India – Pakistan - South Asia’s Zero Sum Game
Much of South Asia’s travails are blamed on the zero sum game between India and Pakistan. Thus when leaders of South Asia, led by the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Haseena asked the Indian Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh and then Pakistani Prime Minister Mr Yusaf Raza Gillani to take a quiet walk in the garden in Thimpu during the SAARC summit in 2010 and resolve the differences fresh hopes evoked optimism. This was sustained through the years with the high point being possibility of Most Favoured Nation status accorded by Pakistan to India by the end of 2012 and liberalization of trade including energy as well as the visa regime. Events during June however seem to indicate likelihood of return to the zero sum game, here is why?
Status quo on two crucial engagements on long standing disputes over alignment of the line of control/international boundary at Siachen and Sir Creek is the first set of events that denoted stalemate in the relations. With over 100 soldiers killed in a snow slide in Siachen, Pakistan had raised the stakes with a flurry of articles indicating necessity for a pull back of troops from eyeball to eyeball confrontation at over 18,000 feet in the Glacier. Pak Army Chief General Kayani seemed to suggest that progress in Indo Pak relations would be based on a breakthrough in Siachen. For India side without any change in the basic premise, of demarcation, disengagement was not a practical option.
Devoid of a breakthrough in Siachen, Sir Creek remained in the cold freeze. Evidently both sides were not prepared to step up the rapprochement to the next level by resolving the vexatious boundary issue. Opinion makers in Pakistan as Maleeha Lodhi, wrote in the News International, a Jang group newspaper, that given lack of progress in talks at Siachen and Sir Creek, there was no point in continuing the trade track. Ironically the Jang group and the Times of India have launched a joint initiative to improve people to people relations, “Aman ki Asha”.
Meanwhile there were serious violations of cease fire in the Poonch region of Jammu and Kashmir with mortar firing spilling over for a week. This resulted in blocking cross border movement of people and goods a CBM which had gained much traction.
During the same period, there was political upheaval as Mr Yousaf Raza Gillani was disqualified from the National Assembly by the Supreme Court overturning the ruling of the Speaker of the august legislative body over his indictment in the Swiss reference case. This has reopened the contest between the institutions and political parties with the Army possibly playing a referee or waiting in the wings as per knowledgeable observers. Thus initiatives taken by Mr Gillani and the Pakistan People’s Party President Mr Zardari to improve relations with India are now on the back burner as there is more judicial activism in store for the ruling party.
The severest blow however came with interrogation of the Indian terrorist Abu Jundal alias Sayeed Zabiuddin Ansari who had been operating for the Lashkar e Taiyyaba in Pakistan. Jundal reconfirmed involvement of state actors in that country in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack. The ghosts of terrorism thus again haunt Indo Pakistan relations and unless there is a fundamental shift in strategic discourse between the two major states in South Asia, the zero sum game is likely to continue