India & Pakistan: Pathways Ahead
PR Chari ·       

B ooks on India-Pakistan relations, practical experience informs, should be published immediately, and revised every year, since they change so rapidly and unpredictably. The book under review encapsulates the faith that, "cold peace no longer characterizes Indo-Pak relations: there is a constructive engagement towards fulfilling common regional goals and aspirations." However, since this book was published some ten months back, and was written out a year earlier, it could not take into account the epochal changes recently witnessed in Pakistan; its largely fair elections earlier this year have brought into power an uneasy coalition of political parties with a huge question mark over its durability. The belief is rife that President Musharraf's days in office are numbered, and it is only a question of time before he is pensioned off to some remote part of Pakistan or to a foreign country. How long will the Pakistan army, the ultimate arbiter of Pakistan's fate, remain in the barracks, which is the preferred choice of its present Chief, Gen. Kayani? How will the Americans safeguard their huge investment in Pakistan, a frontline state in the war on terror in Afghanistan? Will India's commitment to the peace process with Pakistan remain on track, since elections to the Kashmir Assembly are slated for later this year, and the Indian general elections are expected in early-mid 2009? In truth, the imponderables continue as before.

W e have here a book of essays addressing the various issues comprising the totality of India-Pakistan relations. Part of the problem is that everybody in New Delhi's seminar circuit claims to know the problem, though opinion is sharply divided on how it should be resolved. There is, as this reviewer has noticed during his visits to Islamabad, a greater congruity in Pakistan in their perceptions, with Kashmir being identified as the 'core' problem.

A mitabh Mattoo informs us in his introductory essay, provocatively titled, "India-Pakistan Relations: Towards a Grand Reconciliation," that the security community in India, termed subedars support an aggressive posture towards Pakistan; there are others who prefer a policy of benign neglect, termed saudagars (businessmen or brokers); and a small minority that favors promoting peace, termed sufis (secular philosophers). The establishments in India but also Pakistan are the obvious subedars, whose personal and institutional interests lie in the promotion of tensions and not peace, while the Chambers of Commerce are the equally obvious saudagars. The sufis are hardly visible, except in well-meaning people-to-people conclaves. Mattoo is right in suggesting that a permanent end to the violence and infiltration and the efforts to bleed India by a thousand cuts is the acid test for gauging Pakistan's intentions. What he does not inform us about is that this policy informed India's very successful excision of east Bengal and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Wisely, Indian officialdom has not permitted publication of the official history of that clinical operation, but the trauma of being partitioned and halved lies deeply buried in the Pakistani psyche, which explains its 'aberrant' behavior to avenge itself against India in Kashmir. Some facts in history become as permanent as geography, but history does not stand still, and there are several linked factors that presently identify South Asia and the international system, which are conducive to searching for peace.

T he concluding essay by co-editor, Kapil Kak, attempts to sum up the arguments in this book on the influence of global perspectives and regional imperatives on India-Pakistan dynamics, an evaluation of Pakistan's internal compulsions, the 'internalities' of the J&K issue that impact their bilateral relationship, and finally an estimation of the problems and prospects of the ongoing peace process. In regard to this last issue, addressing the pathways ahead, Kak notes the potential of the corrosive terrorism issue to derail the bilateral negotiations; both the Mumbai train blasts and the Samjhauta Express attack could have triggered communal disturbances and halted the peace process. Fortunately, this did not happen. A resolution of big-ticket issues like Sir Creek, Siachen and the Tulbul Navigation (Wullar Barrage) Project could make a large dent in the current problems afflicting the CBM process. But, equally important, is the promotion of greater people-to-people interactions, which could strengthen a milieu conducive to proceeding with greater cooperative efforts. He correctly notes the significance of the modality of 'making borders irrelevant' in Kashmir, which could catalyze a resolution of the vexed Kashmir issue, since neither the 'making the LoC permanent' nor the 'granting Kashmir independence' options has the faintest chance of acceptance by India or Pakistan. For the first time since independence India's bilateral relations with all the great powers are cordial; this really implies that a greater part of the heavy lifting has to be done by India, but also that the mediatory efforts of the United States and, at one remove, China, should be acceptable - India's knee-jerk reaction by rejecting all efforts to mediate or, more euphemistically, facilitate a resolution of the Kashmir issue, really belongs to its own ancien regime.

T he reviewer has restricted his comments to the Introduction and Conclusion of this volume of essays to present their focus; it is impractical to analyze in any meaningful way the 23 other essays here, except to point out that they have been written by recognized specialists like Jasjit Singh, Kalim Bahadur, Malini Parthasarathy, Rajesh Rajgopalan, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Gen. Afsir Karim, Prem Shankar Jha, Pran Chopra, Satish Kumar and Frederic Grare, and several younger scholars who are among the rising stars. Their essays have been placed into four major sections - the regional dimension, a historical overview of the bilateral relationship, peace-building with the focus on Kashmir, and the way forward encapsulating the pathways ahead - the subtitle to this volume.

C onsiderations of space only permit the two essays in the last section on the way forward by to be critiqued. The first by Satish Kumar is concerned with the Neemrana dialogue, which is the oldest Track II diplomacy effort in the India-Pakistan context. He believes that the uniqueness of this dialogue lies in its regularity, the drawing up of a precise agenda for each meeting, and the feedback they provide to the two governments. He believes that the Neemrana process helped to resolve the dispute regarding the nature of documents needed to travel across the LoC, which ultimately fructified in the opening of the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar road. A shortcoming of Track II diplomacy in general, which must include the Neemrana dialogue, is that their relevance is wholly dependent on their recommendations being acceptable to the Track I process of negotiations between the officials; however, the well-meaning Track II diplomats can certainly explore new options, offer fresh ideas, and sensitize public opinion in favor of peace and stability between adversarial nations.

I n a more ambitious essay Frederic Grare examines how the peace process has evolved, the risks and constraints obtaining and various scenarios regarding its future. Rightly he notes its glacial progress, but also the significance of the Muzaffarabad-Srinagar road being opened, despite its limited usage. He lays great emphasis on the October 2005 earthquake - no doubt since he was writing immediately after that catastrophe - as disrupting the militancy movement and synthesizing India-Pakistan cooperation for handling this natural disaster. About the peace process he is cautiously pessimistic, believing that, "the most likely outcome for the months to come is a "cold peace"⿦[T]his would certainly be the most acceptable scenario but would only be the beginning of a new phase of unstable equilibrium." He emphasizes the personal equation established between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; disconcertingly, as noted while beginning this review, the political situation in Pakistan has radically altered. Is the India-Pakistan peace process then the product of personality preferences, or the result of systemic factors? It must be a little of both, but Grare does not address this intriguing question.

A ltogether a very useful exercise, though in need of periodical revision. Nevertheless, a study of these essays would yield many useful insights and reward the student of India-Pakistan relations. The editors need to be complimented for their signal effort to put all these essays together in one volume.