India and Pakistan must break through the vicious cycle that dogs their peace efforts

The feel-good factor created with the induction of the pro-peace Nawaz Sharif government in Pakistan was nullified by competing calls for retribution against the provocative killing of five Indian soldiers on August 6 across the Line of Control (LoC). In January this year too, as the dialogue process was resumed after a longer interruption between the Asif Zardari and Manmohan Singh governments, India was enraged over the beheading of one of its soldiers across the LoC. In both cases, the purpose of these acts seemed to be provocation — in January, perhaps to jeopardise rapid developments on the liberalisation of trade, and in August, to frustrate Mr. Sharif’s eagerness to jump-start negotiations.

Missed opportunities

As a result, the composite dialogue process has been halted once again, even if the two Prime Ministers agree to do some damage control when they meet in New York on September 29. However, any meaningful dialogue will have to wait for the outcome of the 2014 election in India.

Had Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acted with a little more courage back in 2007, things might not have come to such a pass. With him lies the responsibility for the failure to sign an accord on Kashmir, which had almost been agreed upon between him and Gen. Musharraf; and, for partially wasting the opportunity to move ahead with President Zardari. Mr. Singh was too cautious to seize a historic opportunity for a cause that has otherwise been dear to him.

He floundered once again in response to Prime Minister Sharif’s positive overtures, knowing well that those who were responsible for the Mumbai mayhem are most likely to be behind the LoC provocation and the latest outrage in Jammu.

Meanwhile, it is only too true that Pakistan has done little to satisfy India’s legitimate demand for some visible movement in the trial of those accused for the Mumbai carnage.

If Pakistan once held up Kashmir as the core issue, holding back forward movement on any other count, even keeping SAARC hostage to bilateral disputes for decades, it is now India that insists on its core issue of cross-border terrorism and says that the dialogue process and terrorism cannot go together, even though it has been insisting on people-to-people contact and the liberalisation of trade.

Quite cynically, both have continued to rotate rigidities and flexibilities with ease. It seems the subcontinent’s bilateral diplomacy is an instrument for keeping perpetual stalemates, allowing for snail’s pace movement to put on a show of minimum civility. Rather than moving in a spiral mode, the talks have been fated to move in the same vicious circle. Whatever progress is made in one round or talks on a crucial issue is never concluded, and is invariably reversed in subsequent rounds.

Turning it around

For progress to take place, Pakistan and its powerful establishment must realise the folly of creating a highly intractable, violent and divisive mass of terrorist and extremist outfits as an instrument of its foreign and security policies. These are not “strategic assets” but freelancers in the market of global terrorism. These outfits fight among themselves over sectarian and factional dividends of warfare and expand their fiefdoms at each other’s cost across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions and beyond.

Given the possibility of the destabilisation of at least the south-eastern Pakhtun belt of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan in 2014, Pakistan is left with no option but to clear its own territory of all kinds of terrorists without cherry picking. There are no good Taliban. Wiping out terrorist sanctuaries will require cooperation with the international community for a smooth transition and reconciliation in Afghanistan on the one hand, and a historic peace agreement with India.

On the other hand, India must shed its old fixations about Pakistan and the baggage of Partition, and understand objectively how Pakistan is embroiled in its own contradictions and trying to find a way out of the mess it has created over the last few decades. Instead of jumping to join any move against Pakistan or exploiting any opportunity to pay back in the same coin, in Balochistan or across the Af-Pak border, India must offer Pakistan a quid pro quo — helping Pakistan keep its north-western frontier stable, coupled with a joint India-Pakistan strategy to keep Afghanistan stable, in exchange for an end to India-specific terrorism.

(Imtiaz Alam is a senior Pakistan journalist and Secretary General, South Asian Free Media Association.)

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