BOTTOM LINE: My readout on this meeting is that it met its expected low bar. It didn’t do more than break the diplomatic ice, which it was set to do. Nor did it evolve into an opportunity for some serious peace take-aways, which is the leadership need of the Asian century. So it stuck to the Goldilocks middle, no big chill, but no big thaw either.
The meeting reflected little change in the Indo-Pak cycle of circling back to Zero every so often.
On a medium-term, the back channel should have been better used to activate executive drift in Delhi and Islamabad.
As a legacy politician on his last round, Singh could have worked up the courage to have a joint presser, or even greenlight a joint briefing by senior officials. With no big deliverables, which were never expected, they could have used it to signal hope for bilateral momentum.
As for the big old military veto on Indian policy, no doctrinal shifts in Pakistan will evolve while force postures from India remain the same on its western borders. But change is in the air here too: in a reflection of Islamabad’s broader regional calculus, Pakistan’s military has shifted large brigade strength to its Afghan border, while easing space to civilian voices on policy-making. In contrast, the Indian military, which used to have no say in policy making, has been known to exercise public vetoes on Siachin and Kashmir.
Sharif is right on the money when he says defence spending should go down in the region, but this policy will remain a pie in the sky with the Indian Mil broadening its global spend. Pak Mil will become no Austerity Jane either.
Control of Non-State Actors has become a major challenge for Pakistan, as it battles internal terrorism as well as a surge in volatility from Afghanistan while NATO forces make a security transition time-lined to 2014. This too will be difficult to change in the near-term.