The South Asia Channel
Anatomy of a Fault Line
Early peace gestures by the Indian and Pakistani governments gave cause for optimism, but the two sides have once again drifted apart along familiar lines.
When Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited, along with the heads of government of other South Asian countries, to the swearing-in ceremony of India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 26, 2014, many in Pakistan saw the gesture as an attempt to humiliate Pakistan, with their Prime Minister being reduced to a vassal at a pretend-emperor’s coronation. Despite considerable domestic opposition, Prime Minister Sharif attended, and his attendance signaled a serious intent for working closely with India’s newly-elected leader — one whose alleged complicity in the Gujarat riots of 2002 made him highly unpopular—towards lasting rapprochement between the two countries. It signaled a desire to break away from the “legacy of mistrust,” as Prime Minister Sharif called it, which always had prevented the bilateral relationship from moving forward.
In the initial months, it seemed as if Sharif’s gamble had paid off. Both prime ministers engaged in a series of reciprocal gestures of goodwill. A year later, that hope had proved futile. The two governments are, yet again, at loggerheads, plagued by that same lack of trust that is engendered by their divergent approaches to the Kashmir dispute and mutual suspicions of interference in either country’s domestic unrest.
The bilateral talks that were to have taken place in August 2014, following the Sharif-Modi meet in Delhi, were cancelled by India as retaliation to the Pakistani envoys’ meeting with Kashmiri separatist leaders just prior. For Pakistan, maintaining a relationship with the Kashmiri separatist movement, and particularly that aspect of the movement that favour accession to Pakistan, is seen as essential for ensuring that the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, one that Pakistan’s army chief Raheel Sharif has recently termed “the unfinished agenda of Partition,” remains not just central, but rather a prerequisite, to closer relations with India. On the other hand, Pakistan’s gesture was, to India, tantamount to interference into its domestic affairs.
It is altogether another matter that a substantial section of Kashmiris have increasingly favored independence from both India and Pakistan—a fact overlooked almost entirely by both countries.
For India, addressing Pakistan’s alleged support for cross-border terrorism and clamping down anti-India terrorism emanating from Pakistan, has long been its prerequisite for pursuing closer relations; in this context, Pakistan’s continuing relations with Kashmiri separatists is also seen as evidence of an enduring policy of supporting insurgency and cross-border terrorism within India.
India’s perception of Pakistan’s complicity in instigating terror within India was further strengthened when, in December 2014, a Pakistani court granted bail to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks of 2008. In the ensuing weeks, a boat that was midway between Pakistan and Indian territory was cornered by the Indian coast guard, before it was set alight and sunk under mysterious circumstances. India alleged that the boat may possibly have been a carrier for terrorists to infiltrate into India—as the Mumbai attackers had done in 2008. Pakistan refuted the claims. That the boat may most probably have harbored harmless fishermen cannot be discounted.
As if in retaliation to Indian allegations, many in Pakistan’s civilian government and the military top brass have increasingly and forcefully begun to allege an “Indian hand” behind the disturbingly high incidence of terror attacks in the country; the festering insurgency movement in Balochistan; as well as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliated insurgency groups that operate in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which the Pakistan army has been engaged in fighting since June 2014. The implication is that the army is engaged not just against home-grown terrorist groups, but rather, against those terrorist groups that are covertly being supported by India. This is in spite of the fact that the TTP has itself vowed war against India.
The specter of the “Pakistani hand” in India and of the “Indian hand” in Pakistan has, more often than not, been invoked by the state to cover up the governments’ inadequacies and failures. India largely chooses to blame Pakistan for the insurgency in Kashmir and for exacerbating separatist sentiments among the civilian population, thereby underplaying the misrule of its civilian governments and the human rights abuses by its armed forces over the years. India’s insistence on the ”Pakistani hand” in several other terrorist attacks such as the Mecca Masjid, Malegaon and Samjhauta Express blasts had, upon further investigation, been proven false; evidence pointed instead to the involvement of indigenous Hindu right-wing groups.
Similarly, speculations of the “Indian hand” have also attained bizarre proportions in Pakistan in recent months. RAW has been suspected of abetting various terrorist attacks targeting Pakistan’s Shia, Ahmedi and Christian minorities; participating in the assassinations of prominent civilian activists such as Sabeen Mahmood; and recently, supporting foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaged in various “anti-national” activities within Pakistan. Several of these allegations have, eventually, been proven false.
Regardless of the extent of external interference, it must be recognized that most of the attacks in both countries are carried out by indigenous elements. Unless Pakistan and India are prepared address the sectarian and communal tensions within their own societies, which may well have fueled such attacks, the invisible hand of either countries will continue to conveniently be invoked by the two governments.
When China and Pakistan signed an agreement in April 2015 over the inception of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), India raised strong objections. The corridor was to traverse through Pakistan-administered Kashmir—a region that India claims as its own. For India, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an embodiment of its worst fears regarding Pakistan’s position over Kashmir and its capacity to utilize cross-border terrorism to domestically destabilize India—perhaps under greater protection from China. Pakistan’s reaction to India’s objections was, however, one of surprise; it was taken as evidence that India did not wish to see Pakistan grow. However, it must be recognized that Pakistan’s reaction to a hypothetical India-Russia economic corridor, traversing through Indian-administered Kashmir, would in all likelihood, be exactly along similar lines.
The constant suspicions between India and Pakistan over domestic interference and terrorism reached a crescendo in mid-2015. During the bilateral visit to Bangladesh, Prime Minister Modi himself squarely blamed Pakistan for consistently whipping up terrorism in India. India’s Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar claimed that the Indian army planned to “neutralize terrorists through terrorists,” in apparent reference to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir. As if on cue, India’s minister of state Rajyavardhan Rathore—following the Indian army’s claims of destroying various separatist camps in a June 2015 cross-border raid in Myanmar—declared, “This is a message for all countries, including Pakistan…We will strike when we want to.”
The retaliation from Pakistan was far from subdued. Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf—himself an aspirant for contending in the country’s upcoming elections—responded to India’s rhetoric, stating that his country would use nuclear weapons against India, if needed. Unfortunately, Pakistan’s Defense Minister Khawaja Asif also echoed the sentiment, stating, “If need be, we will use [arms] against India.”
The Indian Defense Minister’s statements are not only provocative towards Pakistan, but are also damaging to civilian-military relations within India, especially in regions where the armed forces are engaged in fighting insurgency movements—be it in Kashmir, in the Northeast, or in the Naxalite-ridden regions—and where the army’s policy of countering terror with terror had previously resulted in grave human rights violations.
However, Pakistan’s attempt to retaliate with threat of war—or worse, nuclear weapons—is a callous one that imperils human security in South Asia.
The divergent stance over Kashmir compounded with suspicions of domestic interference has prevented any bilateral peace talks from bearing fruition. While there are no easy solutions for this intractability, the two democratically-elected, civilian governments are, at the very least, obligated to desist from willfully and self-destructively dragging the two nations towards another armed conflict.