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Indo-Pak ties: Optimism with caution

India is optimistic about the future of its relationship with Pakistan as 14 years ago it was under Nawaz Sharif's rule both Pakistan and India had initiated the process of normalizing ties. This expectation is not entirely idealistic, but the government should approach Pakistan cautiously as Sharif's ability to strengthen ties with India will depend on his relationship with the military, which still makes decisions for Pakistan's foreign policy.


When it comes to Pakistan, three issues concern India - Kashmir, support to terror groups that perpetrate terrorism against India and the management of its offensive nuclear capabilities. Until now, all these three issues are beyond the control of the civilian government and the military has no intentions of giving up its interests where India is concerned.

General Kayani has blatantly stated that the ISI is an ‘India- Centric' institution. This is a sticky point for India as a successful democratic transition does not mean an end to the military's role in security and foreign affairs no matter how pro-Indian the civilian leader may be.

In fact, it was during Nawaz Sharif's term as Prime Minister fourteen years ago that while on one hand the civilian government initiated the process of normalizing ties with India, the Pakistani military positioned its troops along the LoC resulting in the Kargil War. There was a tit for tat nuclear test during his tenure.

More recently, the role of the ISI in the Mumbai terror attacks is undeniable. Therefore, India must invest strongly in its diplomatic ties with the civilian government, which would decrease the importance, credited to the ISI.

Going to war will not favour either country as Pakistan is an ailing economy incapable of taking care of the added war costs as it will further cripple the economy and India would not make any move to destabilize the status quo in the region.

But unless the new government in Pakistan does not redistribute power in such a manner that establishes its own supremacy incapable of being challenged, India will have a reason to worry. Sharif could prove to be the right man for the job as having experienced a military coup himself, he will be unwilling to let the military maintain any primacy in foreign affairs, even if it is to avoid another coup.

However, although described as a moderate in the media circle, he has been accused of being soft on the Pakistan Taliban and jihadist movement. He has not spoken out against the attacks made on the Shia communities either and cashed in on the anti-US rhetoric during his election campaign.

India's main concern is the containment of the terrorist groups working against India under the shadow of the Pakistan military and well within the knowledge of the civilian government. It is also concerned about Pakistan's nuclear capabilities getting into wrong hands.

While in 2002, the US persuaded General Musharraf to enter into a ceasefire with India and stop the funding of the jihadist groups, Pakistan in turn faced escalating violence and terrorist attacks from within the country.

Pakistan has consistently shown its unwillingness to stop terror activities against India, whether under the military rule or the rule of the civilian government. Nawaz Sharif's soft stand toward the terrorists could be a point of contention, directly threatening the conducive atmosphere. The military also might get aggressive with India, in an effort to attract the Jihadists back into their control.

India therefore, should not hope for any major breakthrough as far as bringing the perpetrators of terror to justice is concerned. History is evident that no Pakistani leader has ever done that. Hence, India, along with US and other like minded countries must maintain pressure on the civilian government to act strongly against terrorist activities emanating from within its boundaries.

Following the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan early next year, while the US will require Pakistan's help for a peaceful departure, something which Nawaz Sharif has complied to, India will have an increasing role to play in maintaining peace in Afghanistan.

This could bring Pakistan and India face to face in the region as their interests will clash. Already the anti- US rhetoric is strong in Pakistan and Nawaz Sharif has expressed his concerns against drone strikes by the US.

But once US leaves the region, the blame may fall on India, and pro-Pakistani elements will make India a direct target. India must have a long term vision to secure its interests in the region for which it must keep diplomatic channels open with Pakistan at all costs.

What the Indian government can look forward to without much worry is the increase in economic and trade ties with Pakistan. Sharif favours liberal economic policies and he sees the revival of the country's economy in increasing trade with its neighbours, particularly India and China.

His pro-business outlook will ensure that the military does not interfere in economic ties with India. However, China may pose a problem since its interests may get jeopardized with the economic thaw between India and Pakistan.