New Delhi: As equal and rival military nuclear powers, India and Pakistan have no option but to make peace with one another. Both sides have reached the limitations of their power. Pakistan’s campaign of jihad and terrorism against India since the late-1980s has bled India but not to the extent that it slackens its hold on Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmiris, their anger against India notwithstanding, have no affection for Pakistan either. If independence is not possible, they would prefer to remain with India but on more autonomous and respectful terms. Those terms are not on offer from the Narendra Modi government but they may be coming.

The failure of Pakistani terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir with the object of separating it from India has been matched by the defeat of Narendra Modi’s hard line in the state. There is talk of amnesty for Kashmir’s youthful stone-throwers. A peace interlocutor has been appointed. “Surgical strikes” have failed to counter cross-border Pakistani raids by soldiers and terrorists. Battle casualties on the Indian side are among the highest in recent years. And for all the rhetoric and a Parliament resolution that advances claims of ownership, India cannot repossess Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. A provocation with that aim would uncontrollably spiral into a nuclear war which will destroy the subcontinent. Territorial status quo has to be the basis for a settlement.

While an elected government in India would find it difficult to build a political consensus on status quo, it would nevertheless greatly be assisted if Pakistan agrees to make concessions. Pakistani concessions acquire meaning and solidity only if the Pakistan army underwrites them. Pakistan’s army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, has indicated behind closed doors that the military wants peace with India. The sentiment has not trickled down to field level where terrorist strikes against India are still authorized. India has no leverage with Pakistan to stop the attacks. China has some and Russia a little while the United States could do its bit.

While the role of the Great Powers in pushing Pakistan towards a peace settlement with India cannot be too obvious, India-Pakistan engagements in contrast publicly have to be conducted. There are definite downsides to public engagements in the sense that they raise high expectations and feed the media frenzy. The solution is not secret meetings such as the latest one between the Indian and Pakistani NSAs in Bangkok. This meeting was leaked from the Pakistani side leaving India squirming in embarrassment because it sits ill with the Modi government’s tough rhetoric against Pakistan. Damage-control robs the process of vigour and vitality and incentives to go forward are diminished. On the other hand, public engagements designed in a manner not to raise irrational expectations would deliver more. For this, it is important to temper rhetoric and be measured in proclamations on bilateral issues. The Modi government has often breached state etiquette.

While sharing his thoughts on peace with India with Pakistan’s lawmakers, General Bajwa put the burden of the process on Pakistan’s elected government. Coming from the army chief, this is extraordinary. Bajwa would be aware, however, that Pakistan has an etiolated elected government since Nawaz Sharief’s disqualification; he may now go into exile. Furthermore, in the coming general election, there is no guarantee that Pakistan will get a strong government with an appetite for peace with India. With pro-India Nawaz Sharief left with no conceivable future role, why would his successor risk goodwill with India? As said in an earlier commentary, General Bajwa has to walk the talk. Pakistan’s elected government has to have the unstinted support of the Pakistan army to negotiate peace with India. And since peace is only possible by preserving the status quo and formalizing it, General Bajwa has his work cut out.

Meanwhile, the Narendra Modi government would considerably assist the peace process by refraining from blowing hot and cold against Pakistan. Consistency requires building up on the Bangkok initiative. Extreme methods neither work for Pakistan nor India. Sobriety, patience, good faith and will are the need of the hour.