The recent cancellation of scheduled talks between the national security advisers (NSAs) of India and Pakistan is just the latest example of the two countries’ irreconcilable differences. Both sides needed to talk to show the rest of the world that they are ready to talk. Otherwise, many Pakistanis have been convinced by their government that India wants their country to cease to exist. Indians, on the other hand, see Pakistan only as the incubator and exporter of terrorism to their homeland.
The cancelled talks were the result of an agreement between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the sidelines of an international summit in Ufa, Russia in early July. The two leaders affirmed in a written statement that terrorism would be the main subject of discussions in Delhi between their NSAs. Talks between the two nuclear-armed neighbors have been erratic and this new round was expected to put the dialogue back on track.
But then, Pakistani NSA, Sartaj Aziz, announced plans to meet leaders of the Hurriyet Conference — an anti-India coalition from the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir — during his visit to India. The Indians expressed displeasure over this, advising Pakistan to cancel the meeting with “separatists.” Pakistan called off the talks in response to India’s humiliating preconditions.
The United States, which wants India and Pakistan to move beyond their hostile relationship, has expressed disappointment over the cancellation of the talks even though it is likely that no one realistically expected concrete results from the meeting. The international community prefers unfruitful India-Pakistan talks over no talks, given the track record of four wars in 67 years and countless exchanges of fire along their shared border that did not explode into full-scale war.
Pakistan insists that the dispute over the Himalayan region of Kashmir is the core issue in its ties with India. The country’s all powerful military and its religious conservative elements insist that India unlawfully annexed Muslim majority Kashmir, which should have become part of Pakistan under the terms of the 1947 partition of British India. But Pakistan has failed to wrest Kashmir from India in four wars and through a terrorist insurgency that has been waged from Pakistan since 1989.
From India’s perspective, the main issue hindering bilateral relations between the two nuclear armed neighbors is Pakistan’s support for terrorism. Pakistan denies sponsoring Islamist terrorists though the denial is hardly taken seriously by the international community. As if to create equivalence, Pakistan also blames India for secular, ethnic insurgencies in various parts of the country, especially Balochistan, which borders Iran and Afghanistan.
For years Pakistan has sought international support for its position that Kashmir’s future must be resolved through dialogue between India and Pakistan and a plebiscite among the Kashmiri people. India does not even want to discuss the dispute without the end of Pakistan-sponsored terror. Kashmir is an emotive issue in Pakistan because of the failure of its leaders to inform their people that Pakistan no longer enjoys international support on the matter.
The average Pakistani is only told through textbooks and the media that Kashmir should have been part of Pakistan because of its Muslim majority population and that India has reneged on its commitment to resolve the dispute through a plebiscite in the disputed territory. Pakistani textbooks also teach children that India is Pakistan’s existential enemy, which does not accept Pakistan’s existence at heart.
What most Pakistanis do not know is that the last United Nations Security Council resolution on Kashmir was passed in 1957 and Pakistan could not win support for a referendum in Kashmir today if it asked for a new vote at the United Nations. Instead of accepting that it might be better for India and Pakistan to normalize relations by expanding trade and cross-border travel, Pakistani hardliners have stuck to a “Kashmir first” mantra, which they know is unrealistic.
On the other side, hardliners in an increasingly self-confident India play on Indians’ frustration with Pakistani state support for jihadis, such as those responsible for terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008. There is empty talk of “teaching Pakistan a lesson” without acknowledging that teaching military lessons to nations armed with nuclear weapons is never easy. Indians could learn from the United States’ frustrations with North Korea.
Posturing on Kashmir gets Pakistan nowhere but its leaders feel they need to do it any way to maintain support from Islamists and the military at home. Pakistan, besieged by jihadis, has serious internal issues. It is the sixth largest country in the world by population but only 26th by GDP on Purchasing Power Parity and 42nd= in nominal terms. Over 25 million children are out of school: 55 percent of whom are girls.
Pakistani leaders could open trade, education exchanges, and travel with India, which is set to emerge as the third largest economy in the world within fifteen years, instead of insisting on resolution of a dispute that hasn’t been resolved for decades and can wait a bit longer.
Indians, on the other hand, could choose to engage with Pakistan without appearing to be bent on rubbing their neighbor’s nose in the ground. So far, there is little sign that rationality will overcome Pakistan’s hate towards India and India’s disdain for Pakistan.