Sunday, January 24, 2016

Could the Islamic State threat facilitate an India-Pakistan rapprochement?

PMs Sharif and Modi meet in Ufa Russia
Farah Jan, guest contributor, and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, contributed this post on the possibility of a warming of relations between India and Pakistan

The rising influence of Islamic State (Da’ish) in Afghanistan and Bangladesh is threatening India and Pakistan.  Could the threat of Islamic State (IS) unite the traditional rivals? Recent developments and statements from both India and Pakistan appear to be demonstrate serious concern about the threat posed by the IS and the need to fight the same enemy.

Indian Prime Minister Nadrindra Modi’s surprise stopover in Lahore (to wish his counterpart well on his birthday) came at the tail end of his trip to Russia and Afghanistan. The key points of discussion were cooperation on both economic and security fronts and serious concerns about the spread of the IS. India had not publicly backed Vladimir Putin’s militantly intervention in Syria until the recent statements issued by Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

These statements marked Indian support for Russian intervention in Syria. In Afghanistan, Prime Minister Modi focused on cooperation not just with Kabul, but also Pakistan, and emphasized on the importance of Pakistan’s cooperation as a must for Afghanistan’s success. He hoped, Pakistan would become a bridge between South Asia and Afghanistan.
 Birthday Diplomacy:
PMs Modi and Sharif embrace during Modi's visit to Lahore
Prime Minister Modi’s twitter announcement to meet Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Lahore on his way back to Delhi was an unprecedented step. In the history of the two states, neither an Indian nor a Pakistani head of state has ever stopped by to wish the other a happy birthday.

Not to sound pessimistic, these two states are nuclear rivals and any movement on either side makes the entire international community uncomfortable. Modi’s visit to Lahore is a 360-degree departure from his hardline position on dealing with Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi’s visit reminds one of the last time an Indian prime minister visited Lahore and the events that ensued.

That visit occurred in 1999 when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Pakistan, and it was followed by the Kargil War between the two nuclear armed states.  It was the only time in history, after the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the world came to the brink of a nuclear war. Modi’s Lahore visit was followed by the Pathankot attacks on the Indian military base.  If it turns out that it was planned in Pakistan that would illustrate once again that the Pakistan army had not given its blessings to improving relations with India – and most South Asian analysts know which Sharif (Prime Minister or General) is in the driver seat.
Pakistan Chief-of-Staff, Gen. Raheel Sharif

The question is, what brought the shift in Indian diplomacy towards Pakistan, for Modi to visit Pakistan? The BJP government obviously could not have changed its minds about Pakistan over night! More importantly what has allowed this re-engagement of dialogue between the two nuclear rivals?

The primary factor responsible for India’s new Pakistan policy is that the interests of both states on terrorism have (to some degree) merged. It is too early to compare Modi’s visit to the historic opening to China and Kissinger-Zhou’s secret meeting followed by Nixon’s visit in 1972, but it certainly has the telltale signs of it.  During the 1970s, U.S. and Chinese interests (to some degree) had come into alignment regarding their mutual adversary – USSR.

Nixon and Kissinger were interested in taking advantage of the changing relations between China and the Soviet Union. Similarly, today India and Pakistan are facing a mutual enemy in the face of ISIS. That said, Pakistan has supported militant groups in the past which has threatened both India and the Indian interests in Afghanistan.  However, the current menace of the IS is beyond the reach and control of the Pakistani government or its intelligence agency, the ISI.  The recent support which the IS has garnered in Bangladesh, and the attacks that followed, further confirm the spread of the influence of extremist groups to South Asia.

Common Interest, Changed Horizons:
 The opening line of the joint statement issued by the Russian Federation and the Republic of India was, “Shared Interests, New Horizons.” Indian-Russian relations are based on mutual trust and a time-tested friendship.  Both states have emphasized the convergence of  their foreign policy priorities and their strategic partnership. In the case of India-Pakistan, however, the relationship is built on mutual distrust and conflict of interest.

While Prime Minister Modi’s rendezvous represents a return to the peacemaking initiative, the road to Lahore was paved in the Russian city of Ufa. Last July, the two leaders met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in the Russian city of Ufa. The official statement following the meeting called it “a positive development,” which had a “positive impact on bilateral relations at regional and international levels.”

The following day the Indian Foreign Secretary, S. Jaishankar, and his Pakistani counterpart, issued a joint statement in Ufa elaborating on the meeting. The key points issued in the official statement emphasized the need for India and Pakistan to take collective responsibility for ensuring peace and promoting development. They agreed that to do achieve these ends, both states were prepared to discuss all outstanding issues.

