Wednesday, March 10, 2010




One abiding feature of India's Pakistan policy has been the immense faith that has been put in store of what is often called People-to-People (P2P) contacts between Indians and Pakistanis. Despite there being no empirical evidence to support the efficacy of this policy, Indian policy makers – hawks and doves alike – have persisted in trying to push for and expand the scope of P2P contacts with Pakistan. But the experience of the last six decades suggests that the P2P policy that India has been following has proved quite ineffective in changing Pakistanis' perception of India, and has not yielded any significant dividend in terms of building influence and stakes among Pakistani society and polity.

The primary reason for this is that India's P2P policy has been targeted at the wrong set of people in Pakistan. Instead of P2P contacts, India needs to concentrate on building linkages, leverages and stakes among the Pakistani elite and establishment (E&E). This is likely to be far more effective in achieving India's policy objectives than any goodwill that India hopes to earn or impression it seeks to make on people who are powerless to change the dynamics of Indo-Pak relations. Given the realities of Pakistan's power structure, it is futile to expect that pressure from below will be able to influence the behaviour, attitude and decisions of the Pakistani E&E. In Pakistan's case, the opposite is true: influence on the E&E will automatically lead to P2P.

Quite aside the fact that centuries of P2P contacts between those who are today known as Indians and Pakistanis did nothing to prevent the holocaust in 1947, there is a very big chasm between the purpose of promoting P2P and its practise. Much of the clamour for greater P2P contacts really has less to do with the 'ordinary people' and more to do with the 'beautiful people' (businessmen, NGOs, media persons, professionals like lawyers and doctors, and political and social activists) who are nothing if not a part of the E&E. Indeed, when the Indian government talks of P2P, it too is implicitly propagating greater interaction between the 'beautiful' people who constitute the cream of society.

The problem is that the manner in which the Indian government conducts its policy, especially its visa policy, on Pakistan leads to quite the opposite result than what is intended. It effectively places obstacles in the path of people whose antecedents are well established and who not only don't pose any threat to India but can in fact serve as advocates of India in Pakistan and therefore need to be cultivated. But try inviting a well-known Pakistani academic, journalist, businessman, retired general or bureaucrat, and you will be put through a bureaucratic wringer that you will regret ever having thought of doing something so stupid. And it's become worse now with the new visa rules which require clearance from a handful of ministries which is either never given or given so late that the conference, seminar or business meeting would have ended.

At the same time over 100,000 visas are issued every year to Pakistanis whose antecedents are unverifiable. While an overwhelming majority of these 100,000 Pakistanis are neither terrorists nor India-haters and are just ordinary people belonging to divided families, the possibility cannot be ruled out of many an agent provocateurs and jihadists slipping into India by pretending to visit their non-existent relatives.

Clearly, instead of giving 100,000 visas every year to a mass of people who really don't count for anything in the power structure of Pakistan, India needs to adopt a more liberal policy towards the E&E, a policy that is designed to create a vested interest that serves as a pro-India constituency in Pakistan. The driving principle of this policy should be a sophisticated version of the carrot-and-stick approach which puts into place a system that rewards elements favourable to India and imposes costs on elements inimical to India. This means using India's soft-power – Bollywood, higher education, medical facilities, business opportunities, economic assistance, infrastructure projects, green-field investments etc. – as an effective instrument to attract Pakistani E&E and effect an insidious change in their perception and attitude towards India. At the same time, India needs to have an array of coercive instruments to penalise anti-India elements in Pakistan.

It is important however to compartmentalise the Pakistani E&E into two broad categories – statists and non-statists. The statists includes the military-bureaucratic establishment (serving and retired), big business, top politicians, big landowners, media barons, and 'embedded' journalists; the non-statists comprises the NGOs, social and political activists, a section of lawyers, non-embedded journalists, anti-establishment politicians, actors, artistes, musicians etc. Until now, Indian's have generally interacted with the latter category and given their opinions and views a degree of importance that is somewhat overstated. Worse, Indians have tended to propose, even formulate policy, on the basis of its interaction with this very vocal, if well-meaning but ineffectual, minority in Pakistan.

While links with the non-statists do serve a purpose and need to be maintained, it is imperative for India to build links – at both official and unofficial levels – with the statists. One right contact in Pakistan's power structure can deliver far more than a thousand civil society activists or a million ordinary Pakistanis ever can. Take for instance Nawaz Sharif during his second stint as prime minister. The Indian government managed to lure Nawaz Sharif in 1998-99 by buying sugar from his mills, something that gave Nawaz Sharif a stake in trying to resolve matters with India. Call it bribery or call it a trade concession, it was a pretty effective tool in roping Nawaz Sharif in.

There is also the case of General Pervez Musharraf. Once he understood the need for dealing with India, everyone else in the state structure fell in line even if they did not agree with what Musharraf was trying to do. The bilateral relations improved within weeks and remained the best that they have been in living memory till Musharraf was in power. There was a boom in E&E contacts with all varieties of delegations from both sides crossing the borders practically on a daily basis.

What many in India had thought at that time to be a paradigm change in Pakistani mindset was really nothing more than the Pakistani establishment following a liberal policy on India, a cue that the Pakistani people followed. But the moment Musharraf's successor in the GHQ took a dim view of these interactions, attitudes changed and everything stopped practically overnight. All the euphoria and all the solemn talk of commitment to the peace process by media personnel and civil society activists went through the window.

It is certainly not the case that Nawaz Sharif or Musharraf had become Indian lackeys, or had sold out to India. Far from it, they both had their own idea of how they could deal with India. But the crucial point is that India had made contact and engaged with the real power wielders in Pakistan and it is this that paid the dividends. Once Nawaz and Musharraf started to deal with India, they became amenable to move away from their stated positions and given their position in the power structure they were both able to ensure that even the naysayers fell in line.

This then is the model that India needs to adopt if it actually wants to break the logjam with Pakistan. Anything else will amount to nothing more than a talking shop and some more pappi-jhappi shows.


    <1250 Words>                    10th March, 2010



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