New Delhi: How many times have we been told of great things happening in Pakistan only to have hopes shattered? Manmohan Singh and the mainstream Indian media may go gaga over the return of Nawaz Sharif to power, but this writer has serious reservations of significant improvement of relations between India and Pakistan. After the initial pappi-jhappi of the two Punjabi heads of government on either side of the border, it will be back to fraught relations on account of terrorism, Kashmir and flare-ups on the Line of Control with or without the accompanying beheadings by bloodthirsty Pakistani troops. A gushing Indian editor-commentator sought to belittle the tragedy of the beheading of an Indian soldier some months ago which led to the suspension of normal relations. Belittle he can, because it was not his vacuous head.

The perennial spoiler of India-Pakistan peace is a third party called the Pakistan military which is dominated by the land forces lead by a majority of Punjabi officers. Nawaz Sharief comes from Punjab like the bulk of the officer corps but there is a turf war between the two sides in which the winner can never be an elected Pakistan government, however legitimate it is. Nawaz Sharief is compromised by the fact of owing his rise to the late Islamist dictator Zia-ul-Haq as a counter to the Bhutto family and his cosy ties with the terrorist groups that attack India in Jammu and Kashmir and elsewhere. Besides the army and the militants, the judiciary is a powerful counter-force to the elected government, and Nawaz Sharief simply cannot function by antagonizing all three sections. Compromising with the judiciary is not possible because from the judiciary’s side there is nothing to compromise. So the only compromises open are those with the military and the militants. There is the fourth factor of the United States and Nawaz Sharief has to do a powerful balancing act with it too. Asif Ali Zardari with all his faults was a natural balancer but Nawaz Sharief does not sound very accommodative. Big trouble is in store for him and the first casualty will be relations with India because no internal political gains are to be made by being friendly with it.

When Nawaz Sharief was last in office and his term cut short by the usual military coup, South Asia and particularly the Af-Pak region were a little less complicated. The 11 September incident and the resultant ouster of the Taliban government and the Al-Qaeda from Afghanistan were still to happen. The Federally Administered Tribal Areas were not the drone-scourged militant battle zones they have become. Terrorists hadn’t run over large parts of Pakistan as now. And Pakistan today is more comprehensively a failed state than when Nawaz Sharief was in charge. Apart from bringing his entrepreneurial spirit into the government, a quality Zardari appeared to possess but failed to impart, Nawaz Sharief isn’t in a position to do very much. The military, the militants and the judiciary have carved out and expanded their turfs, leaving little space and autonomy for the elected government. This is a huge anomaly but there is no corrective at hand. It is clear that the government, the military and the judiciary must unite to fight the terrorists who present the foremost existential threat to the Pakistan state. But such unity appears impossible. To the contrary, the military is linked with the militants against India, the judiciary with the military against the civilian government, the militants with sections of the executive and chunks of society, and so on. There is no light at the end of the tunnel.

Instead of rushing in to mend relations with Pakistan, India must stay aloof and watch the unfolding situation. The Afghanistan endgame is near and the Pakistan army and Inter-Services Intelligence will be active there to topple the Hamid Karzai government. The residual American troops may not permit this but will Nawaz Sharief stop this denouement from the Pakistan side if success is assured? That will be the real test of his democratic credentials and his will to take on the military establishment. Indeed, developments in Afghanistan will provide the cue for a serious Indian engagement of Pakistan. Peace with Pakistan cannot be at any cost. The notion of an “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” dialogue process with Pakistan is nonsense. There is absolutely no reason to resume the dialogue process just because friendly noises are made from the other side. Manmohan Singh should cage his nostalgia and sit at home. There is nothing to be gained by going to Pakistan now or anytime soon or inviting Nawaz Sharief over.