Foreign Policy Blogs

India-Pakistan: Keeping up with the Jones'

A meeting between Pakistani Prime Minister Gilani and Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh at the Non-Aligned Summit (NAM) resumed cooperative talks since they had stalled after the Mumbai atrocities. The summit marked a breakthrough in Indian-Pakistani relations when both sides decided to bracket issues of terrorism from future peace talks, by signing an agreement that identifies terrorism as the tantamount, mutual interest at this time. But the meeting has proven costly for Prime Minister Singh who some speculate, in attempt to leave behind a legacy of progressive cooperation with Pakistan, might have gone too far. Members of the opposition BJP party, and even some in his own Congress party say the NAM declaration does little else but soften India’s position in foreign policy to Pakistan.

Singh addressed criticism in Parliament today during debate with a BJP member who accused him of “surrendering” and “walking into the Pakistani camp”. The prime minister countered that unless tensions and possible war are desired, such engagement is necessary and by in large, did not retract his statements. Although, he did try and recover some political base by later clarifying: “ talks between the two countries on broader issues like trade and travel cannot continue unless Pakistan pursues strong action against terror”. The clarification however, maintains his stance that peace talks can take place bracketing concerns on terrorism but would still allow leeway for trade and travel issues to be used as leverage later. Delinking peace talks thus leaves open the possibility of including Kashmir in future discussions with Pakistan, (although there is no specific mention of Kashmir in the agreement), and could mark a beginning of more progressive dialogue. Singh specifically cited Prime Minister Gilani’s providing an  additional dossier on the Mumbai atrocities at the NAM summit had convinced him of Pakistan’s commitment to uprooting terrorist groups given that:

“this is the first time that Pakistan has ever formally briefed us on the results of an investigation into a terrorist attack in India. It is also the first time that they have admitted that their nationals and a terrorist organization based in Pakistan carried out a ghastly terrorist act in India.”

Under current leadership it seems relations are moving with some positive direction, with emphasis on the word “some”. Because such instances for optimism  are not entirely rare in South Asian history. An article in Dawn this week reminds us that while positive dialogue takes place,

“India-Pakistan relations do not move in a straight line. They zigzag from crisis to crisis. In the interregnum the two countries either engage in negotiations or struggle to revive an interrupted dialogue”

That’s a very perceptive notion. The agreement at NAM is hopefully indicative of future cooperation, but history has shown us a reality that the arms race in South Asia tends to impede diplomatic progress. Ultimately, the message conveyed with development of arms, is immediate, tangible, and potentially hostile. On the other hand, diplomacy is gradual, inherently more subtle and less concrete.

So earlier this week on the anniversary celebrating India’s retaking of military posts in Kargil when Delhi symbolically launched its nuclear submarine, the INS Arihant (Destroyer of the Enemies) realpolitik dictates a clear message to Pakistan that is explained by their Foreign Office spokesman Abdul Basit:

‘continued induction of new lethal weapon systems by India’ is ‘detrimental to regional peace and stability’.
The obvious concern in Pakistan then is whether this capability is a potential “platform to launch nuclear missiles”.

Thus when either neighbor develops such armaments, basics of power politics teaches that the risk of not responding with deterrent armaments could be akin to state suicide. Whether or not one assumes conflict to be inevitable , an arms race is almost certain in situations like this. So, even though Pakistan is unlikely to announce nuclear submarine capability soon, in some capacity armaments of defense will be sought to counter India’s recent development. This will be considered necessary even though the Indian launch is directed at China’s rapid military modernization and not limited to a focus on Pakistan. Realpolitik will still drive Islamabad to invest in counter armaments despite the fact that Pakistan is heavily invested in the costly War on Terror, and more than ever in need of funding for social developments and aid for the largest refugee problem in the world.

International summits such as the Non Aligned Movement or even SAARC  meetings which yield progressive diplomacy then work secondary to an expensive, and expansive arms race which in turn, perpetuates a now notorious and mutual mistrust that plagues South Asia. So, Prime Minister Singh’s alleged “softening” with Pakistan might be conciliatory in a diplomatic way, but continued development of armaments eclipses that rhetoric. Progressive relations will ultimately require more tangible approaches that enhance a meaningful trust rather than perpetuate an arms race.



Zainab Jeewanjee

Zainab Jeewanjee is a graduate of the Denver University's Korbel School of International Service, where she received a Masters of International Relations with a concentration in U.S. Foreign & Security Policy. Her area of focus is U.S. - Pakistan relations and she completed a senior thesis entitled U.S. Foreign Policy to Pakistan: History of of Bilateral Cooperation from Partition Through the Cold War as an undergraduate at Santa Clara University. Zainab is also sales director at Silicon Valley based Follow her on Twitter @Zainyjee