Time to move from posturing to dialogue

The Pakistani leadership and its establishment need to realise that with the arrival of Prime Minister Modi on the scene, they need to revise their foreign policy template towards India.

Updated - April 01, 2016 02:57 pm IST

Published - September 01, 2015 01:56 am IST

Every sane individual — both in India and Pakistan — is convinced that in spite of the acrimony and decades of mistrust, it is in the strategic interest of both these nations to live in peace and friendship. With a common geography, heritage, culture and language, good relations and harmony should come naturally to the two neighbours but it seems that the baggage of Partition continues to dominate our thinking and actions.

Over the decades, there have been numerous efforts to hold a ‘meaningful dialogue and discuss all outstanding issues’ but with almost zero results. Even during the most recent meeting between the two Prime Ministers at Ufa in Russia, emphasis was again on discussing all outstanding issues but the so called dialogue collapsed even before it began.

What is the reason for the failure of the so-called dialogue process, even though in almost all such attempts in the past, each dialogue process was based on a common understanding about the broad objectives to be achieved?

>At Ufa , the broad objectives were jointly agreed to and spelled out in the Joint Statement at the conclusion of the meeting between the two leaders. Unfortunately this latest dialogue process beat all previous records and >collapsed even before it was begun, just a day before the scheduled meeting of the National Security Advisers (NSAs) of the two countries.

The main components of the >Ufa Joint Statement issued on July 10, as presented in the press are:

I) The Prime Ministers of Pakistan and India met today on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Ufa. The meeting was held in a cordial atmosphere. The two leaders exchanged views on issues of bilateral and regional interest.

II) They agreed that India and Pakistan have a collective responsibility to ensure peace and promote development. To do so, they are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues.

III) Both leaders condemned terrorism in all its forms and agreed to cooperate with each other to eliminate this menace from South Asia. [emphasis added]

IV) They also agreed on the following steps to be taken by the two sides:

1. A meeting in New Delhi between the two NSAs to discuss all issues connected to terrorism. [emphasis added]

2. Early meetings of Director General Border Security Force (BSF) and Director General Pakistan Rangers followed by that of Directors General of Military Operation (DGMOs).

3. Decision for release of fishermen in each other’s custody, along with their boats, within a period of 15 days.

4. Mechanism for facilitating religious tourism.

5. Both sides agreed to discuss ways and means to expedite the Mumbai case trial, including additional information like providing voice samples.

V) Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his invitation to Prime Minister Modi to visit Pakistan for the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Summit in 2016. Prime Minister Modi accepted the invitation.

Twin objectives

There were two principal objectives expressed in the joint statement. The first objective is ‘to ensure peace and promote development, for which both sides are prepared to discuss all outstanding issues’. The second objective expressed in the joint statement is to cooperate with each other to eliminate the menace of terrorism from South Asia.

The Joint Statement proposed a proper follow-up plan for the elimination of terrorism (NSA meeting, expediting Mumbai trial) but no follow up action was envisioned on how the two countries would proceed on the first objective, which is, ‘discussion of all outstanding issues’. Besides including the NSA meeting, there was a need to include another paragraph in the joint statement, to define some action, for example, like the nomination of either the Foreign Ministers or the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries to “explore modalities for discussing all other outstanding issues like Kashmir, Siachen, etc.”From my perspective, the agreement at Ufa was flawed; it was in fact loaded against Pakistan. While addressing the Indian concern of terrorism, it was very silent on Pakistan’s concerns of discussing all outstanding issues (especially the ‘K’ issue).

For this, I blame Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s team, which failed to recognise the smart manoeuvre by the Indian team. No wonder all hell broke loose in Pakistan on the Prime Minister’s return to Islamabad. After that the Pakistani foreign policy establishment went into overdrive to minimise the negative domestic fallout. An effort was made by Pakistan to expand the mandate of the NSAs’ dialogue by trying to insert Kashmir into that meeting. Inviting the Hurriyat leaders for a cuppa with the Pakistani NSA in Delhi was also geared to squeeze in the Kashmir issue. Naturally the Indian establishment was unwilling to give up their gains at Ufa. Thus, the talks were doomed to fail.

The Pakistani leadership and the establishment need to realise that with the arrival of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the scene, they need to revise their foreign policy template towards India. Mr. Modi is committed to breaking away from the past and placing his personal stamp on India’s foreign policy. His style will certainly be more aggressive than the style of his predecessors. I certainly do not propose an equally aggressive style by Pakistan but certainly encourage a more intelligent and measured approach. I do believe Mr. Modi wants peace with Pakistan but on his own terms. I foresee more difficult times ahead but also see some windows of opportunity.

Status quoist establishment

For a dialogue to succeed between two sovereign states, the only formulation which will normally work is a win-win outcome based on compromise in the spirit of give and take. Unfortunately, in the case of India and Pakistan, though the process is called a dialogue, in essence it is posturing and trying to outsmart each other. A second problem with the dialogue between India and Pakistan is the dominant role of the establishment, which is a status quoist entity. This attitude from both sides often results in a stalemate. No wonder not a single major issue like Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek or even on trade has been resolved.

Surprisingly in 1960, India and Pakistan did manage to resolve one major issue to the satisfaction of both parties. This is the famous Indus Water Treaty 1960, which has survived all the years, in spite of the two nations fighting a number of wars. However, the successful conclusion of this treaty was essentially due to the presence of a third party, the World Bank. Unfortunately, today India has virtually ruled out the involvement of a third party to resolve bilateral issues between the two neighbours.

Before Ufa, the Composite Dialogue too failed to resolve even a single serious issue. However, I am not totally pessimistic and take hope from a secret backchannel dialogue initiated during the Musharraf-Vajpayee era, when impressive ground was covered towards resolving the Kashmir issue. But today we are back to square one. The media in both countries has become very powerful and is the proverbial tail that wags the dog. Presently, the media and not the political leadership mould public opinion. I believe there is an urgent need to launch a secret backchannel, away from the glare of publicity.

As I write this article, news is pouring in on an hourly basis of the destructive firing continuing along what Pakistan calls the Working Boundary and India calls the International Border. In Pakistan, it is almost an article of faith that all this firing is a result of the Indian coercive strategy, while the Indian media and public is convinced that this destructive activity is because of the aggressive designs of the Pakistan Army. It is pathetic that in this time and age, the truth is lost while innocent people are dying and private property is being destroyed. Why are the flag meetings and hotlines between the DGMOs ineffective? This situation can very easily spin out of control and create a war-like environment. In reality such a crisis is usually created by a minor incident on the border between the border security forces of both countries and not a deliberate policy decision by either country.

The people of India and Pakistan and the broader South Asia region deserve a durable peace and the opportunity to live without the fear of a conflict and the opportunity to harness their full potential. I am not trying to be dramatic but in the worst-case scenario, we may face nuclear annihilation. India and Pakistan are joined at the hip and need to grow up and learn the very obvious virtues of peace. As a wise man said, ‘we breathe the same air and drink the same water’.

India has the potential to become a great global power but not until it is able to bring peace in its region. It may coerce smaller countries into submission but Pakistan may need another kind of treatment; destabilising Pakistan will be certainly counterproductive. On the other hand, Pakistan needs to accept India as the senior partner or a big brother, while India needs to treat Pakistan with respect. The first step towards such a relationship is a sincere effort by both sides to resolve the outstanding issues. This is not the raving of a romantic peacenik but a realistic recipe based on cold logic with an eye on the history of the world.

(Mahmud Durrani was former National Security Adviser to the Pakistan Prime Minister.)

This article has been edited for an editing error

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