Are we still friends? Logically, we should be – Issue 4 Volume 10

TO COMMENT on the future of India-Pakistan relations these days is like talking about two very different worlds. While the Indian media is almost totally absorbed in and expressing anger over the LoC incident, Pakistanis don’t look that bothered. Reports from the external ‘minibattle’ front have not even made the headlines in Pakistan. This could possibly be because Islamabad has too much on its plate these days. The electronic media has been totally occupied with cleric Tahir-ul-Qadri’s political gimmicks to even notice and report the killing of its soldiers in Waziristan or minor terrorist attacks in Balochistan.

Since the tension started at the LoC, there have barely been a couple of talk shows discussing the issue. Perhaps, as television anchor Wajahat Saeed Khan says, the Pakistani media these days has more bones to chew on than the Indian media, which comparatively has lesser stories on its hand. Most certainly, the Pakistan government is not interested in playing up the issue for too long or too far. The Foreign Office, for example, is not reacting wildly to statements from India’s external affairs minister.

While a few find this lack of concern odd, the majority believe that the army is not thrilled by the incident and does not want to prolong it for long. Sources close to the army are of the view that this was a localised tension that is likely to settle down soon and not worth pursuing. Therefore, the military has not directly or indirectly hyped up the matter despite the fact that it has lost two more soldiers after the discovery of the Indian jawan’s decapitated body. It is believed that the couple of stories in the Indian media that equally apportioned the blame for the LoC tension incident on its army pretty much settled the matter.

In fact, a source claimed that the Pakistan Army took the publication of these reports as an intervention by India’s civilian intelligence and, thus, an effort to settle the matter. For the army, the relatively neutral reports represent a battle between India’s IB and its army and RAW.

However, there seems to be a bit of a consensus here on the issue of the Pakistan Army not being the prime instigator of the LoC violence. A popular notion among those who are familiar with the army is that the GHQ is now focussed on other key issues such as internal political manoeuvring or monitoring the formal end of the War on Terror in Afghanistan in the form of the US troop pull-out.

The generals are intently watching domestic politics in the form of negotiations for a caretaker set-up. The country is close to announcing dates for the general election and the army is interested in dominating such a set-up. Senior analysts believe that there is certainly a greater tendency towards pushing for a technocratic regime that lasts for more than 90 days, which can fix at least some of the country’s problems and get rid of a leadership that no longer has the army’s trust. This includes both the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz). The army is suspected to be involved in the recent developments in the form of Qadri’s long march, threatening the sitting government of an Arab Spring-like revolt if it does not resign and surrender to the maulana’s will.

Prominent human rights activist Asma Jehangir believes that the army boots are behind the recent chaos, including the Supreme Court order to arrest Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf for his alleged involvement in a corruption scam. She may be right because the highest court cannot issue arrest orders in a case that pertains to the National Accountability Bureau. Moreover, the investigation in this particular case, which pertains to the energy sector, has not been concluded by the bureau.

Political experts such as journalist Najam Sethi almost suggest a collusion between this mullah and the military to control the future political set-up. For the military, future politics is relevant particularly from the perspective of negotiating a settlement in Afghanistan as US forces exit the region. This is one of the reasons that most of the army’s “good Taliban” like LeT/JuD’sHafiz Saeed, LeJ’sMalik Ishaq or JeM’sMasood Azhar are lying low — some killing the Shias and others expanding their welfare and human resource network in Balochistan. The 2014 outcome is so critical for the GHQ that it does not really want to get distracted by other developments on its eastern border.

The military’s preoccupation with Afghanistan is also one of the reasons for Gen Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and his corps commanders giving a gentle nod to the peace initiative with India and starting trade relations. Although the MFN status issue has been stuck for months and many believe this has been stopped by the army, there is a consensus that the generals would not create major barriers unless they see any serious compromises being made by the civilian government at the cost of national security.

In some ways, peace initiatives are always a greater matter of concern in bilateral relations than tension and conflict. This is due to the fact that a peace initiative has a history of raising expectations on both sides, which means two different things. In India, perhaps, a peace initiative means a total reversal of the 66 years of conflict within a matter of a few days or Pakistan’s 180-degree turn from its earlier position on Kashmir. In Pakistan, on the other hand, it means cessation of war and disengagement of the military at the frontline.

WHEN TRADE relations were being negotiated, business tycoons such as Mian Mansha did not deny that there weren’t apprehensions within army circles regarding the outcome of trade on the resolution of disputes. Even other sources are of the view that one of Kayani’s primary concerns is the sensitivity of his men regarding the Kashmir issue. He cannot be seen as sacrificing all that the country and the army fought for without any sign of benefits accruing to the State. Nevertheless, it is not clear as to what is the army’s expectation from India.

Therefore, certain circles in Pakistan also wonder about what might have happened at the LoC. A retired diplomat speculated about the tendency of some in the army to not allow the peace initiative to proceed beyond a point where it cannot be managed by them anymore.

In fact, one still speculates about the source of the planted story regarding change in the Pakistan Army’s doctrine that allegedly attached greater significance to internal security or terrorism than India. Such a proposition would mean removing even the relevance of the country’s nuclear doctrine with a single stroke of the pen. India remains Pakistan’s primary threat and concern, especially until there is a substantial change in ground reality.

Having said that, it is also a fact that many senior officers undergoing training at the National Defence University are now more guarded in talking about the Indian threat. This does not mean that they don’t think about the primary threat. The evidence of this is the Green Book in which officers have written in recent years about psy-ops and non-traditional forms of threat from India. In the 2010 Green Book, for instance, an air defence corps officer wrote a detailed article about the threat posed by India through cultural invasion and other means.

The above situation is juxtaposed with the army’s more recent concern regarding the Afghanistan situation. Therefore, there are three possible conclusions that could be drawn from the recent LoC tension. First, it is indeed a localised issue that is growing out of proportion due to the attention paid by the Indian media in collusion with certain political actors. After all, this is not the first time that the armed forces have engaged in decapitation. It has happened before and the Indian Army chief must explain why he ignored the earlier incidents. In this, Pakistan has little role except to wait for the tension to blow over.

Second, if Pakistan is indeed responsible, then there could be a consensus at the top to re-initiate tension. As argued earlier, given Pakistan’s immediate concerns, this has short-term advantage for Islamabad as it will prove disruptive for its overall geopolitical and geostrategic goals in the region.

Third, this could be the work of some elements in the army who may have links with the Taliban. It is worth reminding that last December, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had offered a peace deal to the government with one of the key conditions being the revival of militancy in the Kashmir Valley.

More important, at this juncture, there is a larger number of stakeholders for peace in Pakistan than ever before who would be disappointed to see a reversal in the peace initiative. While one hopes that both the governments find a way out of this morass, we must also remember that unless our disputes are resolved, there will always be a threat of some violence or tension escalating. What is needed is a robust formula to resolve such issues and not let minor conflicts boil into major ones or reverse the entire peace process.

Note: This article originally published here.