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The Call: Don’t hold your breath on India-Pakistan peace

The Call: Don’t hold your breath on India-Pakistan peace

By Eurasia Group analysts Seema Desai and Maria Kuusisto

While no one’s launching a full revival of the India-Pakistan peace process yet, conversations are beginning to take place in the wings. On June 15, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari met for the first time since the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Largely because of U.S. diplomatic pressure, they agreed to this brief discussion and public appearance on the sidelines of a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Russia.

Although the meeting demonstrates that Delhi and Islamabad may be willing to resume some sort of dialogue, both Singh and Zardari remain constrained by the hard-line sentiments of their domestic constituencies. India wants clear signs that Pakistan is cracking down on extremist elements within its borders. Meanwhile, the Pakistani government is under pressure from the military, which remains suspicious of India. And Pakistan’s recent release of a prominent militant from house arrest has undermined prospects of cooperation.

From the U.S. perspective, the Obama administration sees easing India-Pakistan tension as an essential part of its regional stabilization strategy. It would enable the Pakistani military to focus on fighting the Taliban along the Afghan border and defuse covert and overt support for the Taliban and other extremists. In early June, the United States launched a diplomatic push, sending U.S. Special Representative Richard Holbrooke and Under-secretary of State William Burns to South Asia; Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit India and Pakistan in July.

India and Pakistan are sensitive to U.S. pressure: Islamabad needs U.S. financial assistance, and Delhi is keen to deepen the George W. Bush–era engagement. As a result, Delhi and Islamabad both made positive comments on the peace process around the Holbrooke-Burns visits, but they remain deeply sensitive to domestic forces, which will ultimately prevent deep engagement right now. And neither government wants to be seen as giving in to U.S. pressure, making a return to the results-oriented, pre-Mumbai composite dialogue highly unlikely.

Image credit: Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images