India and Pakistan are talking and playing. This is enough to make expectations rise, only to be disappointed once the realities catch up. A strand of reality that seldom finds mention is the reservations many in India have of rapprochement. Unless these are squarely met, reaching out done by well meaning prime ministers are not likely to get anywhere.
These reservations include, firstly, that Pakistan is not interested in repairing its relations with India. The Army in control there stands to lose and therefore would not like such an outcome. Secondly, business as usual cannot be conducted with those sending terrorists across. Thirdly, Pakistan is a stooge of China and consequently it will not be allowed to mend fences. There are more such arguments, all externally directed. These reservations can be taken on board and a strategy made to coopt, negate or prevail over these. That this does not happen, tells us that there is something more to reality.
An important part of this reality has been India's need to have an external 'other' out there - in the form of a hostile Pakistan. This holds up India.
There are several sectors, lobbies and forces that profit from the adversarial status quo. The Wikileaks being brought to attention by The Hindu, provide evidence. M K Narayanan's dismissal of the prime minister's soft corner for Pakistan is clinching on the good health of retarding lobbies in India.
Since the former National Security Adviser spent his working life in his own description to his American interlocutor who spilled the beans unintentionally as a 'spook', it can be inferred that the intelligence community stands arraigned against Pakistan. This appears understandable since they are conversant with the shady goings within their counterpart, the ISI. What is unsaid is the extent the ISI is reactive and between the two the extent to which the conflict ridden reality is firstly manufactured and secondly perceived.
Given the perception of reality fed by a motivated intelligence, it is apparently explicable that the military-industrial complex comprising the military, ministry and the technologists would prefer a tough stance. The justification of the defence budget is now not so much Pakistan, as China. However, as trotted out in late 2009, the 'two front' threat as the worse case scenario guides acquisitions.
Stalwarts of the strategic community have made their names and their visages nationally recognised in Pakistan-bashing. Former foreign service and intelligence officers, easily recognised even when they are not named, have set the discourse. Finding a voice after retirement they are paying back Pakistan for perceived wrongs, such as the surprise at Kargil and Kandahar, that have blemished their careers. At least a few are senior denizens in the capital-based think tanks setting the agenda, and one operates from the deep south.
Finally, there is the tribe of cultural nationalists. Arun Jaitly's views on opportunistic use of the ideology imply that Pakistan and its actions are politically useful. Also in the same news report is reference to terrorism raising the conservatives' stock. This perhaps explains the need felt in certain extremist circles for 'black operations' implicating Muslims in terrorism perpetrated by majoritarian nationalists.
Until this dimension of the internal reality is understood and accepted, there is little prospect of movement in India's Pakistan policy. Clearly, there is no chance of taking these forces on. Efforts to do so would get the conservative formations and realists into a quasi alliance. Their counter attack would be to appropriate nationalism and claim that a sell out on defence of the nation is underway. The government weakened by corruption scandals since the run up to the Commonwealth Games can hardly be expected to take the plunge.
Pakistan on its part is unlikely to oblige with a game changing gesture, such as locking up Hafeez Sayeed, sending its ISI chief on an intelligence exchange visit to India or the Pakistan Army chief pulling back of his army for operations to the west. Consequently, the procedural track of talks will at best be on course. Nothing significant can be expected to emerge, leaving South Asia open to the next jihadi assault and its nationalist aftermath.
Even so the steps taken at the home secretaries meeting in New Delhi and that of the prime ministers in Mohali must be welcomed. But the meet of the foreign ministers due in mid year must be viewed realistically.
What is needed?
This can only be an academic exercise in light of forces stacked against the possibility of improvement in relations between the countries. Many peace strategies have been suggested and partially explored. These include revitalising institutions, opening up commerce and people-to-people contacts. As witnessed, these are either stillborn (e.g. SAARC), stymied (the Lahore bus diplomacy), or undercut such as by the paperwork involved in gaining a place on the Uri-Muzaffarabad bus. In any case, each of this is subject to rewinding at the inevitable crack of the Kalashnikov. Even the promise of generational change was belied in the Rajiv-Benazir bonhomie having fizzled out with the outbreak of violence in Kashmir. So the impending Rahul era is also without promise.
Hardliners self-interestedly offer two strategies. One is to resort to fisticuffs to bring Pakistan to heel. The second is to create such an asymmetry with Pakistan by outspending it militarily that it will drop out of the race, if not bandwagon. The problem with the first is that there is no guarantee that Pakistan will lose in light of its response options on the subconventional and nuclear planes. The latter neglects the Chinese interest in keeping Pakistan afloat. In short, both options not only have little prospect of success but more dangerously keep South Asia on nuclear tenterhooks.
Pessimistic but realistically, the only way out appears to be to be brought up face-to-face with the nuclear reality. The Japanese experience, twice over, will be sobering in such a circumstance. This implies waiting for things to get worse. Then they will get better with the peace strategies that are already present in the discourse applied in the aftermath. Peace mongers must keep their powder dry to strike at that opportune hour.
The key question is how to restrict the nuclear face-off to a flirtation rather than the real thing. It is strange that such a question
needs answering even as the two states are seemingly set to pick up the pieces once again from where they left off at Mumbai 26/11.