Pakistan-India relations and the Indian military
The recent violent incidents on the Line of Control (LoC) in Kashmir were the most unfortunate development since the ceasefire was enforced on the LoC in November 2003. There have been sporadic firing incidents in the past and military personnel were killed on some of these occasions. However, never in the past such a serious and ‘tit-for-tat’ three firing incidents took place, causing two deaths from each side.
These incidents have taken pace at a time when Pakistan and India are on way to a major breakthrough in their visa system and bilateral trade. These changes, if pushed to their logical end, would start a new era of cooperation between the two countries.
It is important to recognise that there are groups, institutions and individuals in Pakistan and India that are opposed to normalisation of their bilateral relations. On both sides, the political configuration of these elements is similar. Religious hardliners and political far-right are unable or unwilling to overcome the trauma of the partition and the legacy of the competing nationalism of the Muslim League and the Congress Party of the pre-independence period. Some ex-service personnel and former bureaucrats have a tendency to adopt a hawkish posture. There are those in both countries who have made their careers by advocating negative disposition and hate against the other country in their own native country.
In Pakistan, the top brass of the military are favourably disposed towards improving relations with India because they are focused on countering terrorism and asserting the primacy of the state in the tribal areas. The easing of tension on the India-Pakistan borders facilities the Pakistan military’s efforts to cope with internal religious extremism and terrorism.
India’s military (especially the army) top brass does not appear to be fully supportive of normalisation of India’s relations with Pakistan. The senior military leadership wants the Indian government to adopt a tough posture towards Pakistan in the dialogue process.
The Indian army was instrumental to stalemating the Siachen Glacier problem by insisting on authentication of India’s actual troop positions as a precondition for withdrawal of Indian troops to the NJ 9842 point on the LoC. Earlier, India’s civilian government had agreed in principle in 2006 to withdrawal of the troops. But, it did not pursue this commitment under pressure from the military and adopted the military’s position on the Siachen Glacier as the government’s official policy. This stalemate has reduced the chances of an early resolution of the Sir Creek boundary problem.
The preliminary investigation of the latest LoC incident has shown that an Indian local commander was responsible for launching the first raid on Pakistani troops across the LoC that triggered the whole episode. If the LoC incident was simply a local affair, it is surprising that a local commander can force a situation on two countries. If he enjoyed the blessings of Indian army’s headquarters, the matter is more serious. Does this mean that the Indian army headquarters has developed enough autonomy to pursue tougher line towards Pakistan at a time when the union government is working towards improving relations with Pakistan?
It is surprising that more statements have come from the top brass of the military rather than from India’s Ministry of External Affairs. India’s Army Chief has issued tougher statement than India’s Foreign Minister. Does this mean that the military top brass, especially the army top leadership, wants to slow down the on-going improvement in India-Pakistan relations?
The fact that the LoC trouble has persisted for over a week shows the growing influence of the Indian military in the foreign policy domain, especially India’s relations with Pakistan. The military commanders in the flag meeting on the LoC on January 14, 2013, accused each other of violation of the ceasefire on the LoC and the use of violence.
Indian military’s tough posture has emboldened the Hindu hardline and political far-right groups, especially ex-servicemen and retired foreign service bureaucrats to use India’s private sector TV for massive propaganda against Pakistan. The discourse of most anchors and participants in the TV programmes was very hostile and some of them talked of teaching a “lesson” to Pakistan and that the dialogue must be suspended.
The only reason for hope was that India’s state-owned TV channel, Doordarshan, did not reflect the ideological hostility of the private sector media. Pakistan’s criticism was done in a cautious manner and the need of continuing with the dialogue was emphasised by some analysts.
The first statement of India’s foreign minister emphasised an appropriate response to Pakistan. His second statement was balanced and showed that the Indian government was not swayed by the rhetoric of the commentators on the private sector TV.
If the Indian military continued to call the shots on India’s relations with Pakistan, the current efforts to improve the relations between the two states will be greatly compromised. India’s political government should not submit to its military’s tough posturing towards Pakistan.
If the Indian military is able to persuade its ministry of external affairs to, once again, hang the whole gamut of India-Pakistan relations on a single issue, i.e., terrorism, their relations would return to the pre-2011 status when the dialogue was suspended against the backdrop of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
In Pakistan, the discussions on the private sector TV were generally moderate with the exception of the comments by some retired military officers and the members of the Jamaat-i-Islami. India was criticised by all for attack and deaths of Pakistani soldiers on the LoC but it could not be described as a persistent propaganda onslaught against India. The government of Pakistan lodged strong protest but it reiterated its policy of peace and dialogue with India.
It is in the interest of both countries that their relations improve and decision taken in 2011-2012 regarding the visa system and bilateral trade are fully implemented. These steps need to be reinforced later with additional facilities. India can play a more active role at the global level if it develops a relationship of trust with Pakistan.
Similarly, Pakistan stands to gain by improved relations with India. This will enable Pakistan to devote more attention to its internal political and economic problems.
India’s political leadership will have to assert its primacy over the military for pursuing normal relations with Pakistan. If somehow the political initiative on India’s relations with Pakistan shifts from the political government to the military top brass, the gains made in this respect by the political leadership will dissipate.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.