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Dictator or democracy: When does India have a better chance to resolve ties with Pakistan?


New Delhi, Dec 8: Dealing with Pakistan has always been tricky for India. The main issue is that the democratically elected government in Pakistan has limited freedom to take foreign policy related decisions, especially when it comes to ties with India. It is known for decades now that the military in Pakistan functions as a separate entity and even when the political establishment wants to engage with India, it is the army which dictates terms.

File photo of Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Pervez Musharraf

The democratically elected government in Pakistan may want better ties with India, but then the military has an agenda of its own and that is to 'bleed India with thousand cuts. Pakistan military's strong anti-India stand, its support to the extremist elements and insurgency in Kashmir, tacit support to infiltration and terrorism, are some of the areas in which the political establishment has no control.

The reason why the Pakistani Army has been able to sustain its grip on power and influence is because of the widespread perception and propaganda that India is an existential threat. Under these circumstances, who should India be talking to? Even if the army is the decision maker, the Indian government cannot directly talk directly to the Pakistan army.

OneIndia spoke to defence and strategy matters expert Colonel Jaibans Singh and he said that no bold decisions can be taken by the political establishment in Pakistan concerning India when there is army acting as a separate entity.

Newly elected Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, said on several occasion that he wants better ties with India. Col Singh said that even if Imran Khan wishes to change things, there is not much that he can do. He said that Khan may enjoy some degree of freedom to tinker with the economic policies of the country, but his scope in terms of altering the foreign policy remains limited.

When asked if the chances of ties improving between the two countries are better if the is a Pervez Musharaff-like dictatorial government in Pakistan, Col Singh said India and Pakistan almost came to the last line of resolving the Kashmir issue during Musharaff's time.

"Historically, Pakistan had a better relationship with India or a more stable relationship with India when there has been a dictatorship. That is because the dictator does not have to keep looking behind his shoulders when talking to politicians in India. He takes political as well as military decisions. So that is why Musharraf was more aggressive as far as the resolving the Kashmir is concerned. India and Pakistan almost came to the last line of resolving the issue during his time. We could never reach that far after that," he told OneIndia.

"Whether it is Nawaz Sharif or Imran Khan, they cannot take a decision. The better way to do this whole thing is for the Indian Government to talk to the chief of army staff but that is not possible. He is the one who is going to decide, but he is also not the head of the state. But in case of Musharraf, it was not difficult for him to take political as well as the military decision," Col Singh added.

[Can Imran Khan be trusted?: Here is what Army veterans have to say]

During Musharraf's regime, India and Pakistan did, in fact, held multiple rounds of talks to resolve the long pending issues, but in the end, the talks failed.

Agra Summit and India-Pakistan relations during Vajpayee:

The Agra summit was a historic two-day summit meeting between India and Pakistan which lasted from 14-16 July 2001. It was organized with the aim of resolving long-standing issues between India and Pakistan. After much diplomatic efforts, the Agra summit started amid high hopes of resolving various disputes between the two countries including the five decades old Kashmir issue.

Various rounds of one-to-one talks were held between President Musharraf and Prime Minister Vajpayee. On the first day, a 90-minute one-on-one session was held and the two leaders discussed the Kashmir issue, cross-border terrorism, nuclear risk reduction, release of prisoners of war, and commercial ties. There were high hopes in Pakistan that both the leaders would arrive at an agreement and a joint statement or declaration would be made at the end of the summit as the two leaders plunged into serious talks.

The talks and peace process, however, collapsed and no signatures were attained for the Agra treaty. The talks faced a number of obstacles. Reports say there were three major reasons for the Indian government's reluctance in accepting Pakistan's assurances at face value. First, the Vajpayee government did not trust President Pervez Musharraf and the establishment that he represents in Islamabad. In India alone, it was widely felt that it was Musharraf who sabotaged joint peace efforts of Pakistan Prime minister Nawaz Sharif and India's then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Lahore Summit in 1999.

Second, India was not satisfied with Pakistan's pledge to halt cross-border infiltrations; thirdly the Indian government had plans for holding regional elections in Kashmir in October 2002. Similarly, Indian leadership considered Musharraf's refusal to give up support to the cross-border insurgency in Kashmir as the reason behind the failure of the Agra Summit in June 2001.


Whether the dictator rule or political regime, the anti-India sentiment deeply ingrained in the psyche of Pakistan is at the core of bitter ties between the two nations. The best option for India is to keep its vigilance levels high and thwart any attempt by Pakistan to disrupt peace. India's has a firm stand that terror and talks cannot go hand in hand. India took this stand after trying for years to resolve conflicts through dialogue. Things will not change in Pakistan as long as the army remains a powerful entity which is hell-bent to 'hate India. India can only hope that a day will come when a strong political government would be able to rein in the army.

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