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Samarpan Samajdar asked: What should be the long-term approach of Indian foreign policy towards Pakistan? Can social constructivism be a viable alternative?

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  • Ashok Kumar Behuria replies: Indian policy towards Pakistan is based on principles of sovereign equality and bilateralism. India has, on a number of occasions, conveyed its desire to discuss all outstanding issues in a comprehensive manner at the bilateral level and resolve them through meaningful dialogue. It is Pakistan’s obsession with the Kashmir issue and its insistence that it should be resolved as per UN resolutions that has derailed the process of dialogue, time and again. This has forced India to recalibrate its policy towards Pakistan continuously in response to the latter's revisionist approach.

    There was an attempt by Pervez Musharraf to de-emphasise UN resolutions and evolve a new paradigm to resolve Kashmir and other outstanding issues through a composite dialogue. However, this approach did not survive the end of his military regime. The army, or the deep state, reverted to the position that a successful implementation of UN resolutions alone could resolve the Kashmir issue. Those backing such a position in Pakistan forget the fact that much water has flown down the Indus since these resolutions were passed. Both countries have brought about widespread changes in areas under their control, which makes the proposed plebiscite irrelevant. Moreover, the UN resolutions [UNSC Resolution No 47 of 21 April 1948, the resolution by UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNICP) of 13 August 1948 and the UNCIP Resolution of 5 January 1949] were not entirely acceptable to Pakistan, which, in violation of the same resolutions, never removed its forces in the first place from the territory under its occupation.

    For the past more than two decades, Pakistan has had a hybrid democratic system dominated by the army and more recently, the party in power has aligned its India policy with that of the army. Apart from the Kashmir issue, the Pakistani elite has a paranoid fear of being absorbed by India. There is a temptation to brand India as enemy number one. As a result, Pakistan has used terrorism as a tool to weaken India. This strategy has not worked.

    One should not also disregard the fact that, despite all this, there is a constituency in Pakistan that advocates normal and friendly relations with India. This is where the theory of social constructivism comes in. It emphasises collaborative cognitive learning methods which aim at creating common ‘knowledge’ based on shared experiences and shared cultural history. There is perhaps a need to create an environment of trust so that such social constructivist interventions can be made to bring about cognitive shifts in the way the people of the two countries perceive one another.  

    In light of all this, India needs to adopt a long-term multipronged approach comprising of the following:

    1. Strengthen India's defence system to ensure that subversive activities do not vitiate the atmosphere.

    2. Engage the international community and highlight the negative policies of Pakistan that disturb the peace and development of the region.

    3. Showcase the fruits of positive bilateral engagements in the past.

    4. Engage the civil society of Pakistan and India and nurture the peace constituencies.

    5. Encourage collaborative efforts aimed at building common historical narratives and cross-cultural understandings, including cooperation in the non-traditional security domain.

    6. Encourage interactions across multiple tracks, beyond people-to-people contact.

    7. Take the ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy forward and lead the process of regional integration through non-reciprocal concessions, wherever possible. 

    Posted on 29 September 2021

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.