March 26, 2006Foreign AffairsSecurity

And now, a peace treaty

India’s premature offer and Pakistan’s likely response

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Doves and olive branches are imported metaphors. In India at least, buses have supplanted them as dominant symbols of offerings of peace. Yet for those with some knowledge of India-Pakistan relations over the last five decades Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s offer of a peace treaty should evoke a sense of déjà vu. And foreboding. For not only have previous negotiations over peace treaties failed, when they were not contemplated in the immediate aftermath of a Pakistani military aggression (and defeat), they have been precursors to the next Pakistani aggression.

Deterring an escalation in proxy-war becomes harder

A bilateral treaty of peace, security and friendship, without any doubt, would be a wonderful thing. But it is absurd for India to commit itself to a no-war pact’ when the principal threat posed by Pakistan is an on-going proxy war. Furthermore, such a pact can only add paper justification to the state of nuclear deterrence that exists between the two countries. The deterrence is at its strongest when it comes to offensives and occupation of legitimate, undisputed’ territory in either country. What this means is that military operations will be limited in space (along the Line of Control in Kashmir) or in time, in the form of short, fast raids on selected military targets. Nuclear deterrence effectively rules out major wars, while it is in India’s interests to keep the possibility of limited war open.

If India were to abandon its right to carry out such limited military operations, it would lose its most effective deterrent against Pakistan’s escalation of its proxy war. A no-war pact, therefore, must await the day when it is clear that Pakistan’s intentions, and more importantly, its capabilities to sustain its proxy war against India have ceased to exist. Unfortunately, the situation on the ground indicates that Pakistan is in no mood to abandon its proxy-war project. The Manmohan Singh’s own national security adviser said so recently. As Praveen Swami reports, the Pakistani establishment has brought in the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen from the cold and is increasingly employing it to carry out attacks across India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s offer of a peace treaty, therefore, is way too premature.

Pakistan’s old cart and horse problem won’t go away

For that reason, Pakistan should grab this opportunity. But that is unlikely. It will be hard pressed to jettison its ‘Kashmir first’ position. That was evident in its first official reaction. Reactions, especially early ones, from the Pakistani foreign office bureaucrats are usually insufficiently indicative of official policy. However, Gen Musharraf’s own peace proposals have always been Kashmir-centric. He too is unlikely to be terribly excited about negotiating a peace treaty while having to improve governance in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, notwithstanding Manmohan Singh’s proposal to set up cross-border institutions in Jammu & Kashmir.

Where Manmohan Singh’s proposal makes perfect sense is in the court of international public opinion. Everyone likes peace offensives. Most newspapers will write favourable stories about them. Musharraf, for once, will be forced to react to them. And he won’t be able to dismiss this one outright, not without sounding unreasonable. What he is likely to do, therefore, is to order his jihadis to carry out some provocative attacks with the expectation that India will put the proposal on the back burner of its own accord. With the infiltration season coming up with the melting of the Himalayan snows, and with the Hurriyat already calling upon India to announce a unilateral halt to counter-terrorist operations in Kashmir, this won’t be hard to accomplish.

If, on the other hand, Pakistan gets seriously drawn into negotiations over a peace treaty, is it likely to abandon its proxy war against India? Intentions will always be hard to tell, and cost little to reverse. Capabilities are easier to tell and take time to build up. As long as the capabilities exist — and the peace treaty does not create any fresh incentives for Pakistan to dismantle them — the proxy war will continue, not least because of the institutional interests of the Pakistan’s jihadi establishment. Like its predecessors, this peace treaty proposal too is likely to be an exercise in futility. And unless the Indian government is careful, this one too may be followed by Pakistani aggression – by proxy, of course.



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