Much ado about nothing

This Article was published in
Business Recorder (JULY 04, 2011)

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

Indo-Pakistan relations are so deeply mired in history that moving them away from the stated positions and expressing willingness to tread a middle path requires a deep political conviction, which is most often lacking whenever diplomatic parleys have taken place between New Delhi and Islamabad.

Coming on the heels of meetings between both countries' commerce and interior/home ministers and to top it all Mohali encounter between the Prime Ministers of both countries, the recently concluded talks between foreign secretaries, Salman Bashir and Nirupama Rao, in Islamabad on July 23-24 broke no new ground except churning out worn-out diplomatic clichés. While the Joint Communiqué issued at the end of three sessions during two days of interaction did indicate the meetings of working groups on Nuclear and Conventional CBMs and cross LoC CBMs, both countries largely repeated what has already been known to the world.

The agenda of the post-Mumbai included a wide array of points such as Peace and Security including CBMs, Jammu and Kashmir and promotion of friendly exchanges. No concrete movement was discernible on any of the issues except the usual lip service to taking the dialogue process forward in 'a constructive and forward looking manner.'

The interaction between the foreign secretaries again highlighted the vast disconnect that characterises the approaches of both countries. While Pakistan favours conflict-management and conflict-resolution mechanism, India is more in favour of confidence building measures, which in its view, would lead to building of mutual trust and sufficient space to address the complex issues bedevilling the relations between the nuclear-armed neighbours. While Pakistan believes that the composite dialogue framework is a means to an end ie resolution of all issues, India attaches more importance to normalisation of relations and that too achieved through CBMs incrementally and uses process ie composite dialogue framework as an end in itself.

In a joint press conference with her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, when asked about progress on the Kashmir issue, made no bones about her country's stated position. She said "we must do away with the shadow of the gun and extremist violence because it is only in an atmosphere free of violence that we can discuss the resolution of such a complex issue (Kashmir)."What she actually meant by this remark was that the Indian establishment looked at protracted Jammu and Kashmir issue as the one marked by terrorism and violence. This remark is consistent with the Indian attempt to portray the indigenous freedom struggle as terrorism in total disregard of the UN resolutions and civilised norms. What the Indian foreign secretary failed to explain is the fact as to why the Kashmiris have been brutally beaten and killed at the hands of the Indian security forces and why the last two summers were characterised by complete shutdown of the valley.

Pakistan's India policy in general and the Kashmir policy in particular suffer from basic drawbacks and may have run out of steam. There is an urgent need to revisit these policies and seek a fresh national consensus on its broad contours in light of the ground realities and the UN resolutions on the issue. India has been quick to exploit the general mood after 9/11, which blurred the lines differentiating between freedom struggles and terrorism. The various U-turns taken by General Musharraf during his stint in power proved destructive for the Kashmir cause. The various options presented by the military dictator for resolution of the Kashmir issue not only lacked support of Pakistan's mainstream opinion but also flew in the face of the essence of the UN resolutions passed in 1948. They also failed to win any favourable concession from the Indian side as well.

Pakistani foreign secretary also failed to take up matters of serious concern for the country during the three sessions of talks with his Indian counterpart such as water dispute and its subversive activities in Balochistan and Afghanistan aimed at inciting unrest in Pakistan. If one had any doubts about the Indian intentions, her vetoing of the waiver at the World Trade Organisation should be enough to get rid of this doubt. The European Union struck a deal with Pakistan after the devastating floods in 2010 which, under Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) needed a country-specific waiver to come into effect. Indian that had been raising multiple objections to it finally vetoed it. Likewise, India also conveyed its objections to the Asian Development Bank over Pakistan's efforts to seek international funding to build Diamer-Bhasha dam, which is so crucial for meeting Pakistan's energy needs. The latest reflection of the Indian intentions came from the top when during interaction with a select group of newspaper editors, Dr Manmohan Singh advised Pakistan "to leave Kashmir alone" and "do more to tackle terrorism."

If India is really serious about pursuing peace with Pakistan, relatively less complex issues such as Sir Creek and Siachen have been waiting for resolution for a long time. The previous progress on these issues would definitely have prepared ground for resolution of these disputes thereby injecting fresh energy and meaning into the diplomatic engagement.

In the absence of any concrete achievement, can a process be sustainable? The past experience suggests to the contrary. A time soon comes when a small incident is able to de-track the entire engagement and dialogue. It is about time that the political leaderships of both countries revisited the composite dialogue framework and invested political capital in taking the process forward.

(The writer is a PhD candidate in an Australian University.)