India Pakistan Relations: Two Questions on the Way Forward, Part II

Read Part 1 here

Despite the agreement on the need for the two countries to engage with each other, there is a difficult question that remains unanswered.

Who should India engage with?

The more important and possibly more difficult question is “Who does India speak to within Pakistan?” Does it seek to engage the civilian leadership in Islamabad or should it accept the ground reality and engage with the real center of power in Rawalpindi?

The choice is not a simple one. Engaging with the generals would mean reinforcing the commonly held perception and result in the weakening of the elected civilian leadership. In the longer run, the move could prove counterproductive given the impact that it will have on the democratic forces which are consolidating their base following the recent elections.

The debate within Pakistan over granting the Most Favoured Nation (MFN)/ Non-Discriminatory Market Access (NDMA) status to India made it clear that it is the military which calls the shots on any India-related matter. Thus, despite all the talk about a change in heart and focus, the Pakistan Army continues to be India-centric and not much has changed in Rawalpindi’s mindset towards India. The recent statement about Kashmir by Pak Army Chief Raheel Sharif only underlines this point.

While the new Indian government has chosen to engage the civilian leadership, India is posed with a somewhat of a quandry. Engaging with the civilian leadership is unlikely to result in any headway as it is the generals who have the final say in these matters. On the other hand, talking to the men in khaki might also not get anywhere especially given their disposition towards India. The negative impact on the fledging democratic institutions in Pakistan would be an additional variable to consider.

India cannot obviously afford to choose one constituency over the other. Thus the best way forward would be to follow a policy of ‘different horses for different courses.’  It might be wise to engage the civilian leadership on ‘softer’ issues like visa regime liberalisation, increasing people to people contact. The civilian leadership would be in a position to deliver on such issues without running afoul with the generals.  On the other hand, New Delhi should also consider engaging the military leadership on the ‘hard’ security issues despite their predispositions. At the same time, it is important for India to continue work on securing its interests. Such actions should be independent and not tied to the result of its dialogue with either Islamabad or Rawalpindi.

Will India and Pakistan ever square this circle? Will the situation ever change? I am optimistic but also cognizant of the fact that any change will be gradual and will take time. One is reminded of what Plato wrote, “Things are not always what they seem.” But in the context of India Pakistan relations one wonders whether that holds true? Should one modify the statement to read, “Things are always not what they seem.”


Arun Vishwanathan is Assistant Professor, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. He can be reached via email at arun_summerhill[at]yahoo[dot]com. Arun tweets @ArunVish_


Image: Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Flickr

Posted in , Civil-Military Relations, Cooperation, Elections, India, India-Pakistan Relations, leadership, Pakistan, Politics

Arun Vishwanathan

Arun Vishwanathan is Assistant Professor in the International Strategic and Security Studies Program, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Arun holds a doctorate in International Relations from the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Prior to joining NIAS, he held the position of Assistant Director in the National Security Council Secretariat between 2008 and 2011. He was Associate Fellow at the Indian Pugwash Society, IDSA Campus, New Delhi between 2005-2008. Arun specializes in issues relating to nuclear deterrence and strategy, proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology, national security reform and defense industry ecosystem. He is the co-editor of the book Troubling Tehran: Reflections on Geopolitics and co-author of monograph on Hatf-IX/ NASR - Pakistan's Tactical Nuclear Weapon: Implications for Indo-Pak Deterrence. Arun's research has been published in Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Strategic Analysis, USI Journal, Contemporary Review of the Middle East, International Journal of South Asian Studies, Synergy: Journal of Centre for Joint Warfare Studies in addition to opinion pieces in various national and international media houses. He is an alumnus of the Summer Workshop organised by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies (RCSS), Colombo and is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London and the Asia Pacific Leadership Network (APLN) for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament.

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One thought on “India Pakistan Relations: Two Questions on the Way Forward, Part II

  1. In the context of Indo-Pak relations, things are not what they seem because we in India blind ourselves to the obvious truth. The truth is that each and every Pakistani feels that it is both necessary & desirable to keep inflicting cuts on India till India gives up Kashmir. Our failure to punish Pakistan on its recurring atrocities over the years has reinforced the Pak-wide conviction that this course of action is justified, appropriate and, because of Indian & International fears of setting off a nuclear conflagration, quite immune to effective retaliation. Should India ever give up Kashmir, a reckonable number of Pakistanis may feel that they can now let matters rest. The rest, however, will be satisfied only if Mughal rule is re-established in India. Conduct of our relations with Pak needs to take this fundamental truth into account.

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