The high-decibel political drama unravelling in Pakistan had been keenly watched by Indian policy planners. As the demand for Nawaz Sharif’s resignation got louder every day, it resulted in a mixture of curiosity and amusement among watchers in Delhi—the NDA government had been using every single regional and international forum to isolate Pakistan for the past two years.
Yet, as the possibility of Sharif’s marginalisation looms large, both serious assessment and speculations are on in Delhi as to how much worse Indo-Pak relations could get. A primary concern is the impact of the deteriorating ties on Kashmir.
Also worrisome for policy planners is the ongoing upheaval in Kashmir. The gains of the past years that had managed to bring significant calm to the restive Valley seem to have been lost. The recent attack on innocent Amarnath pilgrims by suspected members of the Lashkar-e-Toiba indicates the involvement of their handlers across the border. The feeling in New Delhi is that Kashmir will be hounded even more by militants as the political turmoil in Pakistan leads to a further shrinkage of civilian leadership.
If the political leadership is sidelined, the army will engineer a more strident Kashmir policy.
The next few days are crucial—Pakistan’s Supreme Court is scheduled to deliver its ruling on the Joint Investigative Team’s report on Sharif and his family members’ involvement in the Panamagate corruption scandal on July 17. The apex court may rule that Sharif has to step down or even ban him from contesting polls. It may even ask for the charges against the PM to be probed further. Whatever happens, the space for civilian leadership in Pakistan—an area perennially under threat from its powerful military establishment—could attenuate further. The very possibility makes Indian planners wary.
As mentioned before, growing military control is likely to bring more stridency in Pakistan’s Kashmir policy, feel South Block officials. Pakistan, which has never given up its claim on Kashmir and continues to occupy part of the J&K state, had stepped up its campaign on India’s handling of the situation there, harping on its old chestnut about rights violations of civilian protestors. But this had not stopped it from encouraging the terrorist outfits operating from its soil to wreak havoc in the Valley and elsewhere. The attack on the Amarnath pilgrims was a grim reminder that a process of dividing Kashmiris on communal lines, as well as its spread to the rest of India, is afoot.
As much of this could be executed by the military establishment and the ISI through terror groups, it would also force a weak civilian leadership to endorse the deleterious move. A beleaguered Sharif, facing a rising campaign from his opponents on corruption charges and under constant pressure from the army, could also try an old Pakistani political trick—talk up Kashmir to give a boost to his falling stocks.
With India trying to match the emerging scenario in Kashmir with a greater emphasis on security rather than on finding a political solution, the chances of a dialogue between India and Pakistan being revived are next to nil.
Pakistan will soon go into the election mode; negotiations with India will be the last priority for any political party. Similarly, the Modi government’s increased pressure on Pakistan in an attempt to force it to stop using terror as a foreign policy tool to engage with India seems to have worked for the BJP in elections. As India also gears up for a series of assembly elections and finally for parliamentary polls in 2019, the window of opportunity for the neighbours to resolve outstanding issues across the negotiating table seems a pipe dream for the near future.