India-Pakistan: Talking to Both the Sharifs

03 Dec, 2013    ·   4207

D Suba Chandran recommends dialogue with both the elected leadership and the military in Pakistan

Now that Pakistan has a new Chief of Army Staff, Gen Raheel Sharif, replacing Gen Kayani, what should India do? Should we ignore him, and dialogue only with Nawaz Sharif, the elected Prime Minister? Or should we accept the real politics of Pakistan, and consider starting a dialogue with the COAS? (See Sushil Aaron, 'Talk to the Other Sharif', Business Line, 29 November 2013). Or should India speak to the COAS as well as Nawaz Sharif?

Will Gen Raheel Sharif be Any Different?
Along with nuclear weapons and Afghanistan, India is a part of Pakistan General Head Quarters’ sensitive triumvirate, and Rawalpindi would not like Islamabad to play a major role in creating an independent strategy. No Prime Minister in the history of Pakistan has succeeded in establishing an independent policy vis-à-vis India.

Nawaz Sharif would understand this more than anyone else in Pakistan. It was the bus diplomacy along with secret negotiations through Niaz Naik that made the Sharif-Vajpayee dialogue possible and alarmed the GHQ. The GHQ invariably factored in Kargil intrusions and ousted Nawaz Sharif through a coup. It was followed by jail term and exile, and more importantly, the rupture of the relationship between Nawaz Sharif and the military.

Fast forward to 2013. After the elections and a stupendous victory in 2013, Nawaz Sharif attempted to chart his own course vis-à-vis India. Perhaps he feels that strong Indo-Pak relations would undermine the political position that the GHQ enjoys within Pakistan. It is precisely for this reason that the LoC has suddenly become violent in the last few months. There is no other explanation why the military in Pakistan would like to upset the ceasefire that has been in place since 2004.

Clearly, the GHQ is unlikely to allow any independent dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi. Will Gen Raheel Sharif be any different? Unlikely. He may have been chosen over two other Generals, but he is not likely to be any different from his predecessors when it comes to Indo-Pak relations. He would represent the larger interests of the GHQ, as the other Chiefs have done in the past.

An important question here is: if he is unlikely to be different, why should we speak to him?

What should be New Delhi’s Strategy?
India’s strategy has been so far primarily focused on investing in one person – either the elected leadership, or the President, who has assumed power through a coup. Outside of the formal dialogue led by South Block, New Delhi has also attempted a confidential dialogue through a trusted emissary, as was the case between Vajpayee and Sharif through RK Mishra and Niaz Naik.

Given the nature of civil-military relations within Pakistan, another dialogue on the models of RK Mishra and Niaz Naik may become counter-productive. Even if New Delhi is able to establish a successful dialogue through a secret channel, it is unlikely that Nawaz Sharif will be able to publicly deliver what he has agreed to privately.

Though India has not been averse to the track-II dialogues between the two countries, the hard reality also has been that New Delhi has never really taken them seriously. Though led by their own former bureaucrats/officials, neither the Indian military nor South Block has given much importance to track-II dialogues. The truth perhaps also is that track-II dialogues have run their course.

Track-II dialogues, given their limitation and ability to influence track-I, are unlikely to make any strategic difference at the State level. Besides, given the State’s reluctance (and, at times, even arrogance) to consider any outside input, it is less likely that a track-II dialogue will be able to make any significant inroads.

Perhaps it would be a better strategy for New Delhi to pursue a twin approach – talking to both the elected leadership and the GHQ. A one-track approach either with the elected leadership or with the military has not yielded the desired results for India. More importantly, India has also been hesitant in initiating a direct dialogue with the GHQ so far.

If India is serious about a dialogue with Pakistan, it has to include the GHQ as well.

Who should Speak to Pakistan?
So far, the MEA and the PMO have remained the principal architects of India’s policy formulation on Pakistan. Should these two actors be the only Indian representatives to deal with Pakistan? Even if there is a realisation that India should speak to both the elected and military leaderships in Pakistan, should only these two conduct dialogue or form policy?

Though the military in India has been insisting on giving their inputs, and have asked for a formal space in interactions with Pakistan, both the elected leadership and the bureaucracy have been reluctant in providing this space to the military. True, India is a democracy, and the military of a democracy does not play a role in foreign-policy making. Theoretically. Given the hard realities and Pat failures, perhaps it would be in India’s interest to attempt alternative strategies.

New Delhi should attempt a different strategy. It should expand the profile of whom it speaks to in Pakistan, and also through whom it speaks internally.