India - Pakistan: Why Peace Talks Failed
STORIES, ANALYSES, EXPERT VIEWS
There has been little visible engagement between India and Pakistan for some years now. The only exception was the ceasefire agreement of February 2021. India insists on a terror-free environment to resume the dialogue. The important thing is that Pakistan is also not eager to resume talks.
Imran Khan had ruled out talks with India. He wants Delhi to reverse the constitutional changes in Kashmir that were introduced in August 2019 before Pakistan comes to the table. The major elements of the current government including Nawaz Sharif’s Muslim League and Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party, writes C Raja Mohan (senior fellow Asia Society Policy Institute, Delhi and contributing editor on international affairs for The Indian Express) “have at various times in the last three decades made a sincere effort at negotiating peace with India. But they were overruled by the then-Army leadership.”
India should not give up on Pakistan: Lambah
In the view of Satinder Lambah who spent most of his long diplomatic career in Pakistan, ‘India should not give up on Pakistan.’ In his book published posthumously, In Pursuit of Peace: India-Pakistan Relations Under Six Prime Ministers, Lambah insists that it is unwise for India not to engage a large and significant neighbour like Pakistan. “This certainly is not a view widely shared today within the Indian strategic community,” states Mohan.
Lambah, former high commissioner in Pakistan, was at the very centre of the repeated Indian efforts over the recent decades to negotiate peace with Pakistan and had the bitter experience of seeing them come to nought.
He oversaw the Pakistan desk as the joint secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs. Lambah was the special envoy of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who negotiated an ambitious peace agreement with Pakistan’s General Pervez Musharraf on Kashmir.
Entrenched beliefs in India and Pakistan
That extensive experience, writes Mohan “gave him more than enough insight into the difficulties of negotiating with Pakistan. Among the many challenges was Pakistan’s internal volatility in terms of engagement with India. There was no guarantee that the results from the negotiations with one leader would be honoured by his successor.
“Lambah was also acutely conscious of the bureaucratic and public pressures on the Indian prime ministers not to sign sensible agreements, because they might be seen by the public as making undue concessions to Pakistan. There have been many instances when Indian leaders pulled back from agreements that they said yes to but changed their minds soon after.
“The reluctance to turn even successful negotiations into formal compacts is rooted in the massive public emotion attached to the relationship in both countries. The multitude of grievances on both sides, accumulated in the run-up to the Partition and since, hangs heavily over the bilateral engagement…
“On the other hand, there is extraordinary mutual goodwill at the level of individuals and large sections of civil society….”
India and Pakistan came closest to resolving the Kashmir question
Lambah believed the negotiations between Manmohan Singh and Musharaff “were the closest India and Pakistan came to resolving the Kashmir question……The period from 2004 to 2007 was a moment of extraordinary effort to transform bilateral relations with Pakistan. Manmohan Singh built on the foundation built by Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan in January 2004. The good news from the Manmohan era is that the two sides made noteworthy progress on a range of disputes.”
‘No going back to the old formulae’
Yet, "when India and Pakistan do return to the negotiating table, there might be no going back to the old formulae. Delhi now wants to decisively change the terms of engagement with Islamabad. This is unsurprising since the balance of power between India and Pakistan continues to shift in favour of Delhi. The Indian economy today is 10 times larger than Pakistan’s.
“The inability of Pakistan’s elite to get its economic act together, restore a measure of internal political cohesion, and reorient its foreign policy towards regional cooperation will only deepen the imbalance. For Pakistan’s elite obsessed with ‘strategic parity’, the much-needed compromises with India are likely to become even harder.”