New Delhi: Whenever a new government takes over either in India or in Pakistan, there are always hopes of a better relationship. More often than not, it is more a hope rather than an expectation.
This was so in recent past, when Vajpayee took over in 1999, when Manmohan Singh took over in 2004, and on the other side, when Zardari took over in 2008, or, when Nawaz Sharif took over last year.
So, the hope of a better relationship when Modi has taken over now is nothing new. Modi’s master stroke of inviting Sharif for the oath taking indicates that Modi is not bound by old rhetoric and means business. Nobody who has studied his style of governance so far, would be surprised by this.
However, while opening gambits are important, the complications of the situation demand a sustained policy initiative if there has to be any hope of an enduring peace in the region. What are the opportunities and challenges Modi and Sharif face in trying to untie the knot that is Indo-Pak relations.
It is clear that Narendra Modi has a vision for India. Not for nothing has he made development his electoral plank. He is also clear that he needs more than five years for him to be able to deliver, and therefore, his plans are likely to be long term. His critics portray him as a rabid Hindu nationalist who was responsible for the 2002 Gujarat riots.
My assessment of Mr. Modi is of a person who started his life as a RSS activist, but who has outgrown that phase and now believes that the country needs more inclusive politics. However, it will be naïve for anyone to expect that he will publicly take a U-turn in his policies.
What is important is not his public pronouncements, but an analysis of his actions.
It is here that one will be able to discern his future policies. Despite the fact that the 2002 Gujarat riots happened under his watch and he has been accused of much worse, his actions in Gujarat since then has given no indication that he holds anti-Muslim views.
Similarly his views on Pakistan initially may have been coloured by his RSS leanings, but, he knows now that if India has to develop into an economic superpower, it needs to work single mindedly towards that aim, and for that, if a better relationship with Pakistan is required, then so be it.
In any case, partition has taken place nearly 70 years back, and despite what the RSS and Hindu nationalists may have felt about it then, it is time to move on.
Modi is smart enough to realize that. Indeed, on the Indian side, the feeling is more or less universal that it is time to move on and have good relations with Pakistan.
The doubt among skeptics is not on the need to have an improved relationship with Pakistan, but, whether there is similar realization on the other side, particularly among those who matter – the army and the ubiquitous establishment.
That is where the real problem lies. There is no doubt that a very large section of the Pakistan Army and the Islamic parties which have thrived on their anti-India agenda will be against any peace initiatives with India.
They have their reasons for taking this stand. As far as the Pakistan Army is concerned, they have both ideological as well as practical reasons to oppose any improvement of relations with India. Ideologically, many in the Pakistan Army still believe that India has not accepted the partition.
It is their assessment that India is keen to undo the partition, and either swallow Pakistan or, will try to keep it tied to its coat tails. Periodic statements of fringe Hindu elements about Akhand Bharat is pointed out as the evidence of Indian intentions. The creation of Bangladesh is assessed by the Pakistan Army establishment as a step by India in that direction.
If this assessment of the Pakistan Army is accepted, one can see how everything else follows. For a long time after independence, Pakistan tried to gain parity with India – both economically, in international arena, as well as militarily.
For this purpose, if they had to join the western bandwagon and be part of CENTO and SEATO, so be it. But slowly it became apparent that the objective of gaining parity with India was an elusive goal. Not only was the gap there, it was actually increasing.
If India was out to “finish” Pakistan and conventional parity was unattainable , the only other option was of unconventional warfare, and that is what the Pakistan Army has been undertaking against India since late seventies.
How successful this policy has been, and whether this policy has hurt Pakistan more than India, is a subject which requires separate treatment, but here, it suffices to state that this has become a basic tenet of Pakistan Army. Add to this, the more pragmatic element of advantages of continuing with this policy.
Pakistan Army officers are the elite of the country. Whether it is politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats or intellectuals – everyone in Pakistan has to accept this reality.
But why should this remain so? In any democratic country, while the army and security forces have their importance, they are under civilian control.
In Pakistan, the army is a law unto itself, and apart from power, it, of course, also gives immense financial advantage to Pakistan Army officers. Why should they let it go. But then in this age of democracy, how can they resist the civilian supremacy? Of course, if there is an existential threat to the country, the army is the one to defend the country.
The nature of the threat is such that it is unlikely to go anytime soon, and the army is the only institution that is capable of defending Pakistan from such existential threats.
In this scheme of things, where does peace with India fit in? It is clear that a combination of both perceived ideological and pragmatic reasons make the Pakistan Army establishment go against any genuine peace initiative.
The Islamic groups were created by the Pakistani Army to support their activities and to checkmate the democratic elements in Pakistan. For a long time, they were just an appendage of the Pakistan Army, which were used as and when required.
Unfortunately, the Frankenstein created by the Pakistan Army has now become a challenge to its creator itself, though many within the Pakistani establishment still want to wish it away.
The Islamic groups created by the army, be it the Jamaat-e-Islami or the Lashkar-e-Taiba exist on the one point agenda of hate India. With their increasing importance in Pakistani polity, it will be extremely difficult for any Pakistan government to pursue a meaningful peace initiative.
This will be nearly impossible if an assertive military also puts it foot down. So what, if any, are the prospects for peace. Are we, therefore, destined to have a difficult neighbour? While the prospect for peace, therefore, are not very rosy, there is at the same time some ray of hope too.
The hope springs from the developments in Pakistan. While the army and the establishment do continue to have immense say in the Pakistani polity, there is a growing realization among the civilian leadership that the army’s role needs to be curtailed. In the 2013 elections, and even in the 2008 elections, the army was forced to play a much smaller role than what it used to do earlier.
For the first time, the judiciary is asserting itself and the media is much more difficult to be tamed. A significant section of the civilian leadership and the intelligentsia are now cognizant of the fact that the Frankenstein of Islamic groups have now become real existential threat to Pakistan.
Right now, these forces are represented by the TTP but, groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sipah-e-Sahaba and even the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba joining in this jihad is very much within the realm of possibility, the views of some in the establishment notwithstanding.
While these elements at present are not in a position to challenge the combination of the army and the Islamic parties, they are nevertheless asserting themselves. Sharif’s acceptance of the invitation to come to the Modi swearing-in does show that mainstream political parties have started to show much more spine now.
This is also manifested in domestic Pakistani politics in steps being taken, such as the treatment to General Musharraf and the court’s cognizance of missing persons in Balochistan.
The option for the Modi Government thus is clear. While there is need to be firm wherever firmness is required, at the same time, there is a need to strengthen the hands of those elements within Pakistan who wish to have better relations with India.
It so happens, that these are those who, for their own reasons, wish to contain the role of army and the Islamists in Pakistani polity. So, there is scope for constructive cooperation with these elements to attain common objective.
The road ahead will not be easy. The elements whose very existence depends on anti Indianism will of course try to spike the process. Failed attack on Indian consulate in Herat is an indictor of shape of things to come.
More such attacks whether In Afghanistan or in India itself will be attempted by such elements. It is for the Government of India to give a measured response to such developments.
We cannot be hostage to such elements and react in a way they want. The task is not easy and it requires a very mature response from the Government of India.
However the persona of Modi does inspire the confidence that we will take a more nuanced and measured view of trying to defeat the anti-Indian elements within Pakistan and strengthen those who want better relations with India.
That is the only way forward. Attn: The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Vikram Sood, Vice President at Observer Research Foundation.