Event ReportsPublished on Dec 30, 2016
India and Pakistan: strategies for peace

2016 has been an eventful year when it comes to landmark events in the bilateral relationship between India and Pakistan. The attacks on military bases in Pathankot and Uri and the subsequent surgical strikes by India have further strained the already precarious relationship that New Delhi has with Islamabad. It is therefore essential for New Delhi to formulate a coherent response to Pakistan. It must discuss strategies and tactics by which it could improve relations with its unruly neighbour and decide how it wants to deal with Pakistan. It was in this context that the Observer Research Foundation organised a book discussion on Professor Sumit Ganguly’s new book “Deadly Impasse: Indo-Pakistani Relations at the Dawn of the New Century” on 21 December. The book discussion was chaired by Professor Harsh Pant, Strategic Studies Head and Distinguished Fellow at ORF.

New Delhi has been consistent in having peace with Islamabad and there have been multiple attempts by India to make progress on its relationship with Pakistan. However every time there is a thaw in relations, or any sort of rapprochement, India has had to bear the brunt of violent militant attacks. The Composite Dialogue between the two counties which began in 2003 saw a complete collapse with the Mumbai attacks in 2008. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s surprise visit to Nawaz Sharif in December 2015 was followed by the attack in Pathankot earlier this year. There are however certain tactics and strategies based on international relations theory that can assist us in seeking solutions to the nearly seven decade old dispute between the two countries.

The standard liberal argument is that greater economic interdependence raises the cost of war for states and therefore reduces the chances of a military conflict. In other words, economic development and progress will raise the stakes for countries to go to war and they will therefore seek a peaceful resolution to their dispute instead. However such an argument fails to answer some examples from history; such as high economic cooperation in Europe before 1914 failed to stop World War One.

The deployment of soft power as a means of conflict resolution is another debunked peace-seeking strategy. The soft power resources of a country include people to people contact and exchange of cultural heritage, to name a few. However, looking at the US-Soviet example indicates that despite the use of cultural diplomacy by the US, it was military force that ultimately led to the end of Cold War between the two states.

A third strategy is- deterrence by denial and deterrence by punishment. A ‘deterrence by denial’ strategy makes it increasingly difficult for one's adversary to attack them. This can be done by significantly increasing one's intelligence capabilities, making it increasingly complex for militants to prepare and plan attacks without being shut down. The ‘deterrence by punishment’ strategy proposes a military response to every provocation or violence. However such a strategy requires considerable political grit and economic calculation. It makes for a risky and uncertain strategy.

Two conditions under which India and Pakistan relations could improve are a complete discrediting of the Pakistani military. The military and security establishment of Pakistan has continued to act as an impediment in the improvement of relations between the two countries. The 1971 military defeat of the Pakistan army was an example of discrediting the institution. Any future humiliation for the army could come through either an exogenous shock or and endogenous shock. The second condition that would help peace was if India and Pakistan’s economic, institutional and military trajectories diverge significantly. If India continued to develop and build its strength, provocations by Pakistan would lessen automatically as India would be economically and institutionally stronger.

The discussants for the book discussion, Sushant Sareen, Indrani Bagchi and Mujbir Rehman noted that, divergent economic trajectories would not help limit militant attacks. The stronger a country was more the incentive for the other to inflict harm. It is therefore imperative that India draw its ‘red line’ on where it stands regarding Pakistani aggression. It was also noted that until now India has been following the strategy of deterrence by denial. It has continued to adopt this policy for a long time now and to no avail. What was required was a strong response to Pakistani acts of terror. India has for far too long continued on a cycle of predictability with Pakistan, and the on-again-off-again peace talks must end, in order for India to make any headway on this impasse with its neighbour. The increasing closeness of Pakistan and China had made the dispute no longer a bilateral issue and Beijing’s military support to Islamabad has greatly intensified the conflict between the two states.

This event report was a prepared by Aishwarya Joshi, Research Intern at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi

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