After almost a decade of ‘ugly instability,’ South Asia is once again moving towards a period of ‘relative stability that could potentially lead to the resumption of a dialogue process between the two regional adversaries. The unlikelihood of PM Modi agreeing to reverse his Aug 5, 2019 decision, and PM Imran Khan’s refusal to engage in a dialogue process without India restoring the disputed status of the Indian occupied territory of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), makes it difficult for any of the sponsors to ‘broker’ lasting peace between the two countries. The ongoing rapprochement, however, would help India to repair its image besides strengthening its hold over the illegally occupied territory of J&K.
This is not the first time that Pakistan and India have signalled their desire to normalize their relations, and both have been through similar cycles with no meaningful outcome. With the US no more a neutral broker, the well-choreographed signalling which includes Pakistan’s apparent desire to pursue ‘comprehensive security’ laying greater emphasis on the human security, if not calibrated properly, could have implications for Pakistan’s national security and its desire to resolve the Kashmir dispute as per the wishes of the Kashmiri people.
A Choreographed Signalling. After almost a month of Biden Administration taking the oath of the office, the DGMOs of both India and Pakistan issued a surprise joint statement with both sides committing to adhere to the 2003 ceasefire agreement. The DGMO’s also agreed “to address each other’s core issues/ concerns which have the propensity to disturb the peace and lead to violence.” The US may not have played a direct role in the current peace initiative but was quick to acknowledge these positive developments. This led to a general belief that the new initiative may have the backing of the US and a result of extensive back-channel diplomacy with a well-choreographed roadmap.
For instance, on March 19, 2021 PM Imran Khan reiterated his government’s desire to resolve all outstanding issues through dialogue. A day later, PM Modi in a Twitter message conveyed best wishes to his Pakistani counterpart for a speedy recovery from COVID-19. Two days later on 23rd March, PM Modi sent a congratulatory message to PM Khan on the occasion of Pakistan day indicating his desire for cordial relations but the message was not without usual insinuations: “For this an environment of trust, devoid of terror and hostility, is imperative.”
Instead of responding in kind to the allegation of sponsoring terror, some senior ministers of Imran Khan government termed it as a welcome step. This is a significant departure from the past practice where such insinuations would have triggered a ‘quid pro quo plus’ response from the Pakistani side. This change in tone from the Pakistani side could be under external pressure or a result of changed internal thinking, but the apparent climb down without demanding from India to reverse it’s Aug 5, 2019 decision could have implications for the Kashmir cause.
Pakistan’s Quest for Comprehensive Security! Recent statements emanating from the Pakistani side indicate a shift in national security priorities with more emphasis on the economy or human security as part of its new approach to achieving ‘comprehensive security.’ All states strive for comprehensive security but this remains a social construct and a relative term since no country can claim to have achieved this ideal.
Comprehensive security is not a bargain between traditional or non-traditional security. A state can strive to attain ‘relative’ security as per its potential and the nature of internal and external challenges. States that fail to maintain a balance between the traditional and non-traditional security needs and drift towards the extreme ends of the security spectrum (prioritizing one over the other) – are more likely to lose their sovereignty and may have to survive on the borrowed concept of security. States at best can achieve relative comprehensive security by improving governance and better management of the available resources.
The recent statements by the senior government functionaries indicating the desire to focus more on non-traditional security issues could be aimed at signalling sincerity of intent, but this also has the potential to trigger a slippery ‘guns Vs butter’ debate within the country, where the misperceptions of military overspending are often misused for political gains.
Pakistan spends 1/6th of what India does to modernize its conventional as well as nuclear military capabilities. The asymmetry in conventional balance is offset by Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence, but with continuous growth in India’s conventional military the asymmetry is likely to further increase bringing more pressure on the decision-makers to increase the defence spending. An altered national narrative with a greater focus on non-traditional security aspects would make it difficult to meet the essential military balance that may be required to ensure the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country.
A Path to Nowhere. India and Pakistan have been through similar cycles of stability-instability but could not achieve the desired end objective due to divergence in their approach and objectives. With no change in their stance, and India unwilling to reverse the annexation of the disputed territory of Kashmir the new peace initiative is not likely to bring any positive outcome.
PM Modi and his political party BJP thrives on anti-Pakistan rhetoric. Any concession on Kashmir would be detrimental to Modi’s political image and is contrary to BJP’s ideology. The recent gestures of goodwill albeit with insinuations are intended mainly to project India as a responsible country willing to engage in a dialogue process. Pakistan must not allow India to control the narrative by reciprocating peace messages that would mainly be used to build a false narrative of a normalization process and provide a much-needed respite to India from the negative international focus due to its anti-Muslim policies.
Peace is a necessity and must be pursued for the betterment of the region, but for this to happen a comprehensive dialogue to discuss the core issues is a pre-requisite. The US, which had been playing the role of a mediator between the two regional adversaries in the past – is no more a neutral broker, and it would be unrealistic to expect a favourable outcome if the current rapprochement has the backing of India’s major strategic partner.