The Agra Summit was not a setback in India-Pakistan relations. The summit failed even to produce a joint declaration. However, diplomacy is the wrong instrument to increase harmony in South Asia. Progress in India-Pakistan relations is possible, but summit meetings are among the least promising sources. The more likely source of progress is domestic transformation in Pakistan. The land of the pure faces a genuine structural crisis and its dictators are more or less aware of it. If they are to dig themselves out of their hole with the least embarrassment, summit meetings with India should fail consistently; the real changes need to be made in between.
Vajpayee seems to have called the summit out of excess optimism similar to that which led him to declare and renew the cease-fires in Kashmir. There was indeed pressure on Pakistan to make concessions, but there was no indication that Musharraf was ready to make them in such an ostentatious manner. The summit was another gamble that failed. The cost of the gamble is that Musharraf’s credibility in Pakistan has risen somewhat. Nonetheless, the fundamental conflicts within the social coalition he leads have not receded and his gains will be short-lived. It would have been wiser for India not to invite Musharraf, but it was not a major setback either.
India-Pakistan relations have indeed improved significantly recently, but that happened before the summit. The main improvement in relations has come in two steps. First, Pakistan agreed to restrain its forces on the line of control in Kashmir, and thus to withhold assistance to infiltrating terrorists. Second, Pakistan continued its restraint even after India revoked the cease-fire when it invited Musharraf to Agra. It has not agreed to any active measures to stop militant violence. Pakistan has simply agreed to let India try to make the attrition rate of militants in Kashmir exceed their infiltration rate. Faced with an increasingly ominous domestic challenge from jihadis, the Pakistani army has invited India to do its dirty work for it. This is a kind of agreement, but it is not what we usually understand by the word diplomacy.
The prospects for domestic transformation in Pakistan must be understood in terms of the specific nature of its crises. The Musharraf regime is the product of a dominant coalition that emerged in Pakistan after the early nineties between the jihadis and faujis (army). The great success of this coalition was the imposition of the Taliban upon Afghanistan in 1994. After that, its attention turned to Kashmir, especially in the wake of declining indigenous militancy there. The second great success of this coalition was Kargil. This venture was not successful in holding on to mountains, but it sabotaged Nawaz Sharif’s quest to bail Pakistan out of its Kashmir struggle through the Lahore process, and paved the way for the coalition’s rise to complete power. The economic challenge for this ruling coalition is how to maintain and empower itself at the expense of the broad masses and even the business community. The coalition has drawn Pakistan into a debt trap and it now has to manage the twin challenges of borrowing more and avoiding steep reductions in military spending. The political challenge for the coalition is to make the masses acquiesce in their rising poverty and disenfranchisement. There is little evidence of majority support for the Kashmir cause in Pakistan.
Is spite of its lack of popularity, the faujis and jihadis now face a challenge from below. Rising poverty will not produce political change anytime soon. The structures of mass political passivity are powerful. Further, the West is not inclined to force Pakistan into financial default, believing that the advantage would go to jihadis.
The consequential crises of Pakistan are two-fold. First, the faujis and the jihadis have a marriage of convenience and ultimately threaten each other. As jihadi outfits grow, army dictatorship weakens. The majority of generals wish only to manipulate jihadis, not to become jihadis. The dominant military ideology is modernist. They wish to build an authoritarian bureaucratic state based on religious nationalism, rather than on religiosity itself. They respect capitalist institutions enough to keep paying on Pakistan’s debts. Above all, modernists are not suicidal. The jihadis are fundamentalists. They derive their actions and orientations quite directly from their religious beliefs. They reject modern capitalist institutions and would be happy to default on the debt. A few jihadis are suicidal.
Clashes between the two groups have been muted due to the dominance of the military and other modernists. But jihadi outfits are growing within Pakistan. Only a tiny fraction of jihadis goes off to fight, the rest remain at home, biding their time. If the modernists lose power to them, they should not expect gratitude for having created them. Indeed, their cynical exploitation by the modernists has not escaped the notice of the jihadis. The principal jihadi project upon seizing power would likely be purifying the land of the pure. The modernists would be an impurity. The faujis need to undermine the jihadis, as subtly as possible. Their restraint on the line of control is a first step. But in time, modernist dominance would require more comprehensive action against jihadis. This would suit India well.
Second, Pakistan’s military is hollowing out. The generals have just reduced their military budget about 6% under IMF pressure. Much greater reductions lie in store. Pakistan retains some nuclear capability and of course jihadi capability, but its conventional forces are getting qualitatively weaker due to the economic crisis. India repeatedly holds military exercises; Pakistan has not held equivalent exercises in years. It pilots have little flying practice at this point. There is a reason why the Pakistani air force sat out Kargil. If the conventional imbalance continues to grow, “jihad” persists, and Pakistan’s isolation increases, India may begin forays into Pakistan at some point. It would be difficult for the army to take the decision for nuclear mass suicide in retaliation for say Indian attacks on jihadi targets. Just as Iraq was deterred from using its chemical weapons against Israel and U.S. forces during the Gulf War, Pakistan would be deterred. It seems unwise to go on provoking even a diffident India while dropping one’s guard.
During the summit the Pakistanis presented their case with considerably more flourish than the Indians. But the larger point is that Indian security policy has frequently taken a diffident course in both rhetoric and action. A good example of this is the fate of the two major treaties between India and Pakistan, the Indus Water Treaty and the Simla Accord.
The 1972 Simla Accord is tilted in favor of India. Indira Gandhi negotiated it while holding 90,000 Pakistani soldiers as prisoners of war. It has been more or less repudiated by Pakistan, in spite of its reiteration in the 1999 Lahore Declaration. The 1960 Indus Water Treaty is a one-sided agreement by which India supplies river water to Pakistan. India has continued to observe this treaty even though it involves large losses in hydro-electric potential and of course in spite of subsequent wars, terrorism, and nuclear threats. India has not used the advantages conferred upon it by geography in pressuring Pakistan to restrain itself.
Sanjoy Banerjee teaches International Relations at San Francisco State University. He writes about India, America, and the world.