New Delhi: Sooner or later, the United States is likely to pressure India to resume the dialogue with Pakistan on Kashmir and lesser disputes. Hints of this have already arrived and more are expected. The United States simply cannot exclude Pakistan to bring stability to Afghanistan. US war-fighting in Afghanistan is rendered impossible if Pakistan denies logistical supply lines through its territories. It is another matter that the United States cannot win the war in Afghanistan with its current plans or alone. (See Commentary, Act 2, 27 September 2017).

The United States may have already played its hand on Pakistan and Kashmir with India, in which case, more will come, as surely as night follows day. This writer is convinced that the Kashmir interlocutor, Dineshwar Sharma, was appointed under US pressure. The press has linked it to Narendra Modi’s overture to Kashmiris made in his Independence Day speech. Governments don’t like owning up to foreign pressure. On the whole, however, the appointment of Sharma is sensible. It will make even better sense if he is given a free hand and not be tripped up by the security establishment which cannot think beyond the hard line. If India and Pakistan begin a conversation again regardless of who compels it, that is also commendable. If it happens two, three or six months from now, the country should not be surprised and welcome it. The Opposition needs to be especially constructive and back the government to preserve the ethos of consensus in foreign policy.

Talks with Pakistan, all the same, will fail if India insists on speaking only with Pakistan’s elected government. Elected governments of Pakistan are undergoing a strange turmoil and acute existential crisis today. They are under attack both from the judiciary and the military deep state. There appears to be a campaign to neutralize elected heads of governments so that they may have the most minimum say in the running of affairs of the Pakistan state. Nawaz Sharief is practically history. His interim successor is expected to make way for Nawaz’s brother, Shahbaz, in the event of electoral victory which is not at all certain. Meanwhile, Imran Khan, the military’s current favourite, cannot expect a better fate than Nawaz, and he will quicken his own downfall with his political immaturity. So we are staring at a long period of party political infirmity in Pakistan where the military will be even more powerful without necessarily seizing power.

The Pakistan military has shown enough flexibility in the past to win the US government to its ways and there is no reason to believe the Pakistan military has lost that art. The Pakistan military controls Pakistan and there is no running away from the fact. If India wants a peace deal with Pakistan, it will have to engage the Pakistan military. The fig leaf of engaging the military through the cut out of the Pakistan civilian government will no longer work. All the world powers, including the United States, primarily engage with the Pakistan military. India surely cannot see itself as an exception.

India likes to project and foist its ideology of civil-military relations on Pakistan and it fails to impress. The ideology is outstanding for India and the rest of the democratic world. But it cannot gain traction in Pakistan where the military is, for all intents and purposes, the Pakistan state. US arms controllers during the Cold War accorded greater respect to Soviet military leaders than to their own commanders because they were brilliant strategists. They were brilliant because they were politicized by the system and had to immerse military thinking and actions into statecraft. On the other hand, with important exceptions, US military leaders were professionals compartmentalized by their individual services and departments and secluded from political policy-making by and large. This was so evident in World War II where both Franklin D. Roosevelt and the military leadership of Dwight D. Eisenhower were scandalized by Winston Churchill’s suggestion to coordinate military and political objectives in the recapture plans for southern and western Europe to limit the westward march of the Red Army.

The Pakistan army is in the same superior position of the erstwhile Soviet military by virtue of its tremendous exposure to geopolitics. After all, the Pakistan army is the Pakistan state in a manner that the Indian Army cannot even conceive. India has dealt with the Pakistan army strictly on the basis of military reciprocity except during phases of martial law administration. The last military dictator to interact on that exceptional basis with an elected Indian Prime Minister was Parvez Musharraf, and his host and guest on multiple occasions was Atal Behari Vajpayee. The exception has now to be broadened to include the Pakistan army as a regular feature in future India-Pakistan dialogues. If the US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, considers it pivotal to speak to the Pakistan military leadership to make progress in Afghanistan, India should not expect the protocol to differ for the peace dialogue.

While Pakistan’s elected head of government has to be respected and honoured in the dialogue framework, shunning all political contact with the military is unlikely to be productive. It is not enough for the National Security Advisor to engage his serving or retired military opposite number. The equivalents of the Tillersons and the James Mattises in the Indian government would have openly and expansively to engage the Pakistan army leadership to make headway. This will not be readily acceptable here after Pakistan has been so thoroughly demonized. But this is where a reading of the facts of the case takes you. You cannot militate against reality forever.

This is not to suggest that India’s engagement of the Pakistan military will immediately make peace between them a low-hanging fruit. But there is a better chance of the Pakistan military establishment becoming reasonable were it periodically to be seated across the table from Indian political interlocutors. Over a length of time, each side will be appreciative of the red lines of the other side, and it will clear the way for a negotiated settlement. India and Pakistan cannot wish they were not neighbours. Frontiers cannot be altered any longer. Often, the bare truth of a situation is obscured by decades of mistrust, animosity, bloodshed, feelings of hurt and betrayal, and yearnings for revenge. The only way to remove the obscuration is through conversation and good faith. India has to lead the way and it has to do so imaginatively.