The most important feature of the Ufa communiqué was that both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms, and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate it from South Asia. Prime ministers Modi and Sharif both agreed on steps for the two national security advisors to meet and discuss the issue of terrorism. Furthermore, both sides agreed to address ways and means to expedite the Mumbai terror attack trial, including additional information, such as providing voice samples.
India Youth Congress activist burns photo of Modi after Pakistan visit
It is worth noting that Kashmir was not mentioned in this joint statement and that the emphasis was rather on fighting terrorism. This meeting also created room for a discussion on dealing with the Mumbai trial. Prior to Ufa, Pakistan was not ready to acknowledge the problem of terrorism with India and neither was it willing to discuss ways of facilitating the Mumbai trial.

This minor shift in the official statements issued in Ufa was the result of the two states’ interests merging with regards to terrorism. In international relations, states have both general interests and particular interests. General interests, as defined by Glenn Snyder, concern the general configuration of power in the system, while particular interests represent a state’s interests in a particular conflict.

Fighting terrorism is of particular interest to both Pakistan and India. Pakistan has suffered 60,000 civilian casualties and an estimated $100 billion in economic losses in its fight against terrorism. The casualty figures in India are not the same as Pakistan, but the 2001-02 Twin Peaks crises and the Mumbai terrorist attacks are tragic, and they point to the threat of terrorism which emanates from Pakistani soil.

What is different at this point in time is the global spread of terrorism in the shape of the IS. Prior to the spread of the IS in Afghanistan and South Asia,  Pakistan had to cope with non-state proxies such as Lashkar-e-Taib, which was responsible for the Mumbai bombing, Jaish-e-Mohammed which attacked the Indian parliament in 2001, and of course the good and the bad Talibans.

With the IS pushing for greater influence in Afghanistan and Bangladesh, it further threatens both Pakistan and India. Although the IS is yet to become a serious rival to the Taliban in Afghanistan, the threat still looms large.  With Taliban fighters switching sides, it certainly suggests that the threat may materialize further. The rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan constitutes a critical juncture which has produced a convergence of interests of the two long-time rivals. Fighting the menace of terrorism has mostly plagued Pakistan, but now threatens India as well.

Moving forward, Ufa was followed by a meeting of the India and Pakistan National Security Advisors in Bangkok this past December 6. Once again the location and the language of the joint statement are key indicators of the direction in which India-Pakistani relations are heading.  It signaled a step forward towards bilateral cooperation on the issue of terrorism, (this time Kashmir was mentioned) and insuring stability along the traditional Line of Conflict between the two states.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was criticized by the local media, as well as the opposition parties, over the absence of a more comprehensive statement on Kashmir in the joint communique.  In this regard, two considerations  should be taken into account  about the Bangkok NSA meeting. First, because it was held on the soil of a third party, the question of bringing the Kashmiri groups to the table was not on the agenda.  Second, the Pakistani national security advisor was retired Lt. Gen Naseer Khan Janjua, thus keeping the military leadership involved and engaged in the process.

The NSA meeting was followed by the Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s visit to Pakistan, where once again the emphasis was on terrorism. After her meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, she issued the following statement, “We said we can talk so that terrorism comes to an end. So talks [between the two NSAs] took place in Bangkok where we discussed terrorism. But one meeting will not bring a solution to all the problems. So we will continue the dialogue.”

On her return to India, Ms. Swaraj was asked about India’s unilateral option against Pakistani based terror groups – similar to the one carried out by the United States to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. Her response was a shift from the saber-rattling BJP Party stance and instead indicating that, “her government was talking to Pakistan on the terror camps and war is not an option with Pakistan… we have decided that through talks we will resolve the issue of terrorism as talks is the way forward so that the shadow of terror is removed.”

Looking Ahead Under The Shadow of Terror:
 Could Pakistan and India really be moving towards improved relations?  The Stimson Center’s Sameer Lalwani has analyzed the strategic shift in Pakistan’s national security policies based on the following assessment: a reduction in Pakistan’s belligerent behavior towards India; a strategic reorientation which involves a focus on domestic threats rather than its competition with India; and an evolution in Pakistani strategic culture – a significant self-examination.  I would argue that time would be the best judge of the last characterization of this change. However, I do agree with Lalwani that Pakistan’s behavior is changing but I still feel it is too early to be assured that it a significant shift.  

In conclusion, we should not expect a breakthrough in India-Pakistani relations following Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Pakistan.  However, the visit did chip away the ice that has frozen the relations between the two states for the last decade. The Modi-Sharif Lahore meeting is mere symbolism, but symbolism which is essential for concrete steps towards change in the two states’ relations in the future.

The shift in India-Pakistani relations is taking place under the shadow of terror, not the terror of nuclear war, but the terror of radical extremism.  A shadowy enemy that is difficult to contain is thus bringing two traditional foes to increase cooperative policies based on enhancing their respective national security. One of the most remarkable and least expected outcomes of the spread of terrorism has been the ability of former rivals – India and Pakistan - to put aside their differences and cooperate on a serious threat to their economies, cultures and, most importantly, stability.

1 comment:

Rehan Khan said...

Its very interesting post i love it and meting our precedent its very good for both country's ...
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