It is quite clear that the intractable conflict between India and Pakistan cannot be solved by military means. Pakistan cannot hope to defeat India and India cannot, in light of the US experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, hope to control Pakistan; leave alone defeat a nuclear-armed Pakistan. That leaves only the route of peace negotiations open.

Negotiations can be of two types - one is through exercising power in a manner as to extract concessions on the negotiations table from a position of strength. This approach has been the preferred one for both states historically, and the ongoing round of negotiations is also in this vein. The second is to take to these discussions sincerely by not seeing these as yet another arena of power play. A mutually agreeable outcome is only possible by shifting to an accommodationist one.

The current approach is dominated by realism - putting national interest above all other considerations (moral, social), and acting on the belief that each side should focus on maximising its own gains from negotiations, no matter what the implications may be to the other side. This power politics has dominated the way the two sides have gone about their negotiations, and even among the populations of the two countries, a large number have come to see negotiations as a means to achieve dominance. This is simply untenable.

Trust has not resulted from the confidence building measures in place. This was predictable, since both sides have been insincere. They have used the peace negotiations for positional bargaining. Even as they talk, in the background their power contest continues, in the hope that they can deal from a 'position of strength'. Given these military, intelligence, diplomatic and political moves in the background, neither side is willing to concede ground. Both believe that the future may find them better placed to force the issue on their terms. Each takes its interests as non-negotiable, and sees negotiations as only being pursued to get the other side to concede.

The advent of nuclear weapons makes peace through negotiations as the only desirable way to bring their outstanding differences to closure. Their presence has led to a false belief that under their cover, there is little need to engage meaningfully with the other state. The two states appear to be holding out till when their strategic efforts place them in a better position. In India's case it is the military 'surge' brought about by a resurgent economy. In Pakistan's case, it would like to keep negotiations steady till it can come out of its current trough in national circumstance and morale.

Military backdrop

The India-Pakistan conflict ranks alongside the Israel-Palestinian conflict as the oldest in the 'Charter era' of the United Nations, qualifying it as a 'protracted' conflict. Such a conflict is defined as one that sees alternation between periods of peace and conflict over an issue that remains unresolved.

The Kashmir issue has figured among the causes of the 1947 and 1965 wars between India and Pakistan, and was prominent in the settlement after the 1971 war. It has witnessed the Kargil War a decade ago and serves as the site of a proxy war by Pakistan against India. The Line of Control exists as the most militarised place on earth. Towards its northern end is the militarised Siachen dispute.

The India-Pakistan conflict ranks alongside the Israel-Palestinian conflict as the oldest in the 'Charter era' of the United Nations, qualifying it as a 'protracted' conflict.

 •  What if Pakistan implodes?
 •  Talk another day
 •  Looking at China, missing Pak

The military doctrines of both states are offensive, at both the conventional and nuclear levels. The state of peace is considerably precarious in South Asia, and conflict always appears inevitable and imminent. In the last 15 years alone - i.e. since South Asia went nuclear - there have been four periods of crisis: 1987, 1990, 2001-02 and 2008. Given this, why have the two states not invested in peace through negotiations to the extent as is necessary? Do they not sense, during the repeated negotiations and during the various crises that a different approach is necessary?

While the process of negotiations has been pursued, the approach of both states makes it impossible to obtain a mutually acceptable outcome. This is easier explained in respect of Pakistan since it is dominated by the military elite. Militaries typically think in realist terms. In India's case, it has a choice. Yet it too has approached its relations with Pakistan through a realist prism. This mirroring of perspectives between the two leads to negotiations being meaningless. The process itself becomes a site of power tryst. To make progress the two states must come to the table with a 'give and take' attitude, which is by definition necessary to negotiations.

Meandering negotiations

Negotiations have been as frequent as conflict between the two countries. The first war for Kashmir in 1947-48 resulted in a peace settlement and a ceasefire line. Under US pressure, the wake of the 1962 Sino-Indian War resulted in the Bhutto-Swaran Singh talks of 1963. The Tashkent Agreement succeeded the 1965 war. While the 1971 war was ostensibly fought over East Pakistan, the Kashmir issue figured more prominently in the Simla Agreement of July 1972. The two sides promised to take up the Kashmir issue bilaterally through peaceful means.

India believes that the Simla agreement had a 'secret' clause in which Bhutto agreed to give up Pakistani claims to Kashmir after he consolidated power and returned the military to barracks. However, lack of progress led to Pakistan's proxy war. This energized the peace process from the early nineties, with the two states agreeing to discuss all issues in a 'composite dialogue' in 1997. The Lahore process that took this up in February 1999 was interrupted by the Kargil War of July that year. The Agra Summit was arranged to break the deadlock in 2001. However, the 'twin peaks crisis', of 2001-02, caused disruption.

The peace process finally took off in 2004 along two lines: the composite dialogue and in the 'back channel'. Both made considerable progress till the Musharraf regime ran into internal problems, and were broken off after Mumbai 26/11. A parallel Track Two dialogue has been in progress for the past two decades. The current situation has the two reengaging once again, but only tentatively. As seen from the Mumbai blasts this month, the process is tenuous at best.

A new course needed

There are three reasons why India could change tack. One is that in facing the challenge of China as some foresee in the future, it needs to have Pakistan alongside. The second is that the power play it is current engaged in may witness Pakistan spiraling out of control. In such a case, India would end up at the 'frontline'. Pakistan's predicament as 'frontline' state twice should warn India against aspiring to such status. Third, the kind of power that India is harnessing in terms of military hardware is unusable in the nuclear circumstance. It can in any case continue amassing this with China as excuse.

Lastly, the power play approach privileges certain sections of the establishment such as arms merchants, right wings of both the majority and minority, and the military with a vested interest in fractured relations. Therefore, a changed stance on negotiations is necessary.

The triple blasts in Mumbai provide another opportunity for introspection. The two states continue to be too much closer to war than they need be. To avert nuclear dangers that could result, they need to refocus on negotiations as the only way out of their protracted conflict. This means a move away from their current approach of using the negotiations process for power play.