Every time Indian and Pakistani leaders meet, hopes of improvement in relations, however incremental, rise. The meetings are cordial enough, yet the results are always disappointing. A repeat is likely in the days ahead when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh possibly meets President Asif Ali Zardari in Tehran and the minister of external affairs lands in Islamabad.
It is interesting to ask the question why this is so? The standard answer is that Indian and Pakistani positions on how outstanding issues ought to be resolved diverge so greatly that talks between leaders are merely talks on how to proceed on these matters and not substantive ones in any manner. This does not bode well for relations between the two countries as developments in Pakistan may make such summit-level talks meaningless.
For one, over time the state-society balance in Pakistan has altered for the worse, from the perspective of peace between the two countries. Until some years ago, the split between civilian and military authority in Islamabad made any durable resolution of issues impossible. The army there held a veto on any India-related matters. But these are still two responsible actors of the Pakistani state. Today, matters have changed. Due to the intense religious radicalization of society, the government has little control over vast sections of people. These include religious institutions, terror groups linked to these institutions and so-called charities.
The 26/11 attacks—to an extent—were the handiwork of such groups. That was the first warning for India. Recently, the use of hate images, fabricated of course, led to an upheaval in India. In both instances, the Union government failed to take domestic precautions. In the Internet-cum-hate SMS case, it has blamed Pakistan-based groups. This, however, is just one aspect of the situation.
All this raises a question mark over diplomatic solutions to issues between the two countries. If non-state actors, not amenable to any control, have a life of their own, diplomacy clearly can’t do much. And talks, even if they can resolve some issues, won’t make any significant headway. India has been caught napping. It continues to pursue options that are, quite frankly, of little use.
The US realized these limitations much earlier when it confronted non-state groups on the Afghan border. The Haqqani network—a creation of the Pakistan army—is now being sorted out by unconventional means and the US has had a measure of success in this. This has annoyed Islamabad, for obvious reasons. It is time India studied other options to tackle non-state actors in that country.
How should India confront the problem of non-state actors in Pakistan? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org