The short period of hope fostered by warming of relations between political leadership in India and Pakistan after Mr Nawaz Sharif took over as the Prime Minister in that country has been shattered by the Border Action Team (BAT) incident on the Line of Control (LOC) on 6th August 2013 which followed a few days after the suicide attack on the Indian consulate in Jalalabad.
The faux pas by the Indian government of gross miscommunication by the Defence Minister Mr A K Antony of the BAT action on 6th August to the parliament has only compounded the challenge of normalistion of the composite dialogue process. What is more is the hot heads on both sides of the divide have got ample space to further vitiate the atmosphere even though Mr Nawaz Sharif has attempted to carry out some damage control by virtually apologizing for the act of violation of the LOC by Pakistani troops and brutal killing of Indian soldiers. This is a somewhat unprecedented gesture by a Pakistani leader. Yet the Indian leadership has become so cautious that it could only fumble a response.
Underlying this sequence of events is unrealistic expectations of a sustained rapprochement until fundamentals on both sides of the border (and LOC) change.
What are these basic factors?
Seen from the Indian perspective employment of terrorism as a tool to continue the proxy war by Pakistan against India remains a major hindrance to sustained peace and stability. Inability of the Pakistani leadership be it civil or military to contain the hydra headed monster of terror that is eating away at the country’s own security supplements the first. While India has set a realistic demand of action against perpetrators of 26/11 Mumbai terrorist attack, no court or judicial officer and prosecutor in Pakistan can bring the case to a satisfactory closure. He will be assassinated. The continued primacy of the Army and Inter Services Intelligence in decision making on Afghanistan and India is another factor, taming of the so called Establishment remains a pipe dream.
From the Pakistani perspective inability of India to sustain the composite dialogue process despite what it would see minor irritants on the LOC and other terrorist attacks in the country including support infrastructure within that sustains it remains a hindrance. Compromise on issues as Siachen Glacier where Pakistan lost a large number of troops in February 2012 to avalanches is another important marker to which the Pakistan Army Chief Kiyani has committed himself. From the Indian point of view public opinion prevents compromise on the first while strategic consideration s on the second.
The above debate would necessitate the need for realistic expectations on engagement between India and Pakistan. Had the case been so, the government of India would not have attempted to tweak the statement of the Defence Minister in the parliament on 6th August and would have called a spade a spade. Expecting to get away by giving a clean chit to the Pakistan Army so blatantly when five Indian soldiers were killed on Indian Territory is clearly incomprehensible.
Had the attack being condemned and the amendments made on 8th August wherein Mr A K Antony stated in the parliament,
“It is now clear that the specialist troops of Pakistan Army were involved in this attack when a group from the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) side crossed the LC and killed our brave jawans. We all know that nothing happens from Pakistan side of the Line of Control without support, assistance, facilitation and often, direct involvement of the Pakistan Army,”
the uproar that has done more damage to ongoing rapprochement would have been avoided.
But then it is important to have realistic expectations on progress in Indo Pakistan relations based on fundamental factors which have not changed over a period. Will Nawaz Sharif be able to make a difference despite best intentions will be known if he gains a modicum of control over the Establishment? Till then India will have to be more mindful of the backlash of enthusiastically reaching out to Pakistan. A low key policy which builds on the positives of economy and trade will pay better dividends rather than raising the ante of hope where none realistically exists.