India-Pakistan ties have been in limbo ever-since the NSA level talks failed to happen. Since then from concerts to book launches, cricketing ties to trade nothing has escaped the vitriol in the air. Ties have yet again been jolted by the deferment of the two-day meeting India-Pakistan business forum by Pakistani authorities which was to be held from November 30 2015. Predictably this has not come as shock to the scholars and practitioners.
One has to understand that India-Pakistan ties are dogged by an intractable conflict in Kashmir. Unfortunately for India and Pakistan structured negotiation as in the Composite Dialogue Process (CDP) also has inbuilt structural impediments. Progress on all issues is halted if the process is disrupted. Kashmir and terrorism issues have the strength to impact progress on all other issues of mutual concern. It is difficult in the case of Kashmir to make concessions and even if an exchange of concessions is made on other issues it may not necessarily be able to assuage the public opinion in case of Kashmir. Domestic factors coupled with politics never render the parties a politically opportune moment when a deal can be reached. Even as both sides deem the status-quo as unfavorable.
The push for better India-Pakistan ties therefore has to come at the track one level. Surely at the track two and track three levels, constituencies which benefit from better ties should lobby for it, but intractable nature of the conflict in India-Pakistan ties means only a top-down approach can create space for economic and cultural initiatives which must be necessarily complemented with a liberal visa regime. The security dynamics between India-Pakistan overwhelmingly dominates narrative which implies that foreign policy in both countries is much centralised in nature and federal constituents have less say in the decision making.
Longevity of the conflict in Kashmir has given birth to a history and hence a historical narrative which overshadows all political initiatives. Structural and functional changes in India-Pakistan relations therefore cannot be brought about in short time horizon. If this task is entrusted to the bureaucracy it will probably not materialise even in the longer horizon. The single biggest achievement of the CDP which was first mooted in 1997 was the establishment of ceasefire which held for many years but has broken down remarkably ever since the new dispensation has come to power. Siachen, Wullar Barrage/Tulbul navigation project and Sir Creek are yet to be resolved.
To detect any changes in momentum in India-Pakistan relations the analysis cannot be at the level of the state or just domestic politics. The level of analysis should be at the individual agency in India-Pakistan relations. Seldom has positive rhetoric around India-Pakistan ties acquired significant media space, mostly media anxiety in anticipation is evident with big events. But that is perhaps the best it has come to since Vajpayee’s famed trip to Lahore which ended in the Kargil debacle. Only political charisma of the leadership on both sides can overcome the negativity surrounding India-Pakistan ties.
When one talks about political charisma Narender Modi would easily one up Nawaz Sharif who despite being in his third stint as the prime minister of Pakistan lacks the skill, wit and verve required to capture the imagination of the youth of Pakistan. A simple look at the media headlines would conspicuously show that it is the other Sharif who has caught the public imagery as the saviour for Pakistan. Any expectations from the dialogue process as long as the internal balance of power in Pakistan is skewed should therefore be tempered until that time.
Organised political cult can unleash forces around an individual just like religion and nationalism which can bring about political reform that are otherwise tedious especially when it comes to the balance of power between different institutions within the state. In Pakistan the imbalance between judiciary, legislature and the military has left little scope for external powers to engage with just the government of the day. More than for India-Pakistan relations and even as a precursor Pakistan needs a charismatic leader, a rabble-rouser perhaps for its own good.
The anticipation and attention should be more directed towards figures like Imran Khan who has the charisma to muster the crowds and is considered the hero and the architect of Pakistan’s world cup win in 1992. The quest for a solution to the Kashmir quagmire will have more hopes of coming to fruition if he comes to power in Pakistan because that could lead to structural changes in Pakistan which a simple election exercise in five years cannot.