IPCS Discussion

Pakistan's India Policy

15 Jan, 2019    ·   5546

Report of the closed-door round-table discussion held on 21 December 2018

On 21 December 2018, IPCS hosted Dr Moeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President of the Asia Centre at the US Institute of Peace (USIP) for a round-table discussion on Pakistan's India Policy

The discussion explored Pakistan’s foreign policy, politics and internal dynamics, involvement of third parties in the India-Pakistan equation, and the potential window of opportunity that is available for India and Pakistan to recalibrate bilateral ties.

Opening Remarks and Q&A

A shift in trend since the 2013 general elections in Pakistan is noticeable: the country has moved from its so-called 'India obsession' to India being sidelined even as an election issue.

Pakistani youth have now actively started questioning the establishment on policy matters, and surveys show that the India factor as a point of obsession is missing in the younger generation. Greater cross-border physical mobility and freedom can be helpful in addressing whatever gaps in perception still remain. However, these positive domestic trends do not suggest that the bilateral relationship is on the mend or that there is a paradigm shift in Pakistan's political structure and policies with regard to India. 

For a long time, Pakistanis have questioned their government machinery for the failures in delivering promises and bad governance. But, with the entry of the new populist government led by the charismatic Imran Khan, the face of Pakistani politics has undergone a major change. Most of the earlier critics are not challenging the government on its commitments even if they are unrealistic, as several claim. This confidence-boosting trend could send the current government into the usual political trap following its yearlong honeymoon period, that is, trip them up when they decide to take bolder steps. This could preclude the possibility of Pakistan-India talks. 

The first year of the new government in Pakistan is a golden opportunity for both Pakistan and India to work on recalibrating ties. Unfortunately, however, the Indian as well as US media have already characterised and begun casting the Khan government in a negative light, which could in turn have an adverse impact on how it is viewed by India, and as a resultant, on the possibility of a diplomatic rapprochement. 

India is believed to be reluctant to pursue talks with the Pakistani government because of the military's involvement in foreign policy, particularly with regard to India, and tensions between the civilian government and the military. However, the tide appears to have turned with the civil-military disconnect slowly dissolving under the new government in Pakistan. This shift roughly corresponds with Imran Khan's rise as prime minister, and his prioritisation of domestic issues such as the provision of basic amenities to the public, among others, over foreign policy. 

In addition, Foreign Minster Shah Mehmood Qureshi is respected by both the army and the civilian government, and he acts as an able liaison between the two on Pakistan's foreign policy issues. Qureshi's brokering role has aligned the foreign policy priorities of the army and the civilian machinery, which directly addresses India's dilemma of whom to talk to in Pakistan. The civilian government in Pakistan however still does not have full control over foreign affairs, with policy issues related to India and Afghanistan are still controlled by the military establishment. On the judicial front, the current Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) has a clean track record and is known to be by-the-book, and his successor is most likely to follow this path. 

India’s new Pakistan policy that is aimed at isolating Pakistan on regional and global forums has backfired because it is not grounded in strategic logic. For a long time, the India-Pakistan narrative has largely been set by India, and following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan was consigned to the docks in front of the international community. Now with the narrative changing, the Pakistan government seems ready to discuss bilateral issues, to which India has responded coldly. India’s stance on Pakistan and its isolation policy has led to China stepping in and partnering with Pakistan on international forums, and joint infrastructure projects like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). 

From the US policy perspective, India-Pakistan tension in Afghanistan is a major obstacle to the direction Washington wants to take. The US wants bilateral engagement between India and Pakistan, but every time there has been some forward movement, one of the two sides has backed out. 

From a realist and strategic point of view, India must push aside Pakistan as a major policy issue to focus more optimally on pressing domestic concerns, particularly as the growing power differential has led to the opinion that Pakistan may not be able to keep up with India given the former's economic situation. That being said, it is also equally possible, however, that New Delhi overestimates Pakistan’s vulnerabilities. 60 per cent of Pakistan’s economy is informal, and formal statistics and data may not be the most objective way to evaluate the country's economic situation. 

A comparative analysis of the past shows that things have changed in Pakistan's domestic politics. Data from 2003 to 2007 indicates a downward trend in violence in Pakistan. During this period, both Pakistan and India were progressing towards a recalibration of bilateral ties as well as faring significantly better on the global stage, with much hard work undertaken through bilateral backchannels. This phase can serve as a example to the current Indian and Pakistani governments if they seek to recreate the same regional conviviality and a better relationship. 

Even if the political landscape has changed in Pakistan, a final solution to the Pakistan-India issue cannot be solved unilaterally, and both sides have to take action initiate the talks as soon as possible. Although terrorism has been a menace for Pakistan for a long time, state institutions are yet to frame a concrete policy to eliminate it conclusively. Still, Pakistan has changed from a state that used hostile groups as policy instruments to a state that is now petrified of the consequences of the internal backlash of such as move. 

Policies on both sides need greater introspection given that they often miss the bigger picture and are overshadowed by domestic political constraints that result in bilateral fire-fights. This handicaps the political capacity to initiate bilateral talks. From a peace-building point of view, whatever India and Pakistan can achieve alone is far less than what the two can achieve together. Whether it is resolving fundamental security issues or sorting out problems on the economic front, unless the region moves together and as a whole, the outcomes will be suboptimal. 

Rapporteured by Kushal Kumar Sinha, Research Intern, IPCS