Defence Secretaries of India and Pakistan will meet in Islamabad on June 11-12 for the next round of talks over the Siachen glacier. Little progress was made during the last round of talks in mid-2011. And after defence minister AK Antony’s recent statement in the parliament that India’s position hasn’t changed in the last one year, not much is expected from this round too.
Bilateral talks on the Sir Creek dispute were scheduled on May 14-16 at New Delhi, but Pakistan abruptly informed India that its representatives won’t be able to attend them. These talks will now be held on June 22, 10 days after the Siachen talks. Clearly, Pakistan is keen on negotiating on the Siachen issue with India before discussing Sir Creek. A mutually acceptable solution to the Sir Creek dispute is there and Pakistan believes that the Indian Prime Minister needs the deal on Sir Creek to justify making a visit to Pakistan.
The presumption that India will make concessions on Siachen in return for a deal on Sir Creek is not grounded in reality. The UPA government is politically besieged at home and Sonia Gandhi can’t let Dr Singh’s oft-repeated desire to visit Pakistan become Congress party’s undoing. Wary after the public backlash to the Sharm-el-Sheikh joint statement of 2009, the Congress party will not allow Dr Singh to take any politically risky step on Pakistan. Imagine the scenario where the Prime Minister’s visit to Pakistan is followed by a 26-11 like terror attack on Indian soil!
Moreover, India can’t easily trust Pakistan after the experience of Prime Minister Vajpayee’s bus trip to Lahore in 1999. As the bus rolled into Lahore, Pakistan army had moved in to occupy peaks in Kargil-Dras sector on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC).
The next question is of timing. Parliamentary elections are scheduled in Pakistan next year but the current political dispensation in Islamabad could be out of power even before that. The NATO forces are set to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, leaving behind a small component of US forces there.
Depending on how the withdrawal pans out, the already precarious internal security situation in Pakistan could worsen.
Pakistan’s economic crisis shows no signs of abating with neither the IMF nor Beijing or Riyadh willing to bail it out. Rather than make a bold move, India would be better off waiting out this time of political, economic and security turmoil in Pakistan.
Shorn of all rhetoric, the bare truth is that there is no incentive for India to change the status quo on any bilateral issue with Pakistan. India is today not bogged down by a bilateral issue, whether it be Sir Creek, Siachen or even Kashmir, but by its own internal problems of declining economic growth and political ineptitude. In fact, the last two decades of ‘no-war, no-peace’ with Pakistan have coincided with highest rates of India’s economic growth, and its consequent rise in the global arena. Meanwhile, the ceasefire on the LoC has held for eight years, violence in Jammu & Kashmir is at its lowest and terror strikes in India have come down significantly in the last three years. It is in India’s interest to consolidate these gains while keeping a close watch on the situation in Pakistan.
Yes, trade is picking up between India and Pakistan. But India’s experience with China shows that increased bilateral trade does not automatically solve bilateral disputes. By promoting bilateral trade, India is hoping to create a limited constituency in Pakistan which counters the perennially anti-India establishment there.
Those who suggest that India, being the bigger country, should be more generous towards Pakistan forget that international relations operate not on charity but on the basis of power. China, India’s bigger neighbour, doesn’t display any generosity in resolving border disputes with India. When India was perceived to be weak in the 1990s, even Pakistan refused bilateral talks with India for four years unless Kashmir was made the core issue in those talks. The boot is on the other foot now.
Does this mean that India shouldn’t seek peace with Pakistan? Of course it should. But that pursuit of peace should be guided by only one principle: of securing India’s national interests. If that is unacceptable to Pakistan, so be it. The loss will entirely be Pakistan’s. As for India, it wouldn’t matter.
Sushant K Singh is Fellow for National Security at the Takshashila Institution and editor of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review