Originally Published 2004-05-05 10:20:26 Published on May 05, 2004
History is all set to repeat itself in the subcontinent. As usual, the search for a permanent thaw in the India-Pakistan relationship seems to be hitting a big bump in the days ahead that might possibly derail the bilateral negotiation process initiated during the Islamabad SAARC Summit in January this year.
Dealing with Coercive Bargaining
usual, the search for a permanent thaw in the India-Pakistanrelationship seems to be hitting a big bump in the days ahead thatmight possibly derail the bilateral negotiation process initiatedduring the Islamabad SAARC Summit in January this year. Thisscenario has emerged due to Pakistan President Pervez Musharaff'sstatements in recent days threatening India with pulling out of theimpending negotiations if no "forward movement", "progress" is madeto resolve the "core" Kashmir question. The Indian leadership, asis busy with the ongoing general elections, has come up with atepid response refusing to join issue with Musharraf. However, themost surprising thing has been the mistaken belief entertained bysome important sections of the Indian leadership and strategicelite alike that the Pakistan President's pronouncements werelargely for domestic consumption. Such thinking underestimatesPakistan's resolve to settle the Kashmir question to its liking andits perceptions on the ongoing diplomatic engagement withIndia. 

Pakistan sees its promise to prevent cross border terrorism as apowerful leverage to bring India to the negotiating table tosubstantially resolve the Kashmir dispute. The obvious implicationof this has been that Pakistan would unilaterally decide theprogress made in the negotiations and move back on its promise tocurb cross border terrorism, thus holding out the threat of renewedterrorist activities beyond the Line of Control if the talks failedto progress to Pak's satisfaction. This Pakistani coercivebargaining raises fundamental problems at two levels. 

At the first level, the Pakistani thinking betrays a basicunderstanding of the positive role, and limitations, of diplomacyin resolving interstate disputes in contemporary internationalpolitics.

In international politics, the first and foremost goal of diplomacyis to prevent the occurrence of violence among states. Thesignificance of diplomacy lies in its ability to contain interstatedisputes from erupting into a full-fledged war among adversaries.Diplomacy ensures that states seek to resolve disputes throughpeaceful means. Secondly, diplomacy seeks to open and maintain thechannels of communication between rival states. This leads to abetter understanding of each other's positions and intentions andprovides certain predictability to decision makers in rival states.This mechanism also proves to be very significant especially duringcrisis situations and thus ensures a modus vivendi to build a basiclevel of trust and confidence in each other. 

Thirdly, diplomacy among adversaries inevitably leads to theinitiation of the process of negotiations to resolve issues indispute, as has been the case with India and Pakistan now. Thenegotiation process begins with the decision made by each party toexplore the possibility of negotiating. This process develops amomentum of its own leading the rival states to increasedengagement to resolve their disputes. Lastly, a search for anacceptable compromise through active cooperation between rivals isthe most significant task of diplomacy. The constant enterprise ofdiplomacy is to change the zero sum game between rivals into anon-zero sum game in which both sides try to reach mutuallyacceptable solutions. 

However, the limitations of diplomacy in resolving interstatedisputes should also be acknowledged. It is commonly assumed thatrival states have lacked a genuine willingness to negotiate theirdisputes fuelling a hostile state of relations between them. ThePakistani elite holds a similar perception that India is notserious enough on substantively negotiating Kashmir. Lester Pearsonwrote, "We prepare for war like precocious giants and for peacelike retarded pigmies". However, India and Pakistan have had ahistory of over fifty years of intermittent diplomatic engagement,but have failed to reach a mutually acceptable solution till date.This can only be explained by understanding the limitations ofdiplomacy in resolving interstate disputes. The role of diplomacyis severely constrained in three crucial ways. 

Firstly, the role of diplomacy has been significantly constrainedby the introduction of destructive weapons, especially WMDs, in theinterstate dynamics. Instead of leading to a moderation in rivalstates' positions, it has led to an entrenchment of positions onissues in dispute making them more intractable. Each side expectsthe other to give in and refuses to dilute its own position. Thegrowing intransigence of India and Pakistan over the issue ofKashmir can definitely be linked to the overt nuclearization ofIndia and Pakistan in 1998. Though serious attempts to negotiatedifferences had been attempted in Lahore as well as Agra, a genuinerapprochement still remains elusive. Secondly, force being theultimo ratio of international politics, there is a strong tendencyamong states to achieve absolute security by amassing more poweritself than rely on alliances to pursue national interests. A heavyemphasis is laid on increasing one's physical strength throughacquisition of power projection capabilities. Herein, any searchfor compromise is deemed as weakness and loss of security. Thus,every issue in dispute is inevitably linked to a state's survivalleading to diplomatic rigidity and the consequent failure to reacha compromise. 

