Afghanistan has unfortunately become a pawn on the chess board of the two atomic powers of South Asia
As is customary for Pak-India talks, S.M Krishna visit to Islamabad did not move most in Pakistan and, perhaps, not in India. Notwithstanding the agreements about matters of secondary importance like visa liberalization, trade, travel or cultural exchange --- achievements wrongly overlooked by general public as not substantive --- no agreement was signed about issues of prime importance or more rightly of public importance like Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek or water dispute. The public in general is always pre-occupied about the zero-outcome of these talks and intelligentsia keeps its expectations low. Taken on the face value, there is pessimism here but a close observation of rapidly emerging new geostrategic dimensions reveals constrains and lures forcing the traditional rivals to settle for normal relation. Big picture shows that prospects for Pak-India relation are positive.
India on her part has learnt lesson from history. Gone are the days when Congress leaders would refer to Pakistan as an estranged son of mother India bound to stage come-back. After sixty five years of hostility Indian establishment is quite cognizant of the fact that by now Pakistan is an undeniable reality and so useless and unnecessary to wait or attempt its extermination. The preposition that it has got to deal with it (Pakistan) now seems digestible for it. The situation is more markedly and certainly so after the day Pakistan became nuclear power. India’s this realistic calculation has provided oxygen to Pakistan.
Along with that, “big idea” (attributed to Attal Bihari Vajpayee) is still in action. It tells Indian rulers that India cannot become economic power or South Asian tiger unless it is at durable peace with Pakistan. It prescribes India to try to obscure Pakistan in the region through sincere peace talks as a strategy far better than to wish its destruction. India views normalization with Pakistan as a precondition for its emergence to a status of Asian star and responsible global actor. Its rivalry with Pakistan keeps her outlook Pakistan centric which retards her growth as a power.
Third factor alluring India to sincere negotiation is the new hope it finds in the positive, aspiring and more responsible response of both the democratic set up and civil society of Pakistan. In the past fragile civil society was not willing to befriend itself with ‘Hindu’ India and successive governments of military or its pawns were all negative on this front. Now the civil society is stronger and more willing about friendship with India and the once all-powerful military is in the background. So the horizon is clear and India knows it best.
On Pakistan side the most significant development is the subtle realization that Kashmir is unattainable. Though at the official level Pakistan keeps harping on it, on societal level it is a dead issue. Individual Pakistani’s plate is full of his own problems; he is not in a position to care about Kashmir. The ‘jihad’ in Kashmir is almost over; mujahedeen who were there to “bleed India” have disabused themselves of the ideology of jihad and have started returning homes to begin a new life. (Stories related to the end of this jihad are brilliantly reported by only BBC Urdu Service). Hundreds of the mujahedeen have left jihad complaining they did not get support from their hitherto benefactors. It is a great leap forward to normalization.
Even more significant is that, in my opinion, Pakistan is considering normalization on its Eastern border a safety valve for the pressure which is increasingly building on it, on its Western border. The pressure is partly due to Pak-India rivalry --- it is intolerable for Pakistan to see India, its rival on Eastern border, encamp itself, while being still a rival, on its Western border. Normalization on its Eastern border will allow Pakistan to see India in Afghanistan as a normal state, disabuse itself of the misperceptions about her presence there and stop seeing India standing behind Afghanistan in its relation with it. In other words it will have strong reason to cut out India from its calculation for Western border which warrants greater attention with the course of time.
Besides that, the normalization may set off peace on road to Kabul. Afghanistan has unfortunately become a pawn on the chess board of the two atomic powers of South Asia. The normalization between the two powers will do away with their urge to interfere in Afghanistan’s internal matters thereby affording it an opportunity to cure its injuries. It will come as a bonus to Pakistan, a state which has been bearing the brunt of fallout of Afghan wars.
In addition, Pakistan feels a strong urge to settle its external matters and conserve some energy for internal deteriorating situation. That is the reason behind it being seemingly in haste for normalization with India as is discernible from the official statements and editorials of the newspapers.
With the environment for peace talks all positive the onus is on the diplomats of the two countries to not only speed up the normalization process but also immunize it to set-backs to proceed to dispute resolution in accordance with the promising model of normalization first and dispute resolution later in order to bring durable peace to the whole region.