No amount of efforts by none of the Prime Ministers on either side of the borders have been fruitful in steering a better relationship between the two nations. Such an expectation has perhaps withered down to a zero sum game. With elections looming large and the need to galvanise voters, the last thing that can be expected is an attempt reinvigorate such efforts. On the Pakistani side, post the elections a weak government suits its Army’s interests the best. The author analyses the causes and predicts the course that the Indo-Pak relationship is likely to witness in the next two years.
Internal Political Situation will worsen India-Pakistan Relations
The Pakistani army chief had recently stated in the Senate that he is willing to support peace talks with India. However, looking at the future, perhaps there are no options for talks keeping in view the political instability in Pakistan and forthcoming elections in both the countries.
After the removal of Nawaz Sharif, instability in Pakistan has only increased. The government remains under threat from multiple directions. On one side is the army, seeking to keep the government under its control; while on the other is a collection of fundamentalist and religious organizations challenging the writ of the government in cohort with opposition parties.
The army had brokered a deal with the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan in November last year in which the government was forced to accept all their demands, including the resignation of the federal law minister. The situation is exacerbated by the arrival on the scene of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek, under the leadership of Tahir ul Qadri, with support from all major opposition parties, seeking to remove the present government from power.
That is the cauldron as Pakistan goes to elections in the mid-2018 if it does not face greater army intervention before it. Religious, fundamentalist, regional and mainstream political parties would be fighting to gain power. The army would have its own choices to add to the confusion. China would be keeping a hawk’s eye as it has its investments to protect. A radical government could be a threat?
Relations with India, increased tensions along the LoC and India baiting would be a major plank for Pakistani elections. Stability of Afghanistan, fake claims of India sponsoring terror groups from Afghan soil, Kashmir and the supposed freedom struggle there would be played up by all parties. Support to the Kashmiri cause will be a common agenda for all political parties.
Thus, the LoC would remain active, infiltration would continue and anti-India tirade by virulent India baiters – Hafiz Saeed and his ilk including Sayeed Salahudeen – would increase, as they would seek to win the support of the masses for their proxy candidates (if they are prevented from forming a political party).
Relations with the US, economic benefits of the CPEC and corruption charges of Nawaz Sharif would be pursued by all political, religious and fundamentalist parties to unseat the ruling PML(N). Religious and fundamentalist parties would promise imposing of the Sharia law. 2018 is bound to be a stormy year for Pakistan. No party in this atmosphere could ever profess improving relations with India as one of its agenda points.
The environment would benefit the Pakistan army, which has always been anti-peace talks with India, as it does not suit its strategic design. It would be willing to back any party, political or fundamentalist, which would run down the ruling party. Thus, any government which is likely to assume power; single party or coalition; would have the tacit backing of the army.
Post the removal of Nawaz, all future political leaders would be aware of the consequences of challenging the army’s writ. Therefore, from Pakistan’s perspective, meaningful peace talks with India may not see the light of day for a long time.
By the time Pakistani elections terminate and a government does take office, as also settles in, it would be time for India to begin gearing up for the 2019 elections. The ruling BJP would project its strong approach to cross border terrorism, surgical strikes, handling terrorism in the valley; basically projecting itself as being the only party to give a befitting response to Pakistan for its misadventures. It would play the Pakistan card to full measure. The opposition, fearing losing out in the elections, would tend to counter the BJP, but would not quite seek to oppose the BJP by suggesting commencement of peace talks with Pakistan.
Indian elections are due in mid-2019. There would be attempts by Pakistan to discredit the present government by launching terror strikes, hoping to create confusion within the electorate. It would also seek to enhance the tempo in Kashmir to add to the confusion. For Pakistan, the BJP continuing in power is undesirable as it has given the army the freedom to act. Hence, by calibrating the violence along the border, the Kashmir valley and Indian hinterland, it would endeavour to bring the government to discredit.
As Indian elections draw close, India would remain wary, with the government willing to up the ante for political
gains. If Pakistan keeps its actions confined to J&K, the government
would react as hither-to-fore; however, if it does seek to cause turmoil beyond J&K, it may be compelled to act. This scenario would have the sub-continent on the boil, with the international community worried about the increasing tensions and possible fallouts.
Our relations with China will feel the drag of this quagmire. The Modi-Xi Jinping bonhomie is all but over. Doklam and continued Chinese posturing, India’s refusal to join the BRI and Chinese support to Pakistan while blocking India’s entry into the NSG, has ensured it. China would prefer a weaker government in Delhi, which could be pressurised to join the BRI and also rein in the army from its present hard stance of countering Chinese forays into Indian territory. Thus, China and Pakistan would seek a weak coalition in power at Delhi rather than a strong government as at present.
To summarise, till late into 2019there would be an anti-India/Pakistan wave on both sides of the border. Thus, for the army, it would be added tensions, increased ceasefire violations, multiple attempts at infiltration and fuelling of internal strife in the valley. The Chinese front could also witness multiple transgressions and standoffs. While the NSAs may continue to maintain contact, there would be no change in ground conditions. Possibility of talks is unlikely to find traction for at least two years.
Maj Gen Harsha Kakar (Retired)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)