ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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India-Pakistan:The Enduring Stalemate

In the final analysis we need a political culture in both India and Pakistan that understands that sometimes nationalism is the enemy of the national interest; we need a political culture that is prepared to pay a short-run price for imagining a new architecture for the subcontinent; and we need a political culture that will allow both countries to transcend the sediments of history that are weighing them down. Unless all this changes we will remain trapped in current paradigms and assumptions which are such that only one side can claim victory, even as both have the power to destroy each other.

I f the recent history of relations between India and Pakistan proves any thing, it is this: in international politics the measures that are most necessary are often also the most difficult to take. Thus relations between India and Pakistan remain stuck between, on the one hand, a perpetual acknowledgment that they need to talk to each other and, on the other, the realisation that when they get down to talking neither country has much to offer that can break the stalemate between them. The Indian prime minister has once again offered a ‘hand of friendship’ to Pakistan and Pakistan has reciprocated by showing an interest in talks. Diplomatic relations are being restored, prisoners are being freed, talk of a summit is in the air and in some quarters there is even discussion that India and Pakistan may have finally realised that after Iraq they have a mutual interest in keeping the Americans out of the subcontinent. But no sooner than the thaw has begun, the eternal quagmire threatens to stall progress. Despite the Americans continuing to be active players, India denies the need for third party mediation, while Pakistan suggests it might be a good idea. Some see signs of progress in the fact that India acknowledges Kashmir to be at least one of the issues that need to be discussed, but Pakistan seems to signal that it is still the principal issue between the two countries. Pakistan’s moves to crack down on the activities of terrorists seem a welcome step, but it is unclear what will satisfy India. Is there any reason to believe that relations between India and Pakistan are finally headed in the right direction, towards a workable peace? Or is this going to be merely one more cycle in the oscillation between sentimental peace summits and near-war that marks relations between the two countries?

Better mutual relations are necessary for the well-being of both India and Pakistan. Their conflict has taken a heavy toll of both countries. Conflict with India has contributed considerably to the weakening of Pakistan’s economy. Arguably this conflict also stunted the development of civil society in Pakistan, by allowing the military to use the fear of India to alter the balance of civil-military relations in its favour. Pakistan’s own sense of identity is defined largely in negative terms against India. The desire of its governments to wound India has often backfired on them. Their patronage of fundamentalists, whom they often used against India, has put Pakistan’s own stability in jeopardy. Its governments seem to live perpetually under a sense of siege. India, for its part, has had to incur significant military costs defending its borders. It has had to face the horrendous ramifications of an exacerbated conflict in Kashmir. Its ambitions of being a player with global influence have been thwarted by its inability to keep its own backyard in order. America often uses the fear of regional instability to belittle India’s global ambitions. Many observers point out that the gap between India and Pakistan has considerably widened in economic and military terms. On this triumphalist Indian view, India will come out of any conflict with Pakistan with its power enhanced, while Pakistan will almost come to ruin. But this view ignores the way in which anxieties over terrorism have permanently scarred Indian politics. India’s politics has become much more combustible, its fragile domestic peace has often been put in jeopardy because of the ISI factor in Indian politics. The ISI’s activities in India are real and potent, but their real costs are far beyond the grizzly body counts we are often subject to. The psychological vulnerability terrorism creates has a direct bearing on Hindu-Muslim relations and gives the most virulent kind of nationalism within India greater strength. The fear of terrorism is substantially altering the character of democracy in America, and our own democratic experiment is diminished by its effects as well. India should abandon the thought that conflict with Pakistan will not have serious negative consequences for its identity as a nation and the character of its democracy; the culture of paranoia and anxiety that can mark our politics will weaken us far more than any military conflict.

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