Finally, diplomacy is limited by the nature of the conflict betweenrival states. For India and Pakistan, the dispute over Kashmir isnot merely a territorial dispute. It symbolizes the conflictbetween opposing ideologies and identities and is linked to eachstate's very existence in the comity of nations. This has led to adeep-freezing of positions on Kashmir and has made the task ofdiplomacy extremely difficult. 

It is therefore very important for the Pak establishment tounderstand the significant role diplomacy can play in resolvinginterstate disputes. On the other hand, it is equally important tounderstand the limitations placed on diplomacy in contemporaryinternational politics.

At the second level, the Pak thinking raises critical questionsregarding an assessment of the progress in the negotiation process.How does one define progress objectively and who decides it?Reasonable solutions offered by one party can be easily construedas intransigence by the other. Subjective perceptions definitelyplay an important role in analyzing progress in negotiations thatmight lead to a stalemate and ultimately withdrawal from theprocess.

So, taking cognizance of the current Pak thinking, should India puta halt to its diplomatic initiatives? If not, what should be theIndian diplomatic strategy to deal with such coercivebargaining? 

The answer is that India should continue its new policy of engagingPakistan but needs to incorporate certain components in itsdiplomatic strategy. These would ensure that the Indo-Pak dialoguewould not be unilaterally vetoed by Pakistan citing Indianintransigence on Kashmir. Such a strategy would also lay down anedifice for India's future diplomacy vis-à-vis Pakistan shouldthe current Indian efforts fail.

Firstly, India should see its current policy of engaging Pakistanas a golden opportunity to weave a matrix of institutionalizedstructures at political, economic, strategic and cultural levelsthat seek to fundamentally transform the Indo-Pak relationship fromconfrontation to cooperation in the years ahead. An annual orbiannual institutionalized dialogue at the highest levels wouldprovide Pakistan with a very powerful incentive to engage India onissues of its interest and raise its stakes in permanentlyfollowing its promise to curb cross border terrorism.

Secondly, India should come out more openly and forcefully with apolicy of incentives and disincentives in its negotiations withPakistan. For example, India can declare its willingness topositively consider the proposed oil pipeline from Iran passingPakistan to India if Indo-Pak relations move forward and away fromviolence. Similarly, India can also offer reductions in trooppresence in Kashmir if there is a genuine and sustainable decreasein cross border terrorism. On the other hand, increase in terroristviolence would jeopardize the Indian approval of the above.

Thirdly, the Indian efforts to engage Pakistan should besimultaneously accompanied by Indian attempts to build a coalitionof states for punishing Pakistan if the ongoing Indian initiativesfailed. A necessary condition for coercing Pakistan to end crossborder terrorism permanently is the formation of a consensus withgreat powers and regional states that India has exhausted everyopportunity to resolve the problem in non-confrontational manner.

Fourthly, Indian diplomatic strategy should ensure that failure inthe enhanced diplomacy, if any, should be demonstrably attributableto Pakistan. It should be ensured that the blame for the breakdownof talks should not be put at India's door.

Lastly and most significantly, Indian diplomacy should be backed bystrong defense capabilities. Engagement is said to be mosteffective when it is undergirded by robust defense capabilities andcommunicates to the target that engagement is the choice of thestrong and not the expediency of the weak.

The incorporation of the above said components in the Indiandiplomatic strategy would definitely serve the Indian objectives toreach an amicable and reasonable settlement of all outstandingdisputes vis-à-vis Pakistan. Implementing such a strategyrepresents a significant challenge for Indian diplomacy in theweeks and months ahead.

The author is an Assistant Professor of Diplomacy in JNU, New Delhi.

* Views expressed in this article are those of the author anddo not necessarily reflect those of Observer ResearchFoundation.
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