More of the same

By Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

The developments following the issuance of the joint statement after a meeting of the Pakistani and Indian prime Ministers in Sharm el Sheikh point to a familiar patter of ‘on and off’ relations between both countries. The dictum that “the more things seem to change, the more they remain the same” appears to have been coined in view of peculiar nature of relations between Islamabad and New Delhi that have seen few ups but more downs in the troubled history of 62 years since 1947.

The grilling of the Indian Prime Minister by the opposition parties in parliament and media over his ‘concessions’ to Pakistan in the joint statement shows that there is a lot that needs to be done on both sides of the border at multiple levels that may encourage governments to take bold initiatives without fear of reprisal at home. Pakistani governments that dared cross ‘red line’ also faced similar treatment at the hands of the conservative elements and hawkish establishment. The oft-spoken slogan of ‘sell-out on Kashmir and compromise on the national interest’ comes to mind.

What really caused uproar in Indian media and parliament was the agreement of the Indian government to the de-linking of peace talks from terrorism and not so unveiled reference to ‘threats in Balochistan and other areas’. So ferocious was the reaction of the journalists accompanying the Indian PM during the visit that the latter was forced to put a different interpretation on the joint statement which clearly belied the facts. While the joint statement manifestly signaled the resumption of composite dialogue between Islamabad and New Delhi starting with the meeting at foreign secretaries’ level, Dr Manmohan Singh would have the Indians believe that it did not mean anything to that effect and that India was wanted Pakistan to fulfill the conditions for dialogue before it formally entered into structured talks with it.

The opposition political parties in India thought that the government was going too far in accommodating Pakistan without getting anything in return on bringing the alleged perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice. Their contention was that Pakistan was able to achieve major diplomatic success through Indian readiness to resume the composite dialogue, which also meant that her official position on the Mumbai carnage was also correct. It is to be kept in mind that following the events in Mumbai in 2008, India not only suspended the composite dialogue but also put forward two preconditions for initiation of dialogue. One condition related to the complete dismantling of the terror infrastructure in Pakistan and second was about bringing the alleged perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks to justice.

This brings us back to not too distant a past when the Indian establishment used the similar trick to browbeat Pakistan into submission. In December 2001 when the Indian parliament building was attacked, India put all the blame at the doors of Pakistan and mobilized its forces to the borders. Pakistan was left with no option but to follow suit. Thus there developed very explosive situation which could get out of hand anytime due to any mistake or miscalculation by either of the sides. The eye-ball to eye-ball confrontation between both countries that persisted till the end of 2003 coupled with aggressive Indian diplomacy to isolate Pakistan internationally and get her declared as terrorist state was only avoided due to active American engagement. The American backdoor efforts paid off when the leadership of both countries singed what came to be known as ‘Islamabad Declaration’ in January 2004 sparing South Asia what could well develop into one of the worst catastrophes of the world.

One can easily discern a pattern to this Indian approach towards Pakistan. Invoking any untoward terrorist incident, the Indian establishment aims all the guns at Pakistan holding it responsible for the perpetuation of the terrorist acts before any proof is found and presented in the court of life. This is followed by aggressive media and diplomatic offensive against Islamabad, which is meant to alienate it and prove it culprit in the eyes of the world community. The coming of the Indian defence forces into war mode is geared to browbeat Pakistan and cripple its fledgling economy. Then after a certain period of protracted confrontation, de-escalation takes place, largely due to involvement of the international players led by the US, and India agrees to resume the stalled dialogue process with Pakistan. This cycle continues until another incident thwarts the pace of the developments brining everything back to square one.

Thus there is something fundamentally wrong with the structure and principles of composite dialogue framework as it exists today. Though the contention of de-linking terrorism from talks is not new as the same was agreed to in talks of both countries in April and September 2005, however, the reiteration of this important point could lay the much-needed foundation to move the dialogue process forward. The disproportionate reaction of the Indian media and conservative political forces appears pregnant with the vested interests.

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly pointed out in his speech in the Lok Sabha, dialogue with Pakistan is the only option available to India. Both countries do not afford the continuation of adversarial relations anymore. Pakistan, on its part, has been more than welcome to think ‘out of box’ solutions to the disputed issues between both countries including the core issue of Jammu and Kashmir. The Indian establishment needs to introspect and review its Pakistan policy with all the seriousness at its disposal. Threats posed to the region could be turned into opportunities if India felt the pulse of time and changed its policies accordingly. This requires vision, statesmanship, dynamism and courage to take difficult decisions.