by Adhiraj Mukerji
The much vaunted talks between Nawaz Sharif and Modi held during the Shanghai Co-Operation Summit and BRICS group conference (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) in Ufa led to a joint statement being issued by the Foreign Secretaries of India and Pakistan. An agreement to expedite the trial of 26\11 accused Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, meetings between high-level military and paramilitary officials as well as the resumption of Track II diplomacy were all on the cards. However, within days of the statement being issued, cross-border shelling at various points of the Line of Control (LoC) resumed on 16 July, as well as Pakistani claims of having shot down an Indian military drone near the Bhimber sector of the LoC seems to have put paid to hopes of a new and more co-operative relationship between the two neighbours.
However, the issue with negotiating with Pakistan is that of there always being multiple interest groups in the fray. While Sharif may politically make all the right statements, the Pakistani military establishment has historically always been far from being in congruence with the government. The military which is a force unto itself in Pakistani politics derives much of its power and resources by portraying India as the significant “other”. Peace with India would lead to a diminishing of that position, as well as reduce the all-pervasive ability of the Pakistani military bosses to permeate all levels of life in the country. For a country whose military and intelligence services have for long functioned outside the realm of official government control and accountability, the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by 2016 would present an opportunity to divert those insurgent groups in the region and redirect them to Kashmir. Gen. Sharif, Chief of Army Staff in Pakistan, said in June 2015 that Kashmir is “an unfinished agenda of partition”, leaving little room for doubt as to what the Pakistani military establishment thinks of the Kashmir issue. Compare that with Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Geelani, who chose to boycott the invitation from the Pakistani High Commissioner in New Delhi for an Eid dinner as the former felt that the Kashmir issue was not adequately discussed by the two PMs during their Ufa meeting. Earlier, an invitation for an Iftar dinner on 4 July was extended and then cancelled by the Pakistani Commission. The reason for the cancellation according to sources was the meeting between the two leaders in Ufa. Clearly, the Pakistani political machine would seem to be moving towards some form of compromise to ensure at least an attempt at better relations with her neighbour.
Can better relations between the two countries be achieved though? For that, a radical change in the political machinery of Pakistan would have to occur. Take the statements of Pakistani National Security Advisor Sartaj Aziz (who incidentally is meeting his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on 23 August), who said following the joint statement, that Kashmir remains on the agenda and that “more evidence” was required on the 26/11 attacks for an indictment of Lakhvi. A comment which at best contradicts the very spirit of the joint statement. In a country where a high-ranking security official can issue statements somewhat contradicting the official stance of the PM, negotiation is impeded. The resurgence of two strong political opponents in the form of the PTI (led by Imran Khan) and the PAT (led by Abdul Qadri) must also be factored into the equation. Both the PTI and PAT enjoy significant support among the populace and with time could become viable alternatives to Sharif’s PML(N). Given the strong position of the Pakistani military in political affairs and their role as “kingmakers”, Sharif cannot afford to completely disregard the wishes of the military without risking losing political mileage to his rivals.
It would be naive to assume however that the Pakistani military command in Rawalpindi is advocating all out war against India. It is no secret that Pakistan today is reeling from a multitude of issues including home-grown terrorist groups which have spiralled outside of military control and an economy in shambles with a power sector being unable to generate enough electricity for the population. The joint statement for Rawalpindi could have been strategic posturing to gain international legitimacy as Pakistan can be seen to be “trying” to de-escalate tensions. An improvement in the security situation would only be of benefit to Pakistan, especially in terms of foreign investment to revitalise the economy. China, who is their biggest potential investor with the planned China-Pakistan Corridor, would not be very enthusiastic of investing billions of dollars in an unstable country. The benefits of such posturing would be one of the primary reasons of the statement. However, to assume that this statement would mark the ushering in of a new and improved relationship would be a mistake. The Pakistani military still seems to pull the strings, and while Sharif’s intention to create co-operation may be honest enough, his ability to enforce it is in doubt.
(Adhiraj Mukerji is a graduate in History from Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi. He is a decorated debater and incredibly well read in international relations, military history, and military tactics. He is currently a political risk and intelligence analyst at International SOS.)