Without addressing the internal deficiencies of Pakistan — The various autonomous terror groups which enjoy various degrees of popular and official support, an over-ambitious Judiciary which is reluctant to convict terrorists, an Army which manufactures and uses the pretext of external threats in its power struggle with the civilians, and an intelligence agency addicted to using terror as an instrument of its policy and whose objectives do not align with the long term interests of the state — Pakistan government neither has the credibility nor the capability to deliver on its side of the bargain on any negotiated settlement for peace. Permanent peace with India, US and the world is impossible without demonstrated commitment to stick to Pakistan’s end of the bargain: Any deals which rely on empty promises, platitudes, talking points1, negotiating skill, goodwill, large heartedness, symbolic gestures and nuisance value might buy short-term normalization and a few dollars but will neither achieve permanent peace nor economic prosperity. What it will achieve repeatedly though is a steady employment, fame, importance and travel to exotic location for “track-2” participants. But then, short-term normalization might be the exactly what the various players (Zardari, Army, ISI, track-2 participants) are shooting for at this time to cater to their own short-term needs.
India’s GDP in 2010 was $1.73 Trillion. Pakistan’s GDP was $0.176 Trillion. In other words, Pakistan’s entire GDP is about the same as a rounding error in India’s GDP, and the gap is widening.
This huge disparity in economic strength has begun to translate into military and diplomatic might. India has won the largest mining contract in Afghanistan worth Billions2. It is inevitable that deals like these will translate to economic and political clout in Afghanistan. This is how Indians will take over Pakistan’s backyard — not by constructing dozens of consulates and training hundreds of RAW agents as some armchair analysts stuck in 80’s Jihadi mindset suggest. This influence is not limited to countries poorer than Pakistan: India-China’s trade volume today is more than a third of Pakistan’s GDP, larger than all of Pakistan’s external debt and is growing fast. It is inevitable that over time, the “all weather friendship” becomes seasonal, starts placing demands and charging its pound of flesh. Pakistan’s relevance, clout and friends in the region are shrinking.
Pakistan economy has internal ramifications as well. If the Army stays out of politics (and if ballots are not stuffed), elections will be fought and won based on the economy. If tomorrow the PPP is able wipe out gas and electricity shortages and reduce the price of petrol, its victory in the next elections is guaranteed. On the other hand, prices of essential commodities will be a central plank of PML-N’s election pitch.
With relations souring with the USA and the consequent reduction in IMF’s enthusiasm in giving out loans, dole outs are not a steady guarantee. This leaves only the option of trade to bolster Pakistan’s economy. Improving trade relations with India shows the political acumen of Zardari. The economy will be bolstered (electricity and fuel deals, export potential). By removing India as an existential threat, the Army’s relevance and eventually their stranglehold over the country will be weakened. Quasi-normal relations with India will also mean blunting the appeal of players like PTI and Difa-e-Pakistan. Zardari’s visit to India should be seen in this light (and as a lesser objective, bolstering Bilawal’s credentials as a PPP leader and Pakistan’s external face).
So will Pakistan-India relationship permanently and irreversibly improve? Unfortunately no.
The Terror Angle
From India’s (and the World’s) perspective, Pakistan’s relevance primarily stems from one aspect: Its nuisance value. Pakistan is relevant to NATO because of its propensity and willingness to shut down NATO logistics routes. Pakistan is relevant to the US because it shelters the Taliban hierarchy and either through collusion or by benign neglect aids Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan is relevant to India because of its ability to export terror. Beyond this, Pakistan contribution to the global scheme of things are few, if any.
Any permanent normalization of relationship with India (and indeed the US) would need to eventually address the terror aspect. Even if Pakistan’s foreign office relies on Indian “large heartedness” and promises of future action to gain concessions, this relationship will be built on a shaky foundation. The next terror attack in India and the consequent domestic compulsions will leave the Indian government no option but to break off contacts and retaliate, resetting the relationship. In recent times, this happened after the attack on India’s Parliament (when BJP was in power), and again after the Mumbai attacks (when Congress party was in power), showing that this is not a party-specific thing in India, but is rather driven by public opinion and political compulsions.
Too Many Jihadis….
There is great reluctance in Pakistan to give up terror as a leverage, because as noted before, it is the only leverage Pakistan has over the world. Even if the Government decides to give up terrorism as a leverage as part of a grand bargain, it cannot: Irrational violence has been decentralized in Pakistan and accountability for abetting terrorism has been willfully destroyed. There are simply too many power centers perpetrating irrational and un-coordinated violence in Pakistan: The Army (responsible for Kargil intrusions), ISI and the various Jihadi Groups (responsible for Mumbai attacks), the Judiciary3, the Taliban (Responsible for attacks on India’s embassy in Kabul) each acting with various degrees of autonomy, with opaque objectives under partial control. Mumbai attacks are a case in point: They were probably perpetrated by the intelligence agencies to flare-up India-Pakistan hostility and reduce the pressure on the Army to fight in the west. Whether this decision was taken while considering the impact on Government’s push to improve relations with India or Army’s preparedness to counter Indian mobilization is not known. In many aspects, this resembles the Kargil intrusions, which was perpetrated without considering the Government’s efforts at normalization and the diplomatic and economic strength of the country, ultimately resulting in Pakistan’s military defeat, an economic catastrophe, a coup and a significant erosion of Pakistan’s credibility and position on the Kashmir issue.
…with too little accountability
In addition to the decentralization of violence, Pakistan willfully lacks any chain of accountability for abetting terror. This lack of chain of accountability has served Pakistan well: In other countries, the government would have been held accountable for sheltering Osama Bin Laden. However in Pakistan, extraordinary evidence is needed to show that the Government (and not one of the several “non-state actors” or “rogue elements” or “retired ISI officers” or “banned groups” or “Intelligence agents acting on its own”) was responsible for sheltering Osama Bin Laden.
While lack of accountability and decentralization of rogue behaviour is useful for deception and perfidy, it weakens credibility and shuts the scope for negotiated settlement based on accountability. In other words, Zardari cannot credibly promise to rein in the terror groups and even if he does, he cannot deliver. Gilani protests the bounty on Hafiz Saeed, because Gilani cannot touch Hafiz Saeed even if he wanted to. If the Government cannot deliver, it is inevitable that some group perpetuates another terror attack on India leading to renewed hostility between India and Pakistan. This is probably neither lost on India nor on Pakistan and both might still embrace after offering some platitudes at the altar of peace — for the short term.
1“Pakistan itself is a victim of terrorism”, “not talking will strengthen the hands of extremists”, “South Asia is a nuclear flashpoint”…
2To get a perspective, this deal is worth more than the entire money promised by the Kerry-Lugar bill and IMF support program put together.
3A Judge once famously asked why the UN ban should be enforced on Hafiz Saeed, in his view, India had not adhered to the UN resolutions on Kashmir.