Who Blocks India-Pakistan Peace?

It is not unusual for scholars to try and give equal weight to the arguments of both sides while writing about inter-state conflict. It is, however, unusual to describe a major terrorist attack sponsored by one in a major city of another without attributing responsibility or blame, despite the presence of overwhelming evidence of state complicity.

In a recent piece titled Ten Years After the Mumbai Terrorist Attacks, USIP’s Dr Moeed Yusuf—a respected US-based scholar of Pakistani origin—does exactly that. He argues that the 2004-2007 Pervez Musharraf-Manmohan Singh dialogue was the “most promising” peace initiative “ever managed” between India and Pakistan. According to him, this “truly remarkable progress” was undermined by the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, but he fails to mention that these attacks were orchestrated by the Pakistan-based terrorist group Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT).

The LeT and its top leadership continue to enjoy the support and protection of the Pakistani state even after being declared a global terrorist organisation by the United Nations and several governments, including the United States and the United Arab Emirates. Omitting mention of LeT’s role in the Mumbai attacks, and Pakistan’s refusal to act against it, helps build a tale of another “missed chance” for peace. Examining it would help understand why the attacks were timed so soon after the Musharraf-Manmohan initiative, whether the peace process was an elaborate charade, and how the attack that disrupted the dialogue might have been designed precisely to wriggle out of agreements that had not yet been finalised.

I have deep regard for Moeed Yusuf and he would neither be the first nor the last scholar to focus on a seminal event, while forgetting the cumulative history of a fraught relationship. But, with respect to him, the relationship between India and Pakistan cannot be discussed without looking at all the “breakthroughs” that are said to have occurred over time and why and how they did not last.

Dr Yusuf is right in noting that India and Pakistan need to imagine “a fundamentally more positive future together”. But this cannot be done without examining the pattern of poor relations and suggesting that the only hindrance to peace are the “outstanding areas of dispute.” Since their separation in 1947, India and Pakistan have had dozens of rounds of talks, including 45 meetings at the head of state or head of government level. They have also signed several agreements during the last 70 years. The first of these was the agreement between Prime Ministers Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan (known as the Nehru-Liaquat Pact) of 1950 that sought to ensure protection of minorities on both sides in the aftermath of the mass violence of partition.

But Pakistan has nurtured a hardline “Kashmir bazor Shamsheer” (Kashmir by the sword) lobby that portrays India as an existential threat to Pakistan—a view also supported by the country’s politically dominant military. Each of the four India-Pakistan wars was initiated by Pakistan, which tends to maintain an “all or nothing” approach on the Kashmir issue that surfaces soon after periods of dialogue.

The “acrimony on both sides” mentioned by Dr Yusuf is a more recent phenomenon. In India, hardline attitudes towards Pakistan can be traced back no farther than the 2001 terrorist attack on Indian Parliament. Admittedly, the Mumbai attacks of 2008 seen on live television have exacerbated the bitterness.

The Indian view now seems to be that Pakistan seeks dialogue whenever it is in a weak position, only to reinstate conflict once its hand becomes stronger. History supports that view. Soon after the 1962 India-China war, the United States and United Kingdom pushed for an India-Pakistan dialogue seeking to resolve the Kashmir dispute. Designated ministers from both sides, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto representing Pakistan and Swaran Singh representing India, conducted six rounds of discussions. Archival material from the US and India confirms that Nehru offered Pakistan adjustments on territory in Kashmir like what was reportedly agreed in the Musharraf-Manmohan talks. Bhutto turned down the offer, Pakistan announced that it was going to develop closer ties with China, and initiated war in Kashmir in 1965.

After the 1971 war, which resulted in the loss of Pakistan’s eastern wing that became Bangladesh, the two countries signed the Simla Agreement in 1972. India released 90,000 Prisoners of War and returned Pakistani territory it had occupied in the western wing. But a few years later, Pakistan’s military ruler General Ziaul Haq described the agreement as an “unequal treaty” that could no longer be the basis of relations between the two countries.

Soon after the 1998 nuclear tests by both countries, a comprehensive peace dialogue began, culminating in the 1998 bus yatra (journey) by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to Lahore to meet his counterpart Nawaz Sharif. The two signed the 1999 Lahore Declaration. A few months later, Pakistan started the Kargil conflict and Sharif’s government was toppled.

Vajpayee overlooked the Kargil debacle to invite its chief architect, General Pervez Musharraf, for the 2001 Agra Summit, which in turn was followed by terrorist attacks on the Jammu and Kashmir state Assembly followed by the December 2001 attack on Indian Parliament by Pakistan-based jihadi groups.

Musharraf’s back channel negotiations with the Manmohan government from 2004 to 2007 are supposed to have laid the foundations of a comprehensive peace, but these ended with the LeT’s Mumbai attacks. Narendra Modi’s initiatives for negotiations in 2015 were followed by another round of terrorist attacks and a judicial coup, backed by Pakistan’s military, against Modi’s negotiating partner, once again Prime Minister Sharif.

The desire for peace between India and Pakistan is shared by many around the world. But surely peace cannot be built on illusions. Dr Yusuf, and others, working on conflict resolution in South Asia should acknowledge the pattern of dialogue followed by war or terrorist attacks initiated by Pakistan and find a way around it. Pretending that the pattern does not exist will only keep us going around in circles.

This article was originally posted by The Sunday Guardian. It was posted here with the author's permission.

Aparna Pande is Research Fellow and Director, India Initiative at the Washington-DC based Hudson Institute. Her books include Escaping India: Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy(Routledge, 2011) and From Chanakya to Modi: The Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy (Harper Collins, 2017)