Another India-Pak Impasse
Image Credit: Peter van Aller

Another India-Pak Impasse


India and Pakistan have again apparently reached an impasse after yet another round of negotiations that concluded in Islamabad last week. Even the joint press conference involving the countries’ Foreign Ministers, S.M. Krishna of India and Shah Mohammed Qureshi of Pakistan, ended in acrimony. Krishna, for his part, at least maintained a dignified silence when his counterpart equated the statements of Indian Home Secretary GK Pillai about Pakistan’s complicity in the Mumbai terror with the venomous remarks of the leader of the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Mohammed Saeed.

Since the outburst, Qureshi has sought to tone down his rhetoric and has had some kind words about Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. From New Delhi, Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has also indicated that the talks will continue despite the lack of any progress on key issues.

The deadlock at these talks was, for all practical purposes, foreordained. Despite the presence of a civilian regime in Pakistan, the military remains primus inter pares. Consequently, it’s entirely reasonable to assume that Qureshi was adhering to a script that had been prepared in the General Head Quarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi. According to press reports in India, Qureshi had demanded that India set a timetable for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute as a precondition for any form of meaningful cooperation in other areas. Such a gambit was designed to bring the talks to a swift impasse—and it did.

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Even if the two sides continue the dialogue, without the imprimatur of the Pakistani military, there’s little or no chance that they’ll make any meaningful progress. Thanks to the military’s extraordinary role in Pakistan’s tortured politics, any viable discussions with India have taken place only when two conditions obtained: either the military itself was in the saddle or when it had been thoroughly discredited.

The military, thanks to the privileged position that it has long carved for itself in the political landscape of Pakistan, exercises an effective veto on relations with India. Gen. Ashfaq Kiyani, the current Chief of Staff, has publicly made it known that he considers India to be the principal threat facing the country. Such truculence serves the military well and can be used to justify vast defence expenditures, protect its extraordinary economic prerogatives and guarantee its political role.

Consequently, it’s unlikely to grant a civilian regime the necessary freedom to conduct substantive discussions at a time when it perceives India to be on a sticky wicket in its part of Kashmir. Thanks to its own lack of skill in addressing long-standing grievances dealing with regional autonomy, New Delhi again faces a rising tide of discontent.

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