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What barriers prevent reconciliation between India and Pakistan?

May 27, 2014 at 6:39 PM EDT
The meeting between India’s new prime minister, Narendra Modi, and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, may have opened an opportunity to mend a relationship fraught with violence and territorial dispute. Jeffrey Brown gets two views on the contentious relationship from Husain Haqqani, former Pakistan ambassador to the U.S., and Sumit Ganguly of Indiana University.

JEFFREY BROWN: And to assess these moves, we get two views: Husain Haqqani was Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States from 2008 to 2011. He’s now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a professor at Boston University. And Sumit Ganguly, a professor of political science at Indiana University, he’s author of the book “Conflict Unending: India-Pakistan Tensions Since 1947.”

Welcome to both of you.

Sumit Ganguly, let me start with you.

How do you read this first meeting, just the fact that it took place? How important is that?

SUMIT GANGULY, Indiana University: I think this is quite significant.

This is the first time that a Pakistani prime minister has been invited to the inauguration of an Indian prime minister. And, furthermore, Mr. Modi, who has not hitherto been known for his warm feelings towards Pakistan really broke new ground.

And so this constitutes a very important and useful portent for the future.

JEFFREY BROWN: Husain Haqqani, how do you look at this meeting?

HUSAIN HAQQANI, Former Ambassador, Pakistan: I think it was positive that Mr. Modi invited Prime Minister Sharif.

And it’s also positive that Mr. Sharif overcame objections within Pakistan to actually to Delhi.

JEFFREY BROWN: Because there were some.

HUSAIN HAQQANI: There were many objections. There were people who said it’s humiliating for a Pakistani prime minister to attend the inauguration of an Indian prime minister.

But the fact remains that the underlying tensions are not going to go away just because of one meeting. And in any case, India and Pakistan have made new beginnings many times and have failed.

JEFFREY BROWN: Remind us — let me start with you. Remind us of those tensions for everyone who hasn’t followed it that closely even over the last few years. Where are the key barriers right now?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Well, the official view in Pakistan is that the key barrier is the resolution of the issue over Jammu and Kashmir, which is a territory that is disputed between India and Pakistan.

But the fact remains that Pakistan broke away from India in 1947, and since then, every Pakistani child is taught in school that India is an existential threat to Pakistan and India is Pakistan’s eternal enemy. Until and unless that attitude is changed, and the fact that Pakistan has the world’s sixth largest military, but still cannot put all its school-going-age children into school, which creates many internal problems in Pakistan, allowing the Pakistani leadership to use India as the boogeyman, until those issues are resolved, India and Pakistan will keep going through various kinds of dialogues without necessarily a resolution.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, Sumit Ganguly, from the Indian side, where are the domestic tensions that thereby play out and affect relations with Pakistan?

SUMIT GANGULY: The principal issue from India is really twofold.

First, there is a constituency that believes that one doesn’t really need to negotiate with Pakistan, that when Pakistan decides it wants to come to the bargaining table and start talking in sensible ways, then we can afford to negotiate with Pakistan.

And, of course, related to this, of course, the same constituency would focus upon Pakistan’s involvement with terror, support for a whole host of terrorist organizations which are operating from its soil and have struck at India on a number of occasions, most notably in November 2008.

So that remains an important stumbling block. The other of course is India’s own fraught relationship with the terrorist that it controls, the two-thirds of Kashmir that it controls, where a significant segment of the population remains alienated from Indian rule. And this remains also a stumbling block in any negotiations with Pakistan.

But the principal impediment, frankly, is most Indians would argue, particularly those of a more hawkish disposition, that Pakistan’s involvement with terror, unless it eschews that relationship, it remains a major barrier towards a normal relationship with Pakistan.

JEFFREY BROWN: We did note — Husain Haqqani, starting with you, we noted that both of these leaders are relatively new, although they have been on the scene for some time. Does that newness suggest the possibility that the domestic — all these kind of domestic tensions and barriers we talked about can be overcome?

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Well, Mr. Modi certainly has an advantage. He has a huge mandate. He just won it, and India has consistently been a democracy.

Mr. Sharif’s position is a little more delicate. He has been elected. He’s been elected for a year, but the fact remains that Pakistan has a long tradition of the military asserting itself against civilian rulers trying to make peace with India.

And even now, much of the hawkish discourse in Pakistan is being fed by the military and Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, which everybody around the world knows or believes to be involved with terrorist groups, including those attacking inside India. So Mr. Sharif will have greater difficulty in overcoming domestic resistance.

JEFFREY BROWN: And this even goes to what you were referring to earlier about whether he should even have gone to this meeting, to the inauguration.

HUSAIN HAQQANI: Well, I personally feel he should have gone. But, yes, I know that there are a lot of people in Pakistan who are using this argument against him.

The fact remains that, in Pakistan, the hawkish elements in Pakistan use anti-Indianism as a means of consolidating Pakistan’s national identity. That is something that liberals like money in Pakistan dispute, because it’s not necessarily good for Pakistan either.

JEFFREY BROWN: And just briefly, Sumit Ganguly, finally, you did mention earlier that Prime Minister Modi’s past doesn’t suggest a lot of — well, he has said some harsh things and his party have been harsh about Pakistan, but you still think there’s some chance to get past that now?

SUMIT GANGULY: I think there is a real opportunity to get past that now, and particularly because no one can really question his credentials in terms of being too forthcoming towards Pakistan or too concessionary towards Pakistan in his approach.

And, consequently, most people will repose sufficient faith in him that any agreement that he reaches with Pakistan will be a considered one and one that will be based upon the sound advice proffered by his national security team.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Sumit Ganguly, Husain Haqqani, thank you both very much.