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Picking up the  Indo-Pak Peace

Updated: October 4, 2018 3:32 pm

Plucking the Low Hanging Fruits

Will Imran Khan and Narendra Modi pick up the bilateral pieces and give peace achance? Or, will the bilateral process remain a prisoner of the past, yielding tohawkish positions across the border in both the countries Will Imran have sufficient space to pursue an independent foreign policy? Will the Deep State in Pakistan allow Imran to chart a new regional path? With a new PM in Pakistan now outside the PML and PPP, will the Indian security establishment take a fresh look at the bilateral peace process? And are there low hanging fruits in the Indo-Pak context, that could be plucked first?

Imran Khan & Indo-Pak: What has changed for India, and What hasn’t?

The debate between the Idealists, Pragmatists and the Praetorians There are three streams in India, as is the case in Pakistan looking at the other side:  the idealists, the pragmatists and the praetorians.

For the idealists, peace with Pakistan is a part of a broader belief and an expectation that New Delhi should pursue an accommodative approach with its entire neighbourhood. They would want to appease the neighbours to achieve more substantial regional peace so that South Asia could rise together.

For the idealists, Imran Khan will be a do-gooder.

For the pragmatists, peace is an essential aspect of India’s security. A friendly neighbour would help India rise further and help New Delhi to connect with extra-regional neighbours in Central Asia and Southeast Asia. Also, a friendly neighbourhood is a means towards a robust regional network assisting India’s economic growth. For the pragmatists, peace with the neighbours also would boost New Delhi to balance the growing Chinese influence in the region.

For the pragmatists, Imran Khan is an opportunity.

For the praetorians – from a (dominant) section of the Indian bureaucracy, military and the polity, nothing is likely to change in Pakistan’s decision-making process towards India. For them, the real power is with the Deep State in Pakistan, and the Prime Minister would have less leverage in charting a new path vis-à-vis Islamabad’s immediate neighbourhood – both towards India and Afghanistan.

For the praetorians, Imran Khan is immaterial.

The primary question from the praetorians in India would be: how much space would Imran Khan have in pursuing an India policy? Their cynicism comes from the past. What happened to the process that Nawaz Sharif initiated in the late 1990s? And what happened to the bold move by Modi to visit Nawaz Sharif in December 2015 while returning from Kabul to New Delhi? There was a military action in and around Kargil to scuttle the process in the 1990s, and a series of militant attacks in Punjab and J&K after Modi’s visit. The strong perception within this circle is – Pakistan’s Deep State is averse to good relationship with India.

The above perception is shared even amongst the pragmatists in India. However, the latter would still be willing to forge a working relationship with Pakistan’s polity to secure India’s larger regional interests, while the former will use it as an excuse to skip and bye-pass working with Pakistan.


Whom to talk to in Pakistan? And through Whom?

Two questions cutting across the pragmatists and the praetorians in India have been the following: Whom to talk to in Pakistan? And through whom?

If the Prime Minister and the Parliament do not wield real powers in Pakistan to engaging the neighbourhood, who should be the primary contact? In past India has used the back-channels and even secret meetings to kickstart a process; both could not be sustained.

It is no coincidence that the significant achievements in the bilateral process came during Musharraf’s regime during 2004-08. What does this success imply? India and Pakistan will have to innovatively find a way to engage all the “State” stakeholders, if and when the process resumes.

To conclude, in the Indo-Pak context, the idealists yearn for peace but do not have an active policy presence or the power in streets. The pragmatists have persuasive arguments, and may be able to provide policy options, but are not crowded in the decision-making circles. The praetorians remain either the door-keepers of the policy-making or with muscular power in the streets to break policy decisions.

Outside the above three, there are also spoilers in both the countries, who do not want to see a successful peace process between India and Pakistan. While the spoilers in India primarily are from outside the “State”, the fear in India, especially amongst the praetorians is – in Pakistan, they are a part of the State, or/and have strong links with a section of the State.

Will Imran play ball? Or, will he bowl a bouncer? Even if he is willing to play, what if the third umpire in Pakistan calls his legal deliveries a no ball?


Picking up the Peace:  The Low Hanging Fruits Let us pause the above complications. They are likely to continue. Despite the above differences, complications and the burden  of history, can the two countries still be able to pick up the  peace process?

Are there a few low hanging fruits in the Indo-Pak context, which could be plucked without upsetting the praetorians on both sides? And are there “Big Ideas”, that could bulldoze the opposition, and create a bilateral peace momentum between the two countries?

Let India and Pakistan start with “Low Hanging Fruits” first, create a “peace momentum” and then look forward to “Big Ideas”.


Cross-LoC Interactions

One could quickly identify the following as low hanging fruits. First, resuming and even expanding the cross-LoC interactions. The bus service and trade across J&K was one of the boldest and innovative processes started during the last decade.

Pettiness and lack of imagination led these two processes into a trickle. Since these two are existing processes, exploiting their full potential should be not a big issue.


Cross-border Interactions

Second, cross-border interactions could also be revised. While the idea of transit and “bilateral” trade will take some more time to realise its full potential, “cross-border” interactions, for example between the two Punjabs, and between Sindh and Rajasthan/Gujarat could be kickstarted easily. In this context, the idea of bus services between the two Punjabs could be exploited to its full potential – to serve both secular and religious purposes.

Besides the divided families, there are places of worship especially for the Sikh community across the border. A pilgrim link between Nankana Sahib, Kartarpur and Amritsar will be a great morale booster for the peace process. Imagine the number of people who are likely to use this link, as Guru Nanak’s 550th-year birthday celebrations are to be kicked off. India’s external affairs minister has announced in early August 2018 that the birthday will be celebrated all over the world. The government of Punjab in India has been making a considerable preparation to observe the same across India and elsewhere.

Similarly, there are numerous Sufi institutions across the borders, with Ajmer Sharif in Rajasthan being the most visited one. A pilgrim link, even if it is city specific could be an ice-breaker.


Resuming the Movement of Bus, Trains, Trucks and Flights

Third, resuming the regular Indo-Pak movement is also a low hanging fruit. While the above two across the LoC and Indo-Pak border are specific and have limited purpose, with perhaps special allowances, movement from flights to ferries address a larger constituency.

The bus, train, ferry and flight services can be restarted with an objective to exploit their potential than to restrict the movements across. Both countries could quickly overcome the existing negative approach to popular movement. Exploiting Cricket, especially the IPL and PSL Fourth, given the craziness towards Cricket, and the increasing popularity of the IPL, this game could be another low hanging fruit. None would understand better than Imran – the emotional affiliation of the Indo-Pak masses to the game that has catapulted him today to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan.  As PSL is trying to expand its footprint, outside the resumption of bilateral cricketing ties, there are other sporting opportunities that both countries could exploit.


A Bilateral Road Map Low Hanging Fruits, Peace Momentum and a Big Idea

However, the above have limitations as low hanging fruits. They cannot be lonely processes like the cross-LoC has become. They have to lead towards creating a “peace momentum” that could either bulldoze the opposition or collect the other stakeholders as it starts rolling.

Simultaneously, India and Pakistan will also have to look towards a “Big Idea” as the post Second World War Europe pursued the Steel and Coal authority.

But, let us start with the low hanging fruits first. As we pluck more, the peace momentum will follow.

Prof D. Suba Chandran is Dean of the School of Conflict and Security Studies at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), IISc Campus, Bangalore.          


By Subha Chandran


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