The day after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani decided on initiating greater official interactions between the two countries while conversing in Thimphu, the Americans and the British were among the Western nations which issued warnings on fresh terrorist attacks on India.
Clearly, even as the Pakistani leaders were expressing their peaceful intent, elements in their country were preparing for war. These contradictory impulses have long been a feature of mutual relations. It has often been noticed that formal negotiations are preceded or followed by terrorist outrages to suggest that not everyone in Pakistan wants a restoration of normality.
Just as Pakistan is seen to harbour belligerent non-state actors, to use a phrase favoured by Islamabad, the Indian side has demonstrated an unmistakable willingness to walk the extra mile for the sake of peace even at the risk of courting domestic displeasure.
The most courageous attempt in this respect was made by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he defied the strident anti-Pakistani sections in his own party and in the Sangh Parivar to travel to Lahore in 1999.
To understand the risk he was taking where his own base of support was concerned, it would be necessary to recall the suggestion of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) stalwart that Vajpayee should have gone to Lahore in a tank and not in a bus.
Similarly, Manmohan Singh has been accused by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and others of acting under American pressure to reach out to Pakistan.
Yet, if the initiatives of two successive prime ministers are taken into account, it can seem they are going out of their way to make friendly overtures even if the response from the other side has often been discouraging and sometimes positively hostile.
For instance, even as Vajpayee was embracing Nawaz Sharif in Lahore in 1999, the Pakistan Army was preparing to launch its Kargil offensive. And two years later, Pakistani terrorists carried out an attack on the Indian parliament with the objective of eliminating the top Indian political leadership.
Later, the process of a composite dialogue did not deter Pakistan from switching from the seemingly less effective occasional bomb blasts in markets and trains to a frontal attack on Mumbai by its brainwashed psychotic killers. The result was the stalling of negotiations, which are yet to acquire the earlier momentum.
It may not be besides the point to predict, therefore, that if the Thimphu initiative does gather pace, a major terrorist attack may be in the offing. To understand why seemingly determined efforts are made to block the road to peace, it is necessary to look at the forces at work in the two countries.
Where India is concerned, it is clear that its prime ministers are keen to write their names into history books by breaking the logjam of India-Pakistan confrontation. It will be an achievement which will raise their status from the level of politicians to that of statesmen. Hence the initiatives of Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh even if their parties are not fully with them.
In Pakistan, on the other hand, while the civilian leadership may be amenable to the peace process, the army and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) seem to be uninterested. It is noteworthy that Gilani sought to counter Manmohan Singh’s point about Pakistan not doing enough to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure by saying the latest constitutional amendment gave the Pakistani civilian authority greater powers than before.
The Kerry-Lugar legislation too links the $1.5 billion annual American aid to Pakistan to the establishment of civilian control over the army.
But it is doubtful whether the army will quietly return to the barracks or ISI will desist from fomenting trouble abroad. The reason is the repeated spells of army rule in Pakistan have fostered a feeling of disdain among the military personnel towards the political class. They will be loathe, therefore, to meekly abide by civilian dictates and thereby squander the image of being the only powerful national entity that the army has built up over the years.
Even more important is apparently the belief in the army and ISI that a lasting peace with India is tantamount to Pakistan’s final defeat. The reason is not only that India has won all the three wars – in 1947-48, 1965 and 1971 as well as the Kargil border conflict – but also that India is seen to have been consistently successful in its strategic manoeuvres while Pakistan has been at the losing end.
For instance, India was able to exploit Pakistan’s internal differences to wrest Bangladesh from it, and it has also been able to hold on to Kashmir despite all of Pakistan’s efforts to stir up trouble via a proxy war and terrorist attacks.
For the Pakistan Army, therefore, peace with India will turn out to be one which is on India’s terms. What is more, the absence of tension will, first, mean that India’s soft power will gradually overwhelm Pakistani society via Bollywood and cultural exchanges, and, secondly, help India to take even more rapid strides towards becoming a major regional power.
It is, therefore, understandable why the Pakistan Army continues to regard the terrorist groups as strategic assets. They are its only hope to destabilise India. It is only when the civilian leadership assumes total control in Pakistan, as in other democratic countries, that there will be a genuine chance of peace.
(08.05.2010 – Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)