India and to avert another war between the two countries there have been three wars and several scores of skirmishes. Through these decades, summit and semi-summit meetings have been frosty, full of rhetoric and very little substance.
The latest meet, so dramatically built up by media as a ‘breakthrough’ is not even a mild chink in the door. It will just dustily join other highly endorsed conclaves like the Bogra-Nehru meet in 1953, the Sind-Taas agreement in 1960 to settle a water dispute which flowed sinuously into two major conflicts, the 1966 Tashkent declaration which saw an Indian PM die at the conference, the famous 1972 Shimla summit designed to end bitterness and ran out of breath, the Delhi, Lahore and Agra summits that led into the next century marked a little earlier by General Zia’s ‘cricketlomacy’ in Jodhpur with the Gilani and Zardari tete a tetes with Manmohan bringing us to the present sans any progress.
With the melting ices of the Middle East and a new balance of power on the anvil there is a sense of geographical discomfort on the Asian subcontinent. India and Pakistan, now both nuclear powers assessed to have enough firepower to make their respective rubbles dance are also in link with two other major powers in the region with more nuke capability: Russia and China.
Ever since the 1962 conflict China has maintained a cold if not downright chilly attitude towards New Delhi and been more inclined to exercise the friendly option with Islamabad. This suits Pakistan admirably since Chinese knowhow in conventional and nuclear warfare is believed to have been shared willingly. For those who look beyond the obvious, for China it is not the controversial claims of territory in the North East Frontier Agency or the tracts of the Aksai Chin glacier where the terrain is inhospitable and barren but more the simmering rage fed by India’s offer of allowing the Dalai Lama refuge in India. Not just that but Beijing believes India also trains Tibetan freedom fighters and keeps the pressure on China by expediently riding on the romance of Tibet to the western world and the pressure that Hollywood has brought into the equation by espousing it as a cause. China has no territorial rights but finds India its only true adversary and competitor in the power game in the region.
Last week, even as the smoke signals indicated a thaw China promised to wipe the Dalai Lama’s image from the minds of those who live in that region. So much for that.
China has tangible pre-occupations with Taiwan, the control of the Spratly Islands and the historical threat from Japan. India’s democratic system of government and its western styled systems as well as the huge diaspora that now promises to take over the information technology revolution makes China suspicious of western support for India in a ‘chips are down’ situation and since Beijing’s new approach is to maintain a tough autocracy at home and yet open up the lucrative avenues for commerce and trade with the United States and Europe it would prefer to keep India on her heels and unbalanced. This is best brought about by putting India’s forces in a pincer and keeping her on the back-foot especially in a dialogue with Pakistan about Kashmir.
India must be fully aware of this by now and it is for this reason that every sortie in amity with Beijing ends up in tatters. China sees no percentage in friendship as it sees no great reason to upscale hostility, quite happy to let Pakistan opt for that role. Indian politicians also fight shy of the dragon’s fire. Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid called China's 19km intrusion into India a spot of acne. Oh well.
For India there is little doubt that Kashmir is becoming an increasingly difficult situation. If there are even any nudges towards the discussion of a possible plebiscite for autonomy from both, India and Pakistan and some foreign policy and military arrangements like India has with Bhutan and Nepal, the fear of any concession being misread by the more rambunctious states in the Indian federation are very real. Indians know how Andhra’s Telengana concession is fragmenting like a grenade. To that extent India’s political incumbents cannot even consider such a possibility.
What makes the long-term scenarios more dangerous are the short-term developments. The Americans have cooled their relationship with Pakistan as compared to the earlier togetherness that marked their relationship. The Pressler protocol stopping sales of arms to Pakistan and the frozen F16s deal could be seen as the turning point and the US arrangement seems steeped in expediency.
By that token Russia has a primary interest in its relatively trimmed form of keeping the United States influence to a complete minimum where Asia is concerned. And traditionally it would like to stay on the side of India, if for nothing else but to keep the old non-aligned Indian fetish tilted ever so slightly to its side…as it has always been. Russia also believes that future American administrations are likely to reduce their involvement in events happening half way around the globe. While this may be true in conventional terms of engagement it may not make itself that isolated where nuclear threat is concerned.
And that threat does exist, growing steadily more volatile. In fact there is a large school of defence analysts who feel that the India-Pakistan scenario is the closest to the doomsday scenario.
To offset this potential for disaster it does become necessary for both nations to end the cold war and return to the negotiating table in an effort to de-escalate tension especially now that the onset of winter creates the ‘right’ time to engage in military adventurism.
It is a sobering thought that if it wasn’t for the nuclear capability much of the developed world would not blink any eyelid if the two neighbors were to cripple each other. Ironically, as they support huge armed forces they have practically done that anyway. But the global interest in stabilizing a region that seems to be very gingerly balanced will persevere. Not so much in who is taking whose side but ensuring that even that show of support has its own system of checks and balances.
Consequently, with righteousness having a bit part, all these displays of moral support are bed rocked in expediency. That is what makes a matter of concern. Can India and Pakistan afford the luxury of these slippery expressions of friendship or must they now need to show maturity and go bilateral, keenly aware that only a mutual coming together can ensure that much needed stability.
(The writer is a Senior Editorial Advisor of Khaleej Times and the paper’s former Editor. He has also been the Editor of Gulf News, Gulf Today, Emirates Today and Bahrain Tribune)
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