New Delhi, Aug 14: As incidents of violence escalate in Jammu and Kashmir in the run up to August 15 and as cross border shelling on the LoC takes place intermittently, National Security Advisor (NSA) level talks between Ajit Doval and Pakistan’s Sartaj Aziz are slated to be held on the 23rd and 24th of August.
The overall context — regional and global – to the meeting is defined by flux and fluidity: the Taliban in Afghanistan, post Mullah Omar’s death, is apparently in a bit of disarray; mysteriously and rather enigmatically, the Islamic State (IS) has declared war against the Taliban; there is a bit of a lull in intra-Pakistan violence; the global context is marked by a declining superpower, defined by an attention deficit disorder and some degree of disorientation, getting ready for presidential elections. This is overlain by an increasingly assertive India wherein the National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval, makes no bones about India acquiring and displaying hard power rather unabashedly.
Amidst this general and peculiar context, what can be expected from the NSA level talks?
While the NSA level talks are a welcome development, given that the estranged neighbors were loath to countenance each other except for in a confrontational dynamic and idiom, by themselves, the talks will not lead to a break through. After the exchange of pleasantries and the attendant bonhomie, the two National Security advisors will confront each other with ‘evidence’ implicating the two countries and make accusations (away from the media glare, of course)and counter accusations, the meeting will , in all likelihood be , concluded by a photo op.
Another scenario that may pan out is a meeting between the respective prime minister’s of India and Pakistan could be the sequel to the NSA level talks. However, even this latter scenario denoues, it may not amount to much. While, it will attract media attention and will be grist and mill of sound bite and ratings driven sensationalist media, the baggage that each prime minister carries will preclude any meaningful breakthroughs.
Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, presides over a patrimonial ologarchical state where real power resides elsewhere. He can neither afford to antagonize what Stephen Cohen of Brookings Institution called,’ the establishment’ nor over ride it. Moreover, the Pakistani public is so wedded to the idea of Kashmir’s independence or merger with Pakistan that any departure from this would exact a heavy political price.
On the Indian side, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, heads a far right government whose electoral plank and rhetoric did not lend itself to conciliation or reconciliation with Pakistan. In an eerie echo, albeit in a different permutation and combination, public opinion is hostile to the idea of any reconciliation with Pakistan. Both leaders are then hamstrung by structural, legacy and popular issues and conditions; any meaningful progress in the Indo Pak relational dynamic is then hostage to factors beyond the two leader’s control.
Does this mean that India and Pakistan will always and perpetually be enmeshed in a hostile, zero sum dynamic?
Probably. The real issue(s) between the two arch rivals pertain to sovereignty, its concomitant territory and territorial nationalism. These are maximalist issues and themes; by their very nature, these brook no easy solutions. Sovereignty , in its absolute avatar, is indivisible; territory is vested with a teleology that makes it almost sacrosanct and the hyper nationalisms of the two countries makes even a minimal and small loss a big gain for the other.
India and Pakistan may then be perpetually locked in paradigm and dynamic that is zero sum, maximalist and conflictual. This is admittedly a bleak analysis and prognosis. There’s nothing that suggests that things may be otherwise. The NSA level talks will then enter books that document relations between India and Pakistan as another non event: a theme that has defined the relations between the two countries.
In the meantime, the subcontinent will remain hostage to the rivalry between the two countries. Pakistan will neither collapse nor implode; it will muddle along. India will be the slumbering giant; it may even win greater accolades in the halls of power. But, in the final analysis, both countries will essentially have failed their peoples.
The pledges made on the independence days of either country will have turned out to be mere exuberant rhetoric. This will be the rather harsh judgment that posterity on both sides of the border will make. Given the promise and potential of both India and Pakistan, this will constitute a tragedy as well as a travesty.
2015 Kashmir Despatch