Disallowing India to dictate who senior Pakistani officials can and cannot meet was the right thing to do, but Pakistani leaders should never have allowed the dynamic between the two countries to the come to the point that it did
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he collapse of the National Security Adviser talks between Pakistan and India has been a slow-motion disaster in the making for a long time. The only thing worse than knowing this is knowing that we have barely scratched the surface. South Asia’s collective history is an incandescent panoply of failures to see clearly. Another almost three years of Prime Minister Sharif and another four of Prime Minister Modi? Who knows how much more damage these men can do?
In New Delhi, this disease is borne of irrational hubris. The Hindutvadis have shoveled so much hogwash that they now believe the myths they’ve woven about the grandness of India’s arrival on the global stage. India acts like it can do whatever it wants. It would be cute, except that it is not.
In Islamabad, this disease is borne of epic national incompetence, and of decisions not being made in Islamabad, but rather being made in Rawalpindi, and then dressed up like they were made in Islamabad. It is one hell of a skimpy dupatta that we use to adorn our civil-military divide. If they were smart, the Indians would be playing Pakistan like Ravi Shankar’s well-oiled sitar. They aren’t. Irrational hubris makes you stupid. And of all the stupid things Modi sarkar has done, few matches the unsustainable red lines it has tried to draw in its bilateral relationship with Pakistan: “You can’t talk to Hurriyet!”
Talk about giving a dog a bone.
India’s behaviour with regard to Pakistan has been transparent, almost laughably so. In Beijing, India tells China that it should scrap plans to build a trade corridor through Pakistan. In Abu Dhabi, India tells the United Arab Emirates that it should come down hard on Pakistan. At the UN, India tried to Kashmirify Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi – ie to make his imprisonment (or lack thereof, an issue of international importance). Since at least late 2008, India has essentially pulled every trick in the book to isolate Pakistan and have it treated as if it were North Korea.
All the while, because India is keen to have a seat at the table with countries that have always intimidated Indians, India has to keep up appearances. Once banned from entering the United States because of his questionable role in the large-scale slaughter of innocent Muslims in Gujarat, it is understandable that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is now keen to court favour in places like Washington DC. Doing so requires a dupatta of about the same thickness as the one between Rawalpindi and Islamabad. A dupatta that pretends to hide India’s transparent ill-will toward Pakistan with well placed and timely interventions that seem to signal PM Modi as the logical next step in a long line of peaceniks that begins with Mahatama Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr, follows through with Nelson Mandela, and ends at a right-wing Hindu Pradhan Mantri named Narendra.
Everyone is keen to buy the fiction of India’s intentions as an anchor of stability and peace in South Asia and beyond. The line begins with pro-peace and pro-normalisation Pakistanis like myself. More importantly, it includes all the major world powers. The US and Russia are obvious clients of such storytelling, but even China would be pleased to see a Pakistan-India relationship that was centred around hugs and Haldirams, rather than cold stares and cold starts. Imagine the regional impact of a dispute-free, free-trade corridor that stretched from Tehran to Shanghai!
It could be a magnificent thing. The biggest winners of such a corridor? It would not be the Indians or the Chinese – both those economies have run into some problems with gravity and the real world. It could be the Iranians, but we may all be underestimating how much further ahead Iran already is, and overestimating how quickly and easily Iran will be able to integrate with the global discourse. The biggest winner would be, hands down, without a doubt, the problem child of the golden age of Asian economic growth – our very own Pakistan.
India has drawn the unsustainable red line of removing Kashmir from the bilateral agenda to its own detriment. It is a red line India cannot draw even if Pakistan willingly allowed it to (principally because sooner or later, both Pakistan and India will have to take that little place on the map we call Kashmir more seriously than as a prop for this overplayed desi drama).
However, the net impact of drawing this stupid line for India is limited and contained. PM Modi is a masterful political performer. By the end of the UN General Assembly, between Ajit Doval, S Jaishankar and his own brain trust, PM Modi will have not only contained the public relations damage India sustained by having the NSA talks cancelled, but he will also have furthered India’s agenda of damaging Pakistan and its interests.
The net impact of India’s behaviour on Pakistan (and Pakistan’s subsequent decisions) is not as limited, nor as contained. Three factors put Pakistan in the impossible position of having to carry the burden of India’s recklessness in bilateral matters.
First, Pakistan can ill-afford a widening of an already wide cultural chasm between civilian and military institutions – the failure to make progress with India inflames this chasm.
Second, Pakistan is already taking unprecedented measures to fight terrorism, and talking to India about terrorism, even without discussions about Kashmir or with Kashmiri leaders like Syed Ali Gilani, stands to benefit Pakistan, as long as our representatives are not overwhelmed by the wily charms of Mr Doval.
Third, a direct conversation with India that helps reduce India’s malign actions on Pakistani territory, both directly and through Afghanistan, is of urgent importance, especially in salvaging a relationship with Afghanistan. The worst that could happen in such a conversation is the explicit admission and declaration by the Indians of their hostile intent.
By all measures, Pakistan has more to gain through better relations and more to lose through worsening ties with India. The Indian foreign policy establishment has been incredibly short-sighted in tying its own hands to a failed and failing policy of trying to subjugate Pakistan to its whims. This short-sightedness however does not cost India a seat at the tables it wants to play at.
Disallowing India to dictate who senior Pakistani officials can and cannot meet was the right thing to do, but Pakistani leaders should never have allowed the dynamic between the two countries to the come to the point that it did. How did Pakistan let things spin out of control to the point that Sushma Swaraj, the destroyer of the Agra Summit, got to pretend that she could dictate terms from a pulpit in New Delhi?
At Ufa the failure was tactical. Pakistan allowed a foreign policy conversation to be securitized, through shifting of the principal bilateral engagement from the MOFA/MEA domain of Foreign Secretary talks, to the security domain of the NSAs.
In the case of the cancelled NSA meeting, the failure is strategic. Pakistan has allowed an opportunity for engagement (and therefore an opportunity for winning the argument) to go abegging. The agenda for the talks became a volleyball match between the Twitter timeline of Vikas Swarup and the press conference schedule of Sartaj Aziz. Right then, the person with the most to lose from a collapse of the talks should have sensed the opportunity to salvage the process.
That person is Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. And instead of doing things to the news cycle, once again, he allowed the news cycle to do things to him. Prime ministers should not have the time to nurse their hurt egos. They should only have time to solve problems and fix things. He’s got a big problem to solve now. What will he do?–Courtesy the News International