Why Talks Won’t Help

As long as the army calls the shots in Pakistan, it will continue the conflict with India

Gurmeet Kanwal

 In December 2016, Ashley J. Tellis, a renowned South Asia scholar, delivered a frank and incisive talk with a stark title — “Are India-Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn?” — at an event organised by Carnegie India. Those who missed the talk can now read his monograph: Are India-Pakistan Peace Talks Worth a Damn?

The author’s major conclusions reflect a deep understanding of the state of play in South Asia and are unexceptionable: “The international community’s routine call for continuous India-Pakistan dialogue is not only misguided but also counterproductive. This entreaty… fails to recognise that the security competition between the two nations is not actually driven by discrete, negotiable differences. Pakistan’s revisionist behaviour is… intensified by its army’s ambition to preserve its dominance in domestic politics.”

The asymmetries between the strategies of India and Pakistan have been highlighted by Tellis. India is a status quo power that perceives China to be its foremost strategic challenge, while Pakistan is a revisionist state that seeks to make territorial gains through the use of military force. 

Tellis writes, “…the path to peace depends largely on Pakistan’s willingness to accept its current strategic circumstances,” and goes on to say that the army calls the shots and is not inclined to change course.

According to Tellis, mediation by the international community will not help to usher in peace, “…since the United States lacks the means to alter Pakistan’s strategic calculus and China lacks the desire. China would likely utilise Pakistan to slow down the rise of its emerging Asian competitor, India.” Tellis recommends that the US and the international community should prevail on the Pakistan army to stop sponsoring jihadi terrorism in India and persuade it to, “…end its relentless revisionism — which threatens to destabilise the Indian subcontinent.”

Tellis dwells on Pakistan’s nuclear coercion that “serves to shackle India and prevent it from fully focussing on consolidating its economic achievements and enlarging its geopolitical reach beyond South Asia.” He deduces, “nuclear weapons… provided Rawalpindi with a license to support insurgencies within, or terrorism against, India. Pakistan’s ever-expanding nuclear arsenal…. serves to prevent any significant Indian retaliation against Pakistan’s persistent low-intensity war for fear of sparking a nuclear holocaust.”

Tellis analyses the prospects of transition to genuine civilian rule in Pakistan and concludes that there is a greater probability of Pakistan remaining a “Praetorian Democracy” committed to “jihad as a grand strategy”. He writes, “The more precarious Pakistan’s security situation has become as a result of the army’s successive strategic failures, the tighter the military’s lock on political power.”

Finally, Tellis recommends that the US should stop calling for a sustained “India-Pakistan dialogue on the full range of economic and political issues;” it should, instead, make “a determined effort to compel the ‘deep state’ in Rawalpindi to sunder its links with jihadi terrorism”.

It emerges clearly that peace between India and Pakistan is unlikely until Pakistan’s deep state — the army and the ISI — gives up what it perceives to be a low-cost, high payoff quest to continue to bleed India through a thousand cuts. Till the Pakistan army realises the amount of harm it has caused to its own country and changes course, “ugly stability” will continue to prevail in South Asia.

This monograph is a profoundly analytical account of the history, the present state and the future prospects of the India-Pakistan relationship, especially the role played by Pakistan’s deep state in perpetuating conflict. It must be read by policymakers, armed forces leaders and the members of the strategic community in India and Pakistan.

The writer is distinguished fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi