Talking to Pakistan: India must tread the middle path, simplify issues

India must work towards breaking the linkage policy followed by Pakistan during talks and compartmentalise issues writes Ramya P.S.
Mar 11, 2015
By Ramya P.S.
Several rounds of fire were exchanged between India and Pakistan on New Year’s Eve. The violations at the Line of Control (LoC) continued till the last week of January 2015 ultimately signaling further deterioration in the already fragile relationship. An analysis of the media reports and official statements from both sides reveals an interesting picture. Following, is a table collated from various government and media sources regarding the ceasefire violations that took place in the month of January.
While the violations were concentrated in certain sectors, what made them noteworthy was the exodus of people from the scene of action. Certain reports claim that over 6,000 civilians fled from their homes to avoid the exchange of fire. Furthermore, the month of February saw reports emerging of Pakistani Rangers resorting to firing in RS Pura and Arnia sectors on the Indian side.
Some believe that Pakistan remains a mere irritant in India’s rising power status and therefore, the obsession must be curbed. On the other hand, a case is built to engage Pakistan in constructive dialogue and develop concrete mechanisms to avoid clashes at the border. The reality lies somewhere in between these two approaches.  India must widen its foreign policy goals and must in this regard expand her strategic vision beyond South Asia to fulfill her power aspirations. At the same time, in order to do so India must positively engage with her neighbours, including Pakistan.
However, the political overtures made by the nuclear neighbours are confrontational at best. While, Pakistan’s Defence Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif maintained that India wants to engage Pakistan in a ‘low-intensity war’, India’s Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar warned of taking ‘proactive steps’ to end Pakistan’s ‘proxy war’. The concern remains that the ‘eye for an eye’ rhetoric is steeped in the popular but, majoritarian view on both sides.
Treading the middle path remains the only option for India in dealing with Pakistan. This becomes particularly significant given that the lack of engagement tends to result in border violations. India’s Minister of State for Home, Kiren Rijiju’s statement that “India does not need to be hawkish on Pakistan” becomes significant in such a context. The need for a structured mechanism to deal with border violations is obvious but, the complexities associated with bilateral ties remain insurmountable.
The increasing complexities of the bilateral relations between New Delhi and Islamabad have been attributed mainly to ‘policy of linkage’ followed by either sides. For instance, Pakistan through the course of developing its nuclear programme linked nuclear deterrence to conventional asymmetry with India. In turn, the nuclearisation of the two states allowed Pakistan to further internationalise the issue of Kashmir by raising concerns of stability in the region. This opened space for negotiating with India. In turn, the policy of low intensity conflict (LICs) gained momentum as Pakistan linked LICs to conventional asymmetry. The implementation of LICs policy is witnessed in ceasefire violations.
It must be noted that Pakistan has advocated the policy of LICs well before pursuing its nuclear weapons programme. This is seen in the case of Operation Gibraltar and Operation Grand Slam wherein Mujahideen and Pakistani forces combined to launch attacks against the Indian side in 1965. A similar strategy was seen in the Kargil Conflict of 1999. The difference was that unlike in 1965, the Kargil Conflict occurred under a nuclear shadow. Therefore, pursuit of the LIC policy by Pakistan under the nuclear shadow impacted the crisis escalation between the two states. Furthermore, policy of LICs coupled with the nuclearisation of the two states was linked as depicted by many as ‘stability-instability paradox’. The paradox of increasing conflict escalation at the lower levels (LICs) feeds into the larger policy of linkage implemented by Pakistan.
Other reasons have been attributed to the ceasefire violations such as deliberate firing by the Pakistani troops to provide cover to infiltrators entering Kashmir. Also, ceasefire violations occur in response to political developments between the two states. In the recent months, the cancellation of the foreign secretary level talks and the red flag raised by India against the talks between Pakistan and the separatist Hurriyat leaders has caused friction and is reflective in the spike of violations. However, when viewed in totality it feeds into the ‘policy of linkage’ practiced by Pakistan resulting in a complex web of issues which are intricately entangled and difficult to negotiate.
If India continues to break away from talks and link issues, as has Pakistan, the resulting logjam will only spike the ceasefire violations. Therefore, India must work towards breaking the linkage policy and compartmentalise issues. This will prove to be an uphill task. Setting a specific agenda for negotiations in the case of ceasefire violations and developing a framework could be a possible way of compartmentalising the large scale problems between the neighbours. The agenda covered by the numerous peace talks held between the two states has often been large and reflective of the policy of linkage. Hence, limiting the agenda of the talks and delinking issues could in the long run opens space for negotiation.
(Ramya P.S is Research Fellow, International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore. She can be reached at

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