The reset on Ufa is good for Pakistan.
It is fortunate that the meeting scheduled for Aug. 23 between the Pakistani and Indian national-security advisers was cancelled.
The New Delhi meeting was to be the result of July’s Ufa Joint Declaration, a loaded document agreed to by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his enthusiasm to normalize relations with India without being able to read his Indian counterpart’s script.
Different interpretations of a text agreed between two states are not unusual. Equally, it is not unusual for the two sides, after initial bickering, to come to a mutually acceptable interpretation. In this case, that did not happen because of Narendra Modi.
Modi’s basic assumption—India is ascendant, Pakistan is sliding—translates into his belief that he has the space to pressure Pakistan into talks that are reductive and restrict the agenda to terrorism while keeping other substantive issues and disputes off the table.
The Indian prime minister is warding off the talk-to-Pakistan pressure on him by bringing Pakistan under pressure. He believes that talking only terrorism will achieve this and reinforce the global narrative that there is only one point on which Pakistan is to be engaged.
Agreeing to this restrictive agenda in Ufa was Pakistan’s blunder. The very idea of a meeting between national-security advisers, and not foreign ministers, reflected India’s security-related approach to any talks with Pakistan.
Fortunately the declaration had language that removed some of the sting. It said that the two prime ministers “agreed that India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues.” Even though, unlike past practice, “all outstanding issues” was not followed by explicit mention of Jammu and Kashmir, the phrase is always understood to include Jammu and Kashmir.
Also, the issue of terrorism follows the reference to “all outstanding issues”: “Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia.” Given that documents have an internal cohesion and any interpretation must look at them holistically, Pakistan’s three-point agenda for the cancelled talks in New Delhi was in line with the Ufa understanding.
Here’s what Pakistan’s adviser on national security, Sartaj Aziz, said in his statement on Aug. 22 about the agenda: “The first point called for discussion on all issues related to terrorism. The second point calls for reviewing progress on actual decisions made at Ufa, i.e., prompt release of fishermen, better arrangements for religious tourism, and activation of mechanisms for restoring peace across the [Line of Control] and the Working Boundary. The third point was intended to explore the modalities for discussions on all other outstanding issues including Kashmir, Sir Creek, and Siachen.” (After Sharif’s return from Ufa, Aziz had also clarified that all issues were discussed and that any talks would include “substantive issues.”)
Juxtaposing Pakistan’s three-point agenda (which deals with the operative part of the Ufa declaration as well as the broader point about “all outstanding issues”) with India’s insistence on the point pertaining only to terrorism gives one a measure of the Modi approach. This is further borne out by the ruse India used to scuttle the talks: Aziz’s meeting at a tea reception with leaders of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference. Interestingly, India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, oscillated between the reference to the meeting with Hurriyat leaders and the third point in the agenda sent by Pakistan for the proposed talks.
Swaraj’s reference to the Simla Agreement’s bilateralism and terming Kashmiris a third party would be laughable if it did not reflect where New Delhi stands on Kashmir and Pakistan. Kashmiris are not a third party. Kashmir is a dispute over the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination. That makes them central to the dispute. Swaraj’s attempt to put them outside the equation as if Kashmir belongs, at this stage, either to Pakistan or India is untenable under international law (whether or not its promised provisions can be imposed). A state having the means to repeatedly flout legalities does not, in and of itself, dilute those legalities or reduce their normative import.
Flexibility is the essence of a smart strategy. By scuttling the talks India has been clever by half. Modi has put the first dent in his own strategy because the Ufa understanding has, thankfully, been cremated. If Modi had shown some flexibility, that loaded document would have survived to Pakistan’s detriment.
What next? Bilaterally, Pakistan should continue with the policy of pushback, which it has begun with the decision to spurn India if New Delhi insists on an agenda that only suits Modi. Islamabad has to realize that the Modi government doesn’t want to talk to it in any meaningful way; it plans to isolate and encircle Pakistan. Until Modi is made to realize that the hand he is playing is not a hit but a stay, there’s no point engaging him.
Islamabad needs to do two things urgently. One, it needs to launch a diplomatic offensive at every possible multilateral forum, starting with the upcoming U.N. General Assembly session. Internationalizing disputes gets India’s goat. The strategy is not going to solve anything but must be used for its nuisance value. Two, the only way the first will work is by changing the security paradigm Pakistan has followed. An important aspect of Modi’s policy is to keep Pakistan stuck in that paradigm because it helps him.
What must Pakistan do to change it? First and foremost, Pakistan needs to stop conflating its national-security strategy with its military-operational strategies. Pakistan has allowed itself to be hamstrung by reacting tactically to the Indian threat: if India is going to have a Cold Start, let’s go for tactical nuclear weapons. That paradigm must change. The reactive has to become proactive, and the proactive requires a broader strategy, not just military strategies.
Central to that is economic and political stability. India interests the world because it is growing. Modi’s entire strategy is pegged on the increasing differential between Pakistan and India to the latter’s advantage. To ensure that strategies of coercion do not kick into play, Pakistan has to focus on all elements of national power.
If, as Realism maintains, relative power is the determinant of interstate relations, then it should be obvious to planners in Islamabad that Pakistan has to close the gap with India.
Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider From our Aug. 29 – Sept. 5, 2015, issue.