Taking all stakeholders on board first
The newly elected government in Pakistan has made overtures to India in an attempt to begin peace talks with the country. It’s quite significant that Imran Khan’s government has given out a number of statements laying out its intention to not only resolve the outstanding disputes with New Dehli but also to begin trade with the country. Majority of PM Khan’s statements dealing with Pakistan’s foreign policy have been aimed at drawing PM Modi’s attention. The message has been clear: there is a new government in Pakistan which has the mandate and support of the state machinery to not only normalize ties with India but also to resolve longstanding disputes with the latter.
While it’s encouraging that PM Khan has shown intent to follow a bold foreign policy, it’s pertinent to underline what this trajectory may mean for his government at home and his reformation vision concerning his economic agenda. Given Pakistan’s history of dealing with India, there are three key scenarios, which may unfold if Khan sticks with his ‘normalization of ties’ agenda with India.
First, it’s unclear whether Khan and his foreign policy team have a vision in terms of how far they are willing to go to open talks with India? So far, we have seen a push from the Pakistani side which has not been matched in response from the India side. As it appears, the Indian government is skeptical of Khan’s capacity to open talks with India. Historically, the establishment in India sees the civilian government in Pakistan a weak organ of the state. While India would like to engage with an elected government in Pakistan, they are mindful of where the effective power really resides: Pakistan’s national security establishment which deals with India understands that talks with New Dehli should be carried forward but the method for that should be a cautionary one rather than showing despairing overtures. The current leadership of Pakistan’s national security establishment has on various occasions shown its intention of opening talks with India which would be a good sign when it comes to India’s concerns regarding getting into any negotiation phase with Pakistan’s government. However, before the Indian government of PM Modi begins engagement with Pakistan at any level, they would be interested in having more information on whether Pakistan’s civil-military institutions stand on one page or it’s just a position which is being taken by the government.
While it’s encouraging that PM Khan has shown intent to follow a bold foreign policy, it’s pertinent to underline what this trajectory may mean for his government at home and his reformation vision concerning his economic agenda.
Second, as of now, it’s unclear what is it that Khan is willing to achieve with his overtures towards India: Is he considering bringing all issues on the table, which forms the core of disputes between the two countries? In this context, Pakistan’s side would want to discuss the status of Kashmir whose ideal solution lies in the four-point formula which General Musharraf had agreed to 2007. The formula which became a victim of political instability in Pakistan involved demilitarization of Kashmir, autonomy for the region, a joint supervisory mechanism, and easy movement of goods and people across the border. On the other hand, India on its part would like to bring to the table allegations that various non-state actors which target Indian interests have pockets of support in Pakistan. These issues remain a major question which should be analyzed by Khan’s foreign policy team, for all overtures which are being made by Pakistan would ultimately lead to these questions as unless these issues are resolved between the neighbors, the subcontinent cannot become a peaceful region.
Third, for any above-mentioned scenario to enter a successful phase, its pertinent that Pakistan’s national security establishment is onboard when it comes to opening a comprehensive peace process with India. If Khan goes alone with his mission of engaging India, he is unlikely to succeed, for, without the support of the national security institutions of Pakistan, the process would become static sooner or later. It would be a wise approach that Khan takes on board the support of Pakistan’s security institutions, making them part of the process rather, which would offer legitimacy and support the goal.
We have already seen that the military leadership in Pakistan has made it clear that its interested in peace with India. The chief of Pakistan’s Army has on a number of occasions hinted that his country wants peace with India. Moreover, during the recent visit of Navjot Singh Sidhu, the army chief clearly said that Pakistan would like to open its border with the Indian side of Punjab to facilitate thousands of Sikh pilgrimage in Pakistan. Currently, for the first time, the militaries of India and Pakistan are taking part in a mega anti-terror drill of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Russia aimed at expanding cooperation among the member countries to deal with the growing menace of terrorism and extremism. All of these developments indicate that there is a constituency for peace both in India and Pakistan.
Khan should take advantage of this opportunity but for that, a rigorous consultation process should begin between the national security institutions and the